Draft to Draft, Tracking The Creative Process

It is amazing how easily one can forget the steps it takes to create a finished and publishable piece of writing. The piece we read on a page is rarely ever the first version of the story. But what happens to the earlier drafts?

We have been reading Henry David Thoreau, mostly his essays in Walden, for the last few weeks. But what we have been reading, the published version of Walden is just one version of it. The essays within Walden were written and rewritten in a span of a few years, which we as a class saw through Digital Thoreau fluid text online which lets the viewer compare multiple drafts of the different chapters of Walden.

Being a Creative Writing major, I am very familiar with the multiple and multiple drafts that come with creating a written piece. These drafts can show the simple correction of grammar or word exchanges to the massive undertaking of adding and removing paragraphs. Sometimes, by accident, I forget what I named the newest draft, so I use Word’s “compare” feature which pulls in two different documents to compare what was added and removed from the “original” draft to the “newer” draft. I have learned through this class that this type of mark-up is called TEI.

We spoke briefly in class about TEI and how to use different code sets to tell the computer to read or set the text up in different manners. Unlike HTML coding, TEI focuses on telling the viewer how the text should look. As in what is the beginning and end of a paragraph, what is a line, as well as how the text was edited. This means particular coding inside the brackets to show what was added and what had been removed from draft to draft.

What I find fascinating about this, is that it allows us to see the fluid motion of one’s thoughts and ideas as they find their way on paper. It’s a way to see an individual’s creative process. Although we can’t exactly use this process to find out why Thoreau made the changes he did (we can speculate but not know for sure). I am curious though if this kind of analyzation can be used to see how and why current writers change their drafts.

How to Know What You Don’t Know

I have always been stubborn, with most things honestly, especially when it comes to trying to figure something out.  Surrender is not in my nature.  Nor is requesting help (which is almost as bad as surrendering).  But as I have grown, I have realized that not everything is in my skill set, and that yes, sometimes I do need a helping hand.

I am the go-to tech person in my family. In part because I understand technology, or at least more than my parents, also in part because I am more willing to offer help than my brothers.  I cannot say which reason is the bigger pull in asking me. This notion and the notion that I always end up figuring my way around a laptop, no matter how many hours, lulled me into a false idea that I truly understand computers.  I don’t.

Yes, I understand Word and yes, I can figure out how to get around random loopholes (occasionally), but once lines of number scan across the screen asking for input data sets and coding, my eyes go crossed. Especially with this class, I am realizing more and more that I don’t really know as much as I think I do.  Can I accomplish what I need?  Yes.  Can I reprogram my lap top for better or worse or do some type of data analysis?  No, not in the slightest.  But that doesn’t mean I am not willing to try, and mostly fail, to learn more.

But this class isn’t just coding, punching in letters and numbers until something appears, it is also the connection between computers and what we know as humanities.  Humanities is a strange word with a definition that varies depending on the area of study that the viewer is familiar with.  As an English major, I tend to look at humanities through the physical scripture that a cultural group leaves behind or those that influence later generations.  These physical scriptures are seen in the forms of books, thoughts and theories, as well as artistic works.  But as a communication minor, I also perceive humanities through the language and interactions one cultural group might have with another.  In this version of study, it is necessary to see how different members of a cultural group not only view and interact with each other but how they viewed members outside their culture.

The interesting thing with humanities now compared to earlier societies is the advancement of technology. Originally, only word of mouth could bring information back and forth, but now at the click of a button, information can be sent relatively anywhere.  Telephones, but more importantly computers have allowed for this spread of information, thoughts, ideas, arguments, to anyone with wifi.  This results in the communication between people who might otherwise never have spoken.  This new communication source puts older conversations about humanities on its head because one culture’s new ideas might not stay within that culture. With the modern quickness of communication, ideas can be sprung around losing its origin source creating one universal humanity.

This is not to say though that we as a world are a homogenous society, that is not true for 100’s of years if not ever.  Cultures are deep rooted in their societies and although they do morph with time and introductions of outside ideas and values, it is unlikely to see one universal truth. On that same note, not every cultural group is included in this communication sharing.  Many places still lack universal wifi or have an infrastructure that limits what information can be consumed and what can be exported.  This creates a power dynamic of those in the know and those out of it.  Just as those who have the physical access but lack the understanding on how to use the technology.

If I look back to my parents, there are so much they theoretically wouldn’t be able to access if someone had not shown them how to use a computer, or their cellphones.  But they also would not have realized what they were missing.  The same can be said with my own laptop and my lack of knowledge about the hard drive and coding.  I am ignorant to the possibilities one with the knowledge might be able to do, and I never would have known without taking this class.  This begs the question, what else are we missing just because we do not have the knowledge to know else wise?