Cut-and-paste writing

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Cut-and-paste writing

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Software that aids thought isn’t cheating; it’s a legitimate part of the creative process

Hemingway had it easy. Writing books in the 1920s involved little more than pen and ink. The period’s most advanced tool was a Remington typewriter. No such luck for the modern author. Yes, we have access to a wealth of information unthinkable a few decades ago. But we confront a problem unknown in Hemingway’s day: the proliferation of software designed to help to organise our thoughts before sitting down to write.

Because my books weave together multiple disciplines—one was even subtitled “the connected lives of ants, brains, cities, and software”—and in part because I write about technology, people often ask me how I write. As it happens, I have developed an idiosyncratic writing system. My basic tools, like word processors, have varied. (I swore off Word after one book, and used another programme for the next two before returning sheepishly to Microsoft.) But the one constant is a truly ingenious

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Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson's new book The Invention of Air will be published by Penguin in the autumn. Paul Starr is professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, and co-editor of The American Prospect 

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