Bigger on the inside: non-linearity and the affordances of word processing

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


‘The process of writing is never linear’ Fenoglio (2015) states, regardless of the medium in which the writing is done, and I think most scholars of writing processes would agree. However, different mediums do have different affordances that influence the writing process. This is why I want to take up Van Mierlo's appeal to pay attention to the physicality of the writing space: ‘manuscripts [...] are more than textsin creation; they are material objects whose physical features and what they mean forthe creative process need to be understood as well.’ (2013) Paper can be used in a non-linear fashion: writing horizontally, vertically, indifferent ‘zones’. This makes the paper page a very 'free' environment, when compared to the line-by-line, left-to-right text production of word processing tools. Grésillon (2008) therefore hypothesizes that in order to work on a computer, the material or idea must have acquired a somewhat linear order to it. Most writers nowadays still use paper for their initial plans and notes (ibid.). As the consensus is that textualisation (as an extended cognitive process) implies nonlinearity, the question is if and how this 'shows' in the ways writers workin a word processing environment. In other words; do they bring non-linearity into a linear medium, and if so, how? I will postulate that non-linearity in digital writing shows up as paths taken through the developing text which make use of the specific affordances of digital writing. Here, the room for textual changes is vast; and those changes are not visible on the 'outside' of the document. The digital medium thus allows for nonlinearity over time, through cursor movements and text transformations, although it does not permit paper's range of nonlinearity of text placement at any given moment. A digital document seems to be ‘bigger on the inside’. With 'text transformations' I mean not just revision or rewriting of 'the text', but also an expansion from structural fragments such as metamarks and plans into fully textualised prose.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2022
EventGenesis 2022: Creative revision - Oxford University, Jesus College, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 15 Mar 202217 Mar 2022


ConferenceGenesis 2022: Creative revision
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • genetic criticism
  • writing process
  • born-digital text


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