For the past two weeks (still early days) I have been using an IPad to start work on research for a new book. A very superficial part of me thought that the mere fact of writing on something sexy would make my book more so – not convinced of that now, but I am finding the whole PDF library really transformative in terms of my note taking and thinking. When I wrote my thesis, I transcribed all the sources I was quoting onto paper, often illegibly, made a lot of mistakes, and often forgot to write down the page number. With the next book I worked on, I used a laptop to write my notes, but the combination of over-zealous autocorrect and my ham-fisted touch-typing made those quotations quite unreliable too. That meant that in each case I had to spend weeks trawling around in libraries after I had finished, trying to find the original quotation and check it. This time round, it’s all different because I am finding PDFs of all the texts I want to quote from online, and downloading them into iBooks so I have my own little specialist library – in this case, of arcane 18c elocution manuals. I get the PDFs from ECCO (it’s a pain you can only do 250 pages at a time, usually shorter than the whole book) or from the ones digitised by Google. It would be brilliant if I could write my own notes in the margins of the pages, but I don’t think that’s possible with the files I have. But it all means that I have a permanent record of the edition I’ve used, and the page numbers are stable. In my pre-iPad life I would habitually transcribe too little, and then realise once the book had gone back to the stack that I had missed out the bit that I subsequently realised was most useful. Not any more. I am not a habitual enthuser about technology, (or more correctly, i don’t think I have ever done it before) but this is making a real difference to the way I work.
- This project is creating a website dedicated to the theme “Great Writers inspire – learning from the past”. On the site you will be able to find freely available content related to individual authors and literary themes. We are using this blog to let you follow the progress of the project and explore the material as it is being made available. Feel free to send us your comments and suggestions! Want to be inspired? Explore the podcasts on the Great Writers Inspire podcast page.