Tablet totin’ author “gets it”


The New York Times Book Section has a nice article (account may be required) that looks into the phenomenon that while many professional writers avoid using technology to practice their craft the ones who do find it a big boon.  The article looks at author Richard Powers and how he uses speech recognition on his Tablet PC to create not only email and correspondence but also his novels.

“As life becomes increasingly complex, the kind of novel that tries tolink the individual life with broad-canvas collective existence becomesmore difficult to coordinate,” Powers wrote in an e-mail message — orrather, dictated, since he uses the voice recognition software builtinto the Tablet PC operating system to compose everything, includinghis novels. Computer programs allow novelists “to build up dense andinterconnected views of the world they are recreating,” he added.

Powers also uses one of my favorite programs, Mindjet’s MindManager to create rich character outlines for his larger works.  In the production of one of his recent novels he began his work by creating detailed mind maps for each character to flesh out his story:

For “The Echo Maker,” which won the National Book Award last year andis about a man who emerges from a coma without an emotional connectionto his intimates, Powers created a visual outline for each character.It included material on his or her “life history, personality traits,physical characteristics, verbal tics, professional and educationalbackground, choices and actions, attitudes and relations to the othercharacters,” he said. “As the material grew, I created topicalsub-branches and sub-sub-branches. … After many months, at the verytips of these increasingly articulated branches, I sometimes ended upwith sketches that plugged right into the draft.”

He does research for his projects using Microsoft OneNote which allows him to collect and organize all the material that he will likely use in his books.  I love this guy already.  :)  I can attest to how these three programs Mr. Powers uses has improved and streamlined my own writing projects.


Kyle McFarlin

Great article James – I’ve always wanted to hear more about people using cutting edge productivity tools to be more creative.

Also, I like John’s comment above and am still wondering when OQO is going to slap cell phone functionality on the device?!? One device would then be all you needed (and a docking station).

John in Norway

I have an OQO 02 which I bought for writing a novel on (to replace three devices.)

Is it possible to write more than a few sentences with the keyboard? Yes, it is. Just yesterday my thumbs produced over a thousand words straight off. It was my fingers holding the OQO that went to sleep. I didn’t need to stop though. I just took hold of the stylus and continued writing. After finishing that I then plugged in my USB headset, fired up DNS 9 and started dictating. All on the same machine, in various parts of the house.
I find that each input method comes in handy depending on what I’m writing about. If it’s an idea I’ve been playing with in my mind, I’ll dictate. If it’s something I need to think about while I’m writing it then the keyboard or stylus is used.
I’m not sure which method is the quickest with regards to the finished text though. Dictating needs a lot of correcting. Using the keyboard quickly means that letters are often missing or words are misspelled but that’s what editing is for.
The advantage of having one small device with me all the time is the perfect solution. I just wish the screen was readable in bright sunlight although I am toying with making some kind of sunshade for it.

Comments are closed.