About fifteen years ago a family member who shall remain nameless told me I couldn’t be considered a real writer because I didn’t write by hand. At the time I’d been making my living by writing for 20 years and had published six novels. In the interests of family harmony, I didn’t point out the absurdity of that point of view, which essentially prohibits writers from adopting new technology. Taken to its logical extreme, that definition of “real” writers means only the inventors of written language with their clay tablets qualify. And I recognized the family member as a type familiar to most professional writers: an avid reader and wannabe writer who viewed writing as a kind of mystical pursuit rather than a job. All real writers know it’s not how you write but what you say that counts.
When I started writing professionally as a newspaper reporter in 1976, I worked on an IBM Selectric typewriter, but within a matter of months those were replaced with a detached keyboard and a VDT (aka visual display terminal), a combo that looked a lot like the early desktop PCs that arrived a few years later. When I started writing fiction in the late 1970s, I used an electric typewriter to write my first two or three novels, XXXing out by machine and adding back by hand, and forking out mucho dinero to the typist who produced the 100,000-plus word clean-copy manuscript. From my newspaper experience, I already knew the benefits of writing on a computer: how easy it is to improve the writing by cutting and pasting; the simplicity of producing A, B, C, etc. alternative paragraphs, passages, chapters, or novels; the incomparable editing tools including spell-check and search-and-replace; and the miracle of Print. As soon as I could afford a personal computer of my own, I bought an Epson QX-10 circa 1984 and a dot matrix printer, both of which without a doubt provided an immediate improvement in the quality of my writing. Quite simply, it’s so easy to improve your work, there’s simply no reason not to.
Still, technology does have some drawbacks. For a couple of months I’ve been trying to clear my desk so I could get back to my long-delayed novel, Perfecting Eden. For a couple of months longer than that, I’ve been struggling with a balky printer – sometimes it would Print and sometimes it wouldn’t – and when my desk was finally cleared, I realized I couldn’t plunge back into the novel without a dependable printer. It’s an essential tool for me, one I use to print out my day’s writing, which I then correct by hand. The next morning I re-read and re-correct the print-out and begin my writing by making the changes in my manuscript. And so it goes, write and print, rewrite and reprint, day in and day out, as the manuscript grows paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter, into a neat stack of pages on the far left corner of my desk. The fix was complicated because the problems were multiple, including the operating system, but the technology required by this writer is now fully operational, and so today I begin again to build the pile of pages on the corner of my desk.