We have all heard stories of some author or another falling asleep by the fire and having his manuscript destroyed. I think those days are gone forever. Some of us don’t even have drafts to drop into a fire. We might have accidentally erased things, or even had computers die on us, but when entire manuscripts exist, pre-publication, only in the virtual world, we find we have entered a whole new realm.
What is a manuscript? If it’s not something written on paper, what is it? And, suddenly, books are not even written on paper. We can carry around two hundred books in our pockets. This is good for fire prevention, since we store our virtual material all over, in all different virtual venues. But what about the romance of the manuscript? WE can’t sign ebooks. We don’t marvel over first drafts on our flashdrives. Will a flashdrive with a first draft be worth something someday?
As we mourn the passing of Ray Bradbury, Maurice Sendak, and others, could we imagine a world where their work exists only virtually? Think of all the handwritten manuscripts, whether they are in the hand of Dickens or Beethoven. When we see those scribbles, we feel the humanity. We feel closer to the ancient minds when we get to see the magic from the hands they led to create. Is all that lost forever?
I do print out a draft and hand edit. At least, I did on the last book. This time, I haven’t had the time so my newest book exists only in the ether and in my mind. No one will ever see my scribbles or the splotch of coffee or the reminder to bring a snack for my youngest that I jotted down in the margins. There’s nothing about the virtual manuscript that shows the humanity of the author.
Even in our diaries and journals, we are losing the intimacy of the hand. How many of us keep paper calendars or diaries? Have we lost something for posterity?
Perhaps there will be ways around this. Perhaps not. We can argue that it’s not how but what when it comes to something written. Perhaps the page will pass into oblivion and no longer be important in the world. But if it will no longer be important, we lose something. We may never again be able to feel the author, revealed, on the page.
Thanks for reading!