Monday, October 1, 2012

Technology and My Writing

     As I’ve mentioned in blog interviews, the fact that an important plot point in my first Musa ebook (Dead Reckoning) was Ludditism was no accident.  I’m not technically a Luddite, but I do share many of their characteristics.  (Or maybe this is just a high-minded, political-sounding excuse for my ineptness with, and fear of technology.)  Whatever the case, I have to be dragged, screaming and kicking, into every new technology, and usually I’m a good decade behind everyone else.  To illustrate, I sent my first email in 2001, still have CD’s instead of an I-Pod, and am totally at sea concerning new cell phones with internet access (which I call “computer phones.”)
     Anyway, like probably a lot of people at that age and time, when I first started to write, in the early 1980’s, I did so using pencil and paper.  As I got older, and it became apparent that my handwriting was crappy, combined with the more formal requirements of junior high and especially high school papers, I began typing.  My family had an electric typewriter instead of a manual one, but that’s about where its sophistication ended.  The typewriter didn’t even have a “return” key—you had to pull a lever for that.  Typos were difficult to deal with—you could use White Out/Liquid Paper (trivia—the latter was invented by Monkees member Michael Nesmith’s mother) which worked okay but required time to dry, and type over, or else correction tape, which was essentially the same as the other two except it came in solid tape form that you put under the keys, and as I recall it dried a little quicker.
     Also at this time (high school), I took a typing class.  I got solid “B’s”—I did very well on the written quizzes and tests (the “theory,” if you will, of typing), but did very poorly on the speed typing exercises.  You were timed to see how many words per minute you could get, with up to five mistakes allowed.  As I remember you received an “A” for like 60 or 70, and I barely scraped by with “D’s” due to my glacial 30-35 words per minute.  It did help—I went from horrifically slow, hunt and pecking, two finger typing to just regular slow, but real, ten finger typing.
     When I went away to college I received a gift of The Next Big Thing—an electric typewriter with a built in correction key.  This one had two typewriter ribbons—the regular black ink, and a white correction one.  When you hit “correct” it went back one space, and spread the correction substance over the letter.  It was a big improvement over the older method, as it was contained and automatic, plus the correction tape was instantaneous, so you could type over right away.  The typewriter had some other features, too, like I think it could retain a line or two of copy in a primitive computer chip and then type it out later, but almost needless to say I didn’t even try to learn this, and stuck with the basic system.
     Then a roommate and friend of mine got a word processor.  It was amazing.  You typed on a computer monitor (and could correct on the screen), finish your paper, and then print it out at the end.  (I’m sure younger readers are laughing at this, kind of the equivalent of me listening to an ancient person extolling the wonders of say, the telegraph, but it was quite remarkable to me then.)  And at about the same time home computers had improved their programming and memory, and I used another friend’s computer a few times.  Obviously it had better memory and storage than the word processor, although its dot-matrix print out type was somewhat difficult to read.
     A few years later I broke down and got a laptop, and things advanced even more.  A word processing program, Microsoft Word, made writing even easier.  The computer checked your spelling, could store more stories than I could write in several lifetimes, and printed it up in easy-to-read type.  Also, starting out slowly at first, but gradually increasingly, magazines and publishers began to accept stories sent to them via computer email.  No more buying reams of paper to print out copies of your novel, and no more expensive trips to the post office to purchase stamps, for both the outgoing package and the return postage.  Plus the waiting period to hear back about submissions dropped drastically as well.  Also around the same time, magazines and publishers changed, too.  Now many of them were online emags and epubs, which were quicker to deal with, more readily available, and cheaper for readers.  Which, essentially, is where I am today.  I’m on my fourth laptop, and the Word program is a later edition, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same.
     Except in one major way.  I still can’t write on the computer.  That is, I have to write out everything with pen and paper, and then I type that into the computer (even emails, unless they’re very short).  I know this is stupid and wasteful, but I just can’t do it any other way.  It does have one small advantage—when I type the paper rough draft in it serves as an editing phase, and I can fix some of the mistakes I see.  But it’s still a pain—novels I’ve written take, say, 3-6 months to create, and then another 3-6 months to type in.  Also, you’d think with all the practice typing I’ve got over the years that my speed would have advanced significantly.  Nope.  I haven’t timed this, but my impression is that I’m slightly, but only slightly faster—probably 35-40 words per minute.
     But, at the same time, I don’t know how old time, pre-word processor and computer authors did it.  The thought of typing a novel-length manuscript using a manual typewriter, with just Liquid Paper or even no Liquid Paper to (slowly) help you with inevitable mistakes—I don’t think I would have the patience.  I’m sure some of them wrote with pencil and paper and then paid a professional secretary to type it, but that would require a bare minimum of legible handwriting, which I don’t possess.  And to slow down enough to render my chicken-scratch readable would similarly probably cause me to go mad.
     Yet, there’s another downside with the computer.  I have almost no computer knowledge or savvy—if computer expertise was an educational system, I’d be in nursery school.  A remedial nursery school.  Whenever I have computer problems, aside from cursing and childish tantrums my only recourse is to bother friends for help, which is made even worse by my usual inability to adequately describe the issue, or explain what I did wrong.  I’m sure many of my Musa colleagues kind of dread getting emails from me—“Oh great, what incredibly obvious computer question does Paul want an answer to now?”  You might think I’m exaggerating for effect, so I’ll give an example.  I just learned, a few weeks ago, that you can save photos/images to your own computer by right clicking.
     So there you have it, a history of my travails with technology and writing.  It’s funny, too—my elderly parents are even worse (they sent their first email, by themselves with no help, this year).  They ask even more obvious computer questions than I do, and sometimes refer to me as computer-literate.  I always laugh bitterly at this, and don’t hesitate to correct them, saying it’s like the blind leading the blind.  Or, more generously, it’s like one-of-those-flatworms-with-light-sensitive-cells-so-that-it-can-barely-perceive-enough-to-face-the-sun leading the blind.


  1. Paul, I feel your pain. I think we're of the same, um, vintage. I took a typing class in high school. I think we had IBM Selectrics then. I've had to incorporate technology with my work over the years, but I feel so behind the curve compared to my colleagues. And I will probably never get used to texting. I do write using my laptop. I can't imagine writing it out with a pen and paper. My arms would literally fall off.

  2. Margaret--thanks for stopping by. I tried texting once, but it was a non-typewriter-style keyboard, and getting out even one word using #0-9 took too long, so I gave up. One more dated bit of technology trivia--my high school computer science class used TRS-80's (AKA Trash 80's) which had a mighty memory of 16K (!) Good luck trying to keep up with the techies.

  3. Interesting post. Most of my stories begin with pen and paper so I could relate to this post. Good luck with the hop.

  4. I love this post! I remember the days of high school typing classes! I took a typing class the summer before my freshman year. I wanted to familiarize myself with the high school when everyone wasn't there yet, and I thought typing would be a good thing to know. Even though, I use a computer now, my typing speed is still high thanks to that class!

  5. Tech knows no age. My grandma's 90 and has been sending emails and buying things online for ages. You're running a blog, writing books, which means you're more tech-savvy than you give yourself credit for. :D

  6. Just swinging back by to have another entry to win that Kindle Fire! My chance to get into the digital age of reading books :D

  7. geojazz, Mindy, annmariewrites, and JanSU, thanks for reading. geojazz--glad to hear I'm not the only pen-and-paper writer out there. Mindy--congrats on taking to typing fast successfully, I'm a little jealous. annmariewrites--I'm impressed to hear about your 90 year old grandmother's skill with the computer. JanSU--not shockingly, given the post subject, I haven't joined the book digital age, either. Good luck!

  8. I'm still pretty young so I grew up working on a computer but the way everyone has to have the latest gadget just befuddles me at times. I guess because I just don't care about having the newest lol
    Thanks for the awesome giveaway!