17 July 2015

The Warped Relativity of Reading and Writing

By Dixon Hill

I'm always amazed by how long it takes me to write something, even if I know where it's going.
Something that only takes thirty minutes to read might take me a day or more to write.  And, that's just the first draft; I'm not including all the revisions here.

I don't know how many writers our there have this same problem.  Maybe most of you do.  On the other hand, some of you, reading this, might be asking, "What's this idiot talking about?  It only takes twenty minutes to write thirty minutes worth of material!"

As for myself, I can't help recalling something said by an English teacher during my Freshman year in high school.  We were reading Romeo and Juliet -- which I recall primarily because the entire Freshman class got to walk over to a nearby theater and watch a film version that we excitedly learned contained "a brief nude scene."  (This actually meant the film contained a split-second glimpse of "Romeo's" rear end, which greatly disappointed teen-aged me, as I had been salivating for a good long look at Juliet.)

What my teacher said, as she handed out the books, was: "Read this tonight, and we'll begin discussing it tomorrow.  Most productions of this play last less than two hours, and that's with an intermission added in.  So, you should be able to read this in two hours with no problem."

Right.  An English class of thirty run-of-the-mill chowderheaded teens.  And we're supposed to read Shakespeare's version of English, written in Iambic Pentameter no less -- and understand it! -- all within two hours.  Not like I had to worry about Algebra or Biology homework that night, either, eh?

Still . . . what she said, got under my skin.

I wasn't able to read the entire play that night.  I don't know how long it took me, but it took me more than just one night.  And that bothered me.  A LOT!  Because, I also knew she was right: most versions of the play probably didn't run even two hours.  So, why did it take me so long to read it? I'm no Einstein, but could a teen-aged Einstein have read it inside of two hours?  I began to wonder.

And, speaking of Einstein: That brings up another problem with time, the one we call "relativity," in which we start speaking of time relative to other things, such as space, location, velocity -- or in this case: writing vs. reading.

According to the theory of relativity, I don't believe we're able to move faster than the speed of light. This concept always rankles me, as I keep asking, "Really?  Like there's some cosmic speed limit out there imposed by physics?  What happens if we speed, do we get locked into another dimension?"

This provides great fodder for Science Fiction, of course, in which super-light travel is possible in another dimension, or can be equated by folding or (as they say in Star Trek) "warping" space-time" so that a ship can penetrate one layer of the fold and emerge on the other side without traveling over the entire length of the fold.

The pic on the left was created by Brandon Keys and posted on the IndegoSociety.org forum.  I thought that it, along with the pic below (from Wikipedia) showing a "worm-hole," did a good job of illustrating the concept.

While we're on the subject of warping space-time, let's also look at what happens when a reader gets immersed in a fascinating book, only to discover that the ten minutes s/he thought s/he'd been reading, has telescoped into several hours.  How did that happen?  Did the book warp space/time? Or, did the reading take "relatively" longer outside the world of the book, than it seemed to take while the reader was immersed within the book's world?

I have no idea.  Did Einstein know?  Does Stephen Hawking know now?

I've never met either one of them, and thus have no idea.

Nor do I know why it takes me so long to write something it takes so little time to read.  It doesn't usually FEEL like it's taking so long to write such a passage.  In that essence, perhaps writing -- like reading -- can warp space/time, or cause some sort of "relativity occurrence" to take place.  Maybe, for instance, time in the world I visit while writing passes differently than time in "normal space."

The only thing I can figure is that it might have something to do with the speed my fingers move over the keyboard, relative to the speed at which the computer can print on the screen.  I have noticed, in the past, that my fingers can sometimes strike the keys -- when I'm "in the groove" and my writing is coming hot and heavy -- faster than my computer seems to be able to print.  Occasionally I even have to stop and let the computer catch up to me.

The speed at which things take place inside a computer -- an electronic item -- surely must be close to the speed of light, since that's the speed at which electrons are supposed to move.  Thus, if my fingers are moving faster than my computer can work, my
fleshy digits must be moving at super-light speed.

NO WONDER what I write seems to take less time to read than to create!

The solution -- obviously! -- is that people (or at least their fingertips) can move faster than the speed of light, but the punishment is not imprisonment in another dimension.  It's the hell of working for two days, then learning it takes only thirty minutes to read what it took all that time to write!

Theory of Relativity Solved!

See you in two weeks.


  1. I'm with you, Dixon. It takes me a hell of a lot longer to write something than to read it. In fact, it took me three hours just to write these couple lines here. :)

  2. Thanks, Paul. It's good to know I'm not alone! :-)

  3. Dixon, I always tell my Crafting a Novel students that it takes 1000 hours to write a novel. (I'm talking 'garret time', all drafts and edits on an 80,000 word novel.) Do they really want to spend their time in that way?
    Some nod and some look shocked :) It's easy to tell who will be writers.

  4. Oh, God, I write soooo slowly. I think. I grizzle. I write. I rewrite. I stare out the window. It takes me forever to write a story, and then... yeah, 30 minutes to read, tops. What a way to live. But what can I say? I'm hooked.

  5. Dix, so does this mean that I can be typing a novel when I enter the fold on one side and then have a completed book as I exit the fold on the other side? That premise assumes that my fingers are moving faster than the speed of light. Or will the fact of my two finger typing mean that my index fingers will still be searching for the T-H-E buttons as I emerge from the other side with an almost blank sheet of paper? Wonder if The Big Bang Theory guys would give me Stephen Hawking's telephone number.

  6. Like you, Dixon, I write slowly and edit and re-edit even more slowly.

    To a student, a 2-hour assignment seems like forrreverrr. My friend friend Debbie brings a lot of fun to her Charleston inner city class including putting on plays. Over the years, she edited and spliced two versions of R&J so that no skin shows. Today’s students see even less skin!

    I suspect many types of artists, chefs, and even athletes experience that realization that they spent virtual eons preparing for an even that lasts just a moment in time. Brides do that– months of preparation, expensive dresses, fancy cake, menus, rehearsals… all for one hour of two. Of course some repeat the moment again and again.

  7. The physics of time is a fascinating concept humans are barely able to comprehend. It’s not actually the 4th dimension, although people often refer to that as a convenience. The one thing I took away from Herman Hesse’s novels was his comparison of time as a river. Someone upstream may drop a stone into the water at the same moment we do, but what does that mean to the river?

    We’re not entirely sure if the speed of light is the limiting boundary, although the movie Interstellar gives some insight as to the problems and possible paths to solutions. Our little spaceship New Horizons took 9½ years to make its journey to Pluto and its radio signal, traveling at the speed of light, takes ~4:25 to make it back to Earth!

    We know quantum particles are capable of communicating instantly over vast distances but we have only the faintest glimmer how that mechanism might work. Our puny human brains are so limited, we can see only two dimensions in our limited 3-dimensional range and perceive time moving only in one direction. The only good part is that we know more lies beyond and that’s exciting!

  8. I do some trauma research and it's interesting that time changes during a traumatic event (the initial moment of awareness of which is actually called "t=0"). A woman I knew who had been in a car accident with her two long-eared dogs recalled looking at them as the car was being slammed and noticing that their ears were bouncing up into the air and then down again in slow motion. (All three of them were ok.) The point is that her body altered its sense of time to give her nervous system more time to react, and what she saw reflected the change. Cool stuff.


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