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Memories of the 28th Century

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From time to time, people ask me what I am writing, and I usually refuse to comment, and sometimes I tell why, and I did that today.

The reason is simple, many stories have one good telling, so I better get it written while I can. A number of years ago I thought of a great story, and I went through and thought out every bit of it from opening to dialogue to the ending. One evening, before I wrote it down I told some friends the story in all details that I could think of. They all thought it was a great story and encouraged me to get it written. The next morning, one of those people rain into me and repeated that sort of praise for it. I thanked her, and then I searched my memory; I could remember that there was a story, but I couldn't remember it, at all, and I never have remembered it.

I just learned that this is the Zeigarnik Effect and the link below goes to a Scientific American blog that explains it better and more completely than I was going to. My personal experience is similar to Hemingway's; I find that some parts of writing are solid, while other parts and quite fragile, and sometimes the fragile parts can be lost.

Since I started writing with any sort of serious expectation, I have found that speech and writing really are separate modes of expression. What may sound fine when spoken may look silly in writing, and vice versa, but much of writing is superior to spoken words, because the author can and does consider the words carefully to determine whether they say what is intended. Much of what people say is slap-dash and incomplete. I frequently find myself saying only a small part of what I was thinking, because people interrupt me, or I just don't have enough time to finish.

Do read the linked blog. It is very good, and one thing that it mentions is Plato's warning through Socrates that writing destroys the ability to remember. The blogger takes that to mean that the Zeigarnik Effect doesn't allow the person to remember something. I have always taken that warning to mean that by putting reliance in the technology of writing the memory doesn't need to do as much, so it stops working as well as it had. I think there may be evidence for both effects, so I do not wish to debate the idea, but I find it interesting that Plato should have expressed that, even though he was a great admirer of Socrates, because Plato was very involved with the written word, but I will confess that I have not studied Plato as much as he deserves.

One thing that has been lost to literacy is the widespread reciting of poetry and prose from memory. Poetry was designed for ease of memory with meter and rhyme as clues for the memory. Now that written and recorded works are so easily available people don’t have a poem to recite or a song to sinf, and the matter of everyone having a poem to recite for the entertainment of friends was lost. Now people are more likely to play some recorded music.

That was beside the point. People shouldn’t expect authors to ralk about what they are writing, until it is mostly done. There is a point, when everything important is written, so telling it won’t destroy the memory of it.

The Zeigarnik Effect