Consider a few things that are colliding, at this moment, in my brain.
Warm-up number one: The writer Michael C. Milligan is writing a novel in three days. Just as interestingly—maybe even more interestingly—Eli James over at Novelr is live-blogging the process. It starts on Tuesday.
Warm-up number two: If I get to $10,000 over at Kickstarter (I’m $76 away!) I’m going to write an entire short story on my flight to New York on Tuesday.
Warm-up number three: Alain de Botton as Heathrow’s writer-in-residence. You see him stalking the terminal, taking notes.
All together, these set up this sort of writing-as-performance vibe. The text alone is not the thing.
Now, here’s what’s really got me thinking: Google Wave has a playback feature. EtherPad‘s got it, too. This takes wiki-style document versioning a step further, or maybe a million steps further. It’s so much more granular! It goes keystroke by keystroke and attaches a time-stamp to each one. It records and recreates not just words and spaces, but confidence and hesitation.
So, skip past the obvious notion of playing back the creation of a standard short story or a novel. That’s fine; it makes me shiver, but it’s fine.
Think instead of a short story written with playback in mind. Written for playback. Typing speed and rhythm are part of the experience. Dramatic deletions are part of the story. The text at 2:20 tells you something about the text at 11:13, and vice versa. What appear at first to be tiny, tentative revisions turn out to be precisely-engineered signals. At 5:15 and paragraph five, the author switches a character’s gender, triggering a chain reaction of edits in the preceding grafs, some of which have interesting (and pre-planned?) side effects.
Talk about intertextuality.
I’m sure there are arty precedents (and if you know of any, I’d love to hear about them). But this feels like an interesting moment, simply because these are tools with (potentially) mass audiences. It’s possible that a lot of people are suddenly about to get a bit better at version-scrubbing, at understanding documents in time. And that means—maybe?—an audience for writing as real-time performance.