Tamela Rich & bust of Mark Twain in Hannibal, MO 2010

Can’t wait to sink my teeth into the new Autobiography of Mark Twain. I went to his birthplace, Hannibal, MO this summer on my road trip.

Reading reviews of this great work, which Twain wouldn’t allow to be published until 100 years after his death, I found this in a CBS News story about Twain’s decision to dictate, rather than write, the book.

The autobiography is highly unconventional, in many ways ultra-modern – not telling one straight story from birth until death, but skipping around.

“Mark Twain wants this autobiography to be random,” Hirst* said. “You know, he’s going to talk about what he wants to talk about on this day, change his mind and move onto the next thing.”

You heard that right . . . talk. One of the greatest writers in American history decided the best way to tell his own story was NOT to write it, but SPEAK it.

Daily dictations over four years, about whatever he found interesting that day.

So was Mark Twain the first BLOGGER?

“I would say that is exactly right,” Hirst said. “Partly a journal, partly a diary, and partly recollection. So yeah, I think of it as a kind of blog, a blog without a web!”

*Quoting Robert Hirst, curator of the Mark Twain Papers at UC Berkeley, where a small army of editors has been laboring for six years to reconstruct the autobiography just as Twain wished it to be.

Speaking as a ghostwriter

I totally understand Twain’s decision to dictate his story, mostly from his bed in the four years before his death at age 74. He argued that speaking his recollections and opinions, rather than writing them down, allowed him to adopt a more natural, colloquial and frank tone, and Twain scholars who have seen the manuscript agree.

Working with clients on newsletters, blog posts, white papers and the like has taught me the benefit of unconstrained speech. I talk about it here.