Friday, August 6, 2010

Tools of the Trade

The ability to communicate in written language has come a long way since letters were chiseled into stone tablets. What the ancients might have given for copy and paste or spell-check! Today, our most archaic and commonly used form may be the reliable pen/pencil and paper. And, there's nothing wrong with that. But, let's face it...they're looking more and more like the chisel and stone tablet of our day.

My first instruments of destruction...I mean, tools for creative writing...were a No. 2 pencil and a string-bound black and white covered Mead notebook with the wide rules. I printed everything...and still do to this day. (My penmanship was the bane of my grammar school days and I did a little dance of joy in high school the day they told me I no longer had to write in script. Today, I wonder if the ability to put pen to paper in a clear manner will eventually become an unnecessary skill.) Anyway, I would print the number of words in the top corner of every page. Every five pages I would do a subtotal. It was a laborious process to me. No wonder I never wrote a novel as a child!

For a brief period, I had an electric typewriter. But, I found that to be extremely frustrating as I wasn't very good at typing and I burned up all of my correction tape pretty quickly. At that point, I could still write faster than I could type.

Then came a return to college in the mid to late 90s, when PCs were becoming more and more standard. I carried around a little floppy with all of my writing on it. The college forced you to have it scanned on a regular basis before you used it in their computers. Kinda funny. But, that was my bible. I had no other copy of my work (nor the imagination to use TWO disks to store my work instead of one). But, my primary mode for the first draft was still to sit down with a pen and a notebook. I loved the way the pen would scratch the paper when I got into a groove. It was calming. Typing was still a necessary evil that I wouldn't overcome for many years.

In 2001, I got my first "real job" and slowly taught myself how to type. I'm ok at it now, if not a little unorthodox. I don't have to look at my hands anymore, but I also don't use the home keys. And, if I do look a the keys, I'm not really looking at the letters, I'm simply looking to see where my fingers are located in regard to the keyboard. Anyway, there was that transition period where I really had to convince myself that I could get more done by just typing the rough draft rather than writing it by hand. I remember thinking that I was less of a writer because I was doing it the "easy" way. Well, writing is hard enough. Why should the act of writing make it any harder? If you don't know how to type, the only way to learn is to practice! Eventually, you'll pick it up.

It's become even easier since I purchased a laptop last year. I won't tell you what kind because I don't support one particular brand, but it's nothing too fancy. There were only a couple of needs to be fulfilled by my purchase: full-size keyboard, wireless capability, relatively lightweight, and compact. I was able to purchase MS Word through my company at a discounted rate, so that fulfilled my only other need. For a moment, I considered getting a Netbook, but the small keyboard threw me off. I'm sure I could adapt, but I didn't want to need to. I'm happy with my purchase and it's made writing that much more simple.

If you're in the market for a laptop, or other electronic-based device upon which to write, do your homework (the CNET Web site offers tons of reviews on electronics). Decide what your really need the device to do. Mine was strictly for writing, so I didn't need the fancy video card or the Bluetooth adapter. Also, realize that there are perfectly good competitors to the big brands. You don't need to get a Dell, dude! Go online, read the reviews, make an informed decision. For $500, you can get a very reliable laptop (unless you're a fan of Macs...then you'll have to double that). For half that, you can get a Netbook...and the hand cramps I imagine that come with using a tiny keyboard. ;) I imagine you could also get an iPad, though I'm not so sure about the ability to type on that unit. If the touch sensitivity is anything like my cell phone, I'd be throwing the thing out a window.

And, even if you do still put pen to paper for that first draft, I applaud you! I just can't stand how slow that process is for me. It's really about being comfortable doing what you enjoy. Unfortunately, I doubt many publishers accept hand-written submissions anymore. So, eventually, you have to retype what you've written...and I imagine that's a great way of editing your own work.

We live in a world of expanding technology and, centuries from now, they'll look back and think of our electronics as we think of the chisel and stone today. But, by all means, do not feel pressured by an increasingly electronic society to change your mode of writing. Do what suits you best. However, be aware of what's out there. Consider taking advantage of the software and devices that exist to make the process simpler. They still won't write the story for you, but they never run out of ink or paper (though your printer might). And, last time I checked, I couldn't turn a page in my paper notebook and play a quick round of Minesweeper to clear my head.

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