The Writer and Technology

My mom, Hindi Brooks, who was an amazing, prolific writer, was the first person I knew who had a personal computer. I’m talking early in the days of home computers. This thing was as big as an old TV (how appropriate that she was writing for television). It was such a dinosaur she had to insert the brain before she could start writing. (I’m serious.) She put the computer’s brain—an eight-inch floppy—into the A drive and locked it in, and then she put whatever she was working on—another eight-inch floppy—into the B drive. When everything was securely in place, she could go get a cup of coffee while the beast took forever to boot up.

Consider yourself lucky that you have such fast, efficient machines working for you. And they’re getting faster and more efficient every day. It probably won’t be long before you can simply have a thought and the machines take care of the rest. Oh, I have to email my agent. And poof! the email is sent—thanks to our trillion GHz natural language, wireless brain port.

Technology helps a busy writer take care of business more quickly and efficiently. Maybe it even helps you write more quickly and efficiently. But does it make you a better writer? According to my mom—who got to make the jump from typewriter to electric typewriter to computer to modern-day computer, and saw other writers do the same—the answer was this:  Computers make good writers better . . . and bad writers worse. Those who have a tendency to send their writing out before it’s cooked now can send it out completely raw. Those who tend to over-edit can now edit the poor text to death, changing things back and forth so many times the magic is simply edited out.

The moral here? If you want to create good writing, really good writing, you can’t skip over the stages of the process that writers have always had to do:

  • write
  • put aside
  • read fresh and rewrite (but don’t over-rewrite)
  • get feedback from a qualified individual (editor/coach/etc.) . . . and rewrite again (as many times as necessary . . . but don’t over-rewrite)
  • don’t forget to spellcheck

Also:

  • know your audience, know your market
  • do research as necessary to know your audience and market

In essence: Don’t be so dazzled by the shiny prize of being able to publish your work online in two seconds that you skip over the necessary stages of creating good work. If you take it slow, you may even get a surprise benefit:  you’ll enjoy the process.

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An Editor Tries to Text

“Send me a text.”

Those words send a shudder through my body. Not because I think texting creates two-dimensional human beings (though I am concerned about the next generation’s ability to connect face to face) and not because the posture assumed by a texter is harrowing for the neck (again, I worry about the cervical vertebrae of today’s young people), but because I’m an editor.

I know some people find texting to be a convenient and, as needed, surreptitious shortcut to communication. But when I text—and I try to make it a very rare event, indeed—there is nothing convenient, surreptitious, nor shortcut-ish about it.  I’m simply incapable of the very conventions that make texting speedy. I cannot, for the life of me, forgo capital letters at the beginnings of sentences and proper nouns. Nor am I able to leave out a called-for comma. And periods? Forget it. I will not write a sentence that has no period at the end. How will anyone ever know I’ve ended my thought?

To make matters worse, I don’t have a smart phone. Yes, you read that sentence correctly, and it did have a period at the end. It’s true; I do not have a smart phone. I have a dumb phone. And I like my dumb phone (which used to be considered very smart, running on satellite towers and all). Thus I do not have a smart keyboard on my phone. I have a dumb keyboard (which used to be considered quite clever, one key pad being able to handle both numbers and letters; brilliant!). But texting on this dumb key pad . . . Not fun. Some of you may not even remember how that’s done, all you smart phone owners. You press the 4 three times to get an “I,” the 7 four times to get an “s,” the 3 two times to get an “e” . . . You get the picture. An editor standing head lowered (neck bent in an achingly awkward position) for a full fifteen minutes right in the middle of a busy supermarket, inserting all the periods from “special mode,” to let my friend know I’m running late.

A phone call would have been faster. (I don’t mind dropping capital letters when I speak.)

[See my follow-up post, “An Editor Gets a Smart Phone“]

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

 

Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month? That’s right. Every November thousands of slightly crazy people all over the world (200,000 last year) participate in this month-long novel-writing frenzy. “The goal,” says the NaNoWriMo web site, “is to write a 50,000 word (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.” But wait, fingers off that keyboard! You can’t start before November 1. You can prep (i.e., outline, make notes, etc.). But the NaNoWriMo guidelines say you’re not allowed to actually start writing the novel before the “starting gun” fires.

Some of you may be thinking: “Oh, that’s not for me. That’s for veteran writers with several books under their belt.” Not true. Sure there are lots of experienced writers who participate. But NaNoWriMo is actually perfect for the individual who has always wanted to write a novel but is too daunted to actually begin.

“Because of the limited writing window,” says the web site, “the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality.” The site goes on to say, “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create.” Perfect for breaking the meanest of writer’s blocks!

There’s even plenty of support and community surrounding NaNoWriMo. Just check out their web site (below); there are forums, groups, and ways to share the experience.

Have I ever participated in National Novel Writing Month? Hell no! (My body hurts just thinking about sitting at the computer for that many hours.) But if you think you can do it without hurting yourself, then go for it! It’s certain to get you past any writer’s block.

So, get yourself ready. NaNoWriMo starts in just 4 days. But don’t forget to sign up!

To Sign up for NaNoWriMo: http://www.nanowrimo.org

To read more about NaNoWriMo: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/about/whatisnano

For the guidelines: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/about/hownanoworks

Writing Is Rewriting

 

Barbara DeSantis, a colleague of mine from the Los Angeles Editors and Writers Group (LAEWG), has just written an insightful article for our LAEWG web site about rewriting.  She includes a helpful, and humorous, list of writing Do’s and Don’ts. For a reality check on whether you really need to write that second (or third or ninth) draft, go check it out on our Write Angles page.

Confessions of a Perfectionist

 

“Wipe that grin off your face,” I said.  “I’m not working today.  I can talk however I want.”

I was responding to a friend who loved to catch me mid-sentence as I committed grammar faux-pas.  This time I had said who instead of whom . . . or maybe it was there’s when it should have been there are.  In any case, it was my day off and I wasn’t in the mood to have my grammar policed.

The problem with being an editor is that one loses the right to make mistakes.  People expect me to be perfect in my grammar, spelling, and punctuation . . . even when I’m not editing a book.

I can’t really take advantage of the relaxed cyber-atmosphere of all-lowercased letters and punctuation-free run-ons. Of course, I’ve been grammar-aware for so long, I don’t think I could let it all hang out if I tried. (You should see me trying to text . . . It takes me 15 minutes to send one message because I’m making sure all the periods and commas are in place.)

So . . . in light of this profession-appropriate perfectionism, you can imagine my dismay when I noticed yesterday that my second post, made on August 22, had an error not only in the first sentence . . . but in the first word! My perfectionism was slipping and I was only two posts into this new blogging enterprise. Grateful that my blushing couldn’t be seen across the cyber-waves, I quickly corrected the typo and hit “update.”

I suppose I had better get used to having “my slip show” if I’m going to play in this public sandbox. (Mixed metaphor, I know, but I’m practicing letting my hair down.)

Check back at a later date when I write more about perfectionism and the role it plays in Writer’s Block.