Inspired by the discussion that followed this typecast just over a year ago (has it been that long already?), I’ve been working on developing a proposal for the editing language that I proposed in the comments. I call the concept “Wred,” which is a portmanteau of “writing” and “editing”. The basic premise of Wred is that it should be possible to use alphanumeric keystrokes to perform basic copyediting functions simultaneously with writing, resulting in a seamless “writediting” process that more closely reflects the iterative way our brains work during the process of creation, as opposed to the linear “write now, edit later” approach that we’ve always been taught and which, I contend, has been imposed by the mechanical limitations of the writing tools that we use.
Please note that Wred is envisioned as applying to on-the-fly copyediting (line editing) here, not developmental or substantive editing. The kind of thorough editing that leads to second and third (and fourth and…) drafts falls outside the realm of Wred.
I’ll be laying out my ideas for Wred here on Sotto Voce with the idea of making it an “open source” project that I hope will inspire discussion and ideas that could eventually lead to a working prototype and eventually a functional, expandable system. There’s a lot to cover: the theoretical basis for the Wred approach, finding the best methodologies for the various elements, figuring out how to kludge together a prototype, etc. But for now, here’s the case statement and hypothesis from the proposal. Please give it a read, and feel free to leave a comment or two with your thoughts and ideas (even if it’s just to say “That’s crazy talk!”).
Wred is the result of my attempt to answer a question: Why do many people find it “natural” to edit as they write, even though writers are told, and trained, to just “write first and edit later?” My argument is that the “write first, edit later” approach was originally dictated by the limitations of the dominant analog writing technology of the pre-computer era: the typewriter. This linear and sequential approach is the most proficient way to use the typewriter, because the tool as designed does not accommodate convenient simultaneous writing and editing. Over time, the proficient method was gradually transformed into the “right way to write” in the same way that many other practices and styles tend to become “rules” as they are passed down from generation to generation.
This issue is particularly important for professional copyeditors and copywriters who work on deadline and who often don’t have the luxury of multiple rounds of substantive edits before their work goes out the door and starts earning.
The problem is that, while modern text editors and word processors offer the potential for simultaneous writing and editing, we have continued to emphasize the pre-digital “write first, edit later” framework of the typewriter. Digital writing offers us the possibility of a nonlinear and nonsequential approach to writing that encompasses editing (consider, for example, collaborative real-time text editors, as well as text editors that track edits and allow the writing/revising process to be shown in playback as a fluid process that captures the working of the writer’s mind as part of, not prior to, the writing process).
However, the keystrokes that are required for typing and for editing are distinct and separate, which encourages practice that perpetuates a dichotomy between writing and editing. Writing uses the alphanumeric keys and punctuation, which are all “one keystroke = one glyph,” allowing continuous forward progress. Editing, on the other hand, requires multiple keystrokes in complex combinations (called “key bindings”), including non-alphanumeric operator keys such as CTRL, OPT, WIN/CMD, FN, and arrow keys, the use of which disrupts the forward progress of the writing.
This is, of course, largely due to the inheritance of the analog typewriter keyboard as the primary input device for text, on to which we have gradually grafted those editing-oriented keys around its physical — and conceptual — periphery.
With the rise of personal computing and particularly since the advent of the Web and mobile, we’ve seen the rise and proliferation of writing aids that use natural keystrokes to trigger actions (for example text expansion tools, macros, and shortcuts) and that encode design and layout features (for example HTML, Markdown, and assistive devices). Many of these aids are customizable by the user to allow them to fit more naturally into the writer’s workflow without being disruptive. In other words, these technologies use computer algorithms to allow the writer to combine traditionally linear and traditionally nonlinear functions in a single fluid and conceptually integrated process.
It should be possible to create a writing aid that allows a writer to use a set of intuitive alphanumeric keystrokes to perform the most common copyediting functions in a way that is conceptually integrated into, and non-disruptive to, the writing process, thereby allowing the writer to combine writing and copyediting into a single iterative process that more accurately reflects the natural synthetic and simultaneous writing/editing process taking place in the head of the writer.
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That’s the premise of Wred. In future posts, I’ll start laying out my thoughts on the components and architecture of Wred that I’ve developed so far. I’ve been doing a lot of reading in things like the methodologies of writing and editing, computer-language editing taxonomies, regular expressions, text expansion tools, macros, text editors that incorporate powerful editing technologies like vi and Emacs — just about anything that looks like it might have even some tangential bearing on the concept. It’s all a jumble, but I really think I’m on to something interesting here, and now that I’m going to have more time for such things, it’s about time I started devoting some brain power to it.
Categorised as: Wred
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