I first came across this subject when young. I used to cycle out along the West Sands Road in St Andrews (Fife) early in the morning, and sometimes saw a man declaiming quite loudly while walking along. His name was the Reverend Wilfrid Hulbert and he belonged to one of the smaller Christian denominations, either Methodist or Congregational, I can no longer remember which and, many years on, still don’t know the difference.
He was doing one of two things; composing his sermon for the Sunday to come or, having composed it, was trying it on for size. If the latter, it was a good idea. Writing may look good on the page but may not read so swell when breath and voice are applied.
Someone else who composed on the move was novelist, Nigel Tranter. The following is a quotation from the Guardian obituary.
Each morning he would leave his house in East Lothian and begin a long walk over the nature reserve at nearby Aberlady Bay. As he stalked out along the shoreline he was an unmistakable figure. In stout boots, flat cap and sensible tweeds, he looked just like any other bird-watcher but for one oddity: in his hands he carried small sheets of paper, protected by a polythene bag in inclement weather.
He is said to have written some 1,000 words on each of his walks, and if composing by speaking is difficult, composing while walking along has got to be much harder. The writer would have to keep on stopping to write anything at all. There may be other authors who have used this technique, but I imagine they are small in number.
Then there is the interesting case of Edgar Wallace.
Then there is the interesting case of Edgar Wallace, who dictated his novels and short stories for his secretary to type out. At the time he was writing, or should we say speaking, this was more difficult than it is now. According to his Wikipedia entry, he spoke his words onto wax cylinders, which gives rise to a theory about his writing.
This may be why he was able to work at such high speed and why his stories have narrative drive. Many of Wallace’s successful books were dictated like this over two or three days, locked away with cartons of cigarettes and endless pots of sweet tea, often working pretty much uninterrupted in 72 hours. (Wikipedia)
Speaking for myself, I would fall at the first hurdle, the endless pots of sweet tea. Yet now, if an author wishes to speak rather than write, life is very much easier. As I type this, I notice a panel on the home ribbon which shows a graphic of a microphone with the word ‘dictate’ below it. I’ve never tried it but I’m told it works.
And then there are the ideas which enter our minds unbidden when we are cutting our toenails or boarding a bus. I used to write them down, but quite often now I use a Voice Memo app to record them. How nifty is that? Very, when I remember to replay them. Hand-written notes have a physical existence which reminds us that they should be read.