Monday, November 30, 2009

'The Write Tools' #8 - Phillip Adams

Welcome to another edition of ‘The Write Tools’: a blog series featuring authors, artists and their favourite tools.

Today’s guest is broadcaster, author, screenwriter and columnist
Phillip Adams, whose most recent book is Adams vs. God: The Rematch.

My first piece in print appeared 57 years ago. I wrote it at Eltham High for the school magazine with a steel knib and an ink-well. These few words are being tapped out on a computer keyboard.

In between then and now, I hardly 'wrote' a word. I was a writer who didn't write. Finding hand-writing painful (thanks to a teacher banging my knuckles with a ruler for writing left-handed) I briefly became a two-finger typist (which I remain) and took up dictation as soon as I could afford a typist. Using my trusty hand-held Dictaphones (I've worn out scores of them) I dictated countless thousands of newspaper columns, film scripts, over twenty books and many hundreds of speeches. Letters? About 100,000 of my dictated letters can be found in 500 boxes at the National Library. I even dictated shopping lists.

I dictated while driving, when waking up in the middle of the night and, to my PA's annoyance, on plane flights (where the background noise made my tapes all but indecipherable). I could 'write' a speech in close to real time, 'write' a 2000 word newspaper column in 20 minutes or a book chapter in little more than the time it would take to read it.

Yes, the prose style was conversational, shunning the abstruse or the decorative, but it would lead to me becoming one of the longest-running acts in Australian punditry and broadcasting. Dictation made things easy.

But it made life for Sandra an endless chore. Prior to her arrival it took three secretaries to keep up with my output. Then, for close to 30 years, Sandra did the lot, transcribing millions of words almost as fast as I could dictate them. She'd learned the trade as a copy typist in Fleet Street - in the era when reporters 'phoned stories in'.

It was only when Sandy retired that I reluctantly returned to the keyboard and started word-processing.

Had Shakespeare had a fountain pen rather than a quill and inkpot his writing style would have been very different. "Penny-a-liners" like Dickens would have found life more profitable with a ballpoint. The faster the instrument the quicker the result. There is a time lapse between speed of thought and fingers - and in my view much spontaneity is lost in the process. Be that process ball-pointing or typing. Hence my preference for dictation - less is lost. The work is fresher, livelier.

But you need a Sandra - as the current attempts at word recognition by computers are still woeful. I've yet to find a program that can differentiate between Lenin and Lennon.

(Photo: morn)


Gondal-girl said...

I have both of those!

Rachel Power said...

I want a Sandra. How lucky you are, Philip! I have a writer friend who has neck and back problems that are now preventing her from writing. They are so painful that she wrote her entire first novel standing up (as if writing a novel at all isn't feat enough)! She is struggling with the transition to dictating. I am going to send her this link now, in the hope that it will provide some inspiration.