The Writer’s Archive and The Networked Book


Hello! I’m Hannah Palmer, a writer and web designer from Atlanta.

I am working on my MFA thesis in Creative Nonfiction. For the first time, I’m trying to write a long-form, research-heavy manuscript– in other words, a book!  Considering my background in publishing and e-books, it’s no surprise that I’ve become completely sidetracked by the technologies available to help writers like me assemble and interact with our research.

I’ve found that archiving methods mirror the idiosyncratic writers themselves. The legendary New Yorker scribe John McPhee teaches an old school method that involves binders of logged and tagged material. Tech guru Steven Johnson is convinced that he can no longer write without the semantic connections provided by his archive in DevonThink. I’ve met writers that swear by Scrivener, others that stash notes in Tumblr. I’ve played with creative writing software that breaks the process down into a set of formulas, personal databases (Bento, Evernote, and now defunct Google Notes) and the hilarious segment of programs dedicated to making your PC feel more like a typewriter.

Again and again, I’ve landed on the blog as the cheap, democratic, no-brainer CMS for compiling research in a networked environment, but it doesn’t offer the semantic connections or the freedom to remix data. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of all these options, when it comes to true synthesis and the hard work of actual writing, what do any of them offer over the Remington or Microsoft Word?

So what do I do with my piles of research– interviews, clips, photos, maps, and quotes? How do I create an archive that is as meaningful in its creation as the completed book? I love these questions because it’s a practical illustration of how technologies enhance and interfere with the creative process. If we view the writing process (blog, archive, etc.) as just as critical as the final product, we redefine “book” as the thing by which we move big ideas around.

I’m no expert, but if other people want to talk about these issues, I would be happy to facilitate a discussion. I’m looking forward to learning from y’all on this and many other subjects.

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2 Responses to The Writer’s Archive and The Networked Book

  1. jcmeloni says:

    I believe this will be a popular topic (in fact, I already know it is but some people are shy about saying so), in part because the issues you bring up are similar to the issues faced by students in their own (academic) writing, some of which we try to solve (or help them solve) by introducing them to tools for the same purposes you describe.

  2. I’d love to hear more about what this session comes up with; it’s a problem I’ve been struggling with in my own academic writing. I’ve read McPhee’s description of his own process, and the best dissertation howto book I’ve ever seen (Destination Dissertation) suggests a similar strategy. I’ve found that I have to shift back and forth between electronic and digital filing; one of the best tools I’ve come up with so far has been a little OmniOutliner notetaking document that’ll output elegantly to 3×5 cards. Thanks for bringing this up.

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