Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Writing Lesson #6: Discovering Technology

Note: Sara is on holiday so I'm posting this on her behalf.

About the time I started submitting short stories, I began to think about investing in one of those newfangled devices called a ‘word processor’.

In high school I took typing classes, and before I left school I typed out all of my stories. But once I started submitting, it didn’t take long for the copies to get pretty dog-eared. Unprofessional, I thought, and I was trying to build up a reputation as a ‘serious’ writer.

So, in the late 1980s, once I started working and earning money, I invested in my first word processor. It was an Amstrad PCW. It had a black screen and green type. It didn’t have a hard drive – instead everything was saved on three-and-a-half inch floppy disks.

As I’ve already mentioned, I was very well entrenched in a writing routine that involved hand writing the first draft. In pencil. When I got the word processor I began to rethink this. After all, it was so easy to make amendments on the word processor – everything could be changed on screen. Surely I would save myself time (and paper) by typing directly onto the screen, making amendments and then printing out the final copy.
Being a creature of habit, it took me a while to get used to doing things this way. Change is not something that comes naturally to me (I think I’ve mentioned that before, too).

But the Amstrad heralded the start of a new writing routine. The first draft got typed directly onto the computer. Because of the limitations of those early floppy disks, which really did not have much in the way of memory, I got into the habit of saving each chapter as a separate file. It took three or four disks, as I recall, to save an entire novel this way.

Now, of course, the modern PC will let you save huge files, But because I am a creature of habit, I still work this way. I still start a new file for each chapter when I am in draft stage. I start a new sub-folder for each new draft.

This has been my writing process for over 20 years now. I couldn’t go back to writing that first draft in pencil even if I wanted to – and yet I still remember how difficult it was for me to break the old routine and type directly onto the computer.

The next turning point in the learning curve of my writing processes came when I joined a writing group. That’s the subject of the next post in this series.

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