Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do computers make for better writers?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to be a writer, you had to dust off your typewriter and stock up on ribbon and correction fluid. Or, even more arcane, pens and paper. It took physical, not just mental, effort to complete a manuscript, edit it, and then RETYPE or rewrite the entire thing. And then you had to physically mail it places.

We all know that the advent of computers and email accounts means that it is so much easier to be a writer. Write something once and boom, you can save it, edit it, and email it to every inbox out there. It's making for more writers.

But does the computer make for better writers?

I'm sitting at my desk working on part 2 of my latest serial. (OK, I was. Now I'm writing this. Must stop letting myself be distracted by Blogger.) As I wrote a paragraph, I decided the second sentence worked better as the last so I clicked and dragged it in to place. MUCH better. And that got me thinking...if I had been typing or handwriting my work, would I have made that change, scribbling in the margin or ripping the page out of the typewriter and starting fresh? Would I have kept going, making a note to fix it the next time through? Would I have forgotten about it? What if I changed my mind and wanted to move it back?

I write exclusively in Word, with the exception of crooked fragments written in a bedside notebook in the middle of the night. I can't compose on paper because I am a better writer for having a fluid medium with which to write. I try not to edit as I go, but for me, composing is a dynamic process. I write things down as they flow and then sit back and reorder them so that they work.

My computer makes me a better writer. I honestly don't know if I could complete a novel if I didn't have the technology.

What about you? Do you compose on the computer or long hand? If you use technology, do you think you would still be the writer you are if you had to use paper or a typewriter?


  1. I love this post because I don’t understand how people can stand the time it takes to write long hand or on the typewriter. I once saw a piece in a magazine from an author who said he wrote on a typewriter because it made him write better knowing it was that much harder to edit mistakes. I don’t buy that. I’m going to make mistakes. Thank God I can delete them and move on. I would never be able to get the amount of stuff done that I get done if I didn’t have a computer than could keep up with me!

  2. That's exactly what I mean. He wrote on a typewriter because it made him a better writer? Meaning he had to get the sentence right the first time, because it was too much work to edit? Hmm... not sure I'd go with that approach.

    Any writers out there agree with that guy's take?

  3. I run around with a moleskine-like notebook in my handbag (and several pens, just in case), and when I have time/feel inspired, I sit in a coffeeshop and write a scene or two. Longhand, usually with a fountain pen. I write only on the right side of the notebook, leaving the left free for notes, corrections and missed-out paragraphs I decide to add later.

    Then, when I have time, I type it up on my computer at home, where it (theoretically) turnes into a coherent story rather than a collection of scenes.

    Some of my best work (of course, this is what I say, you might think differently), my most fluent writing, happens longhand.

    I guess it depends how your mind works...

    ps. if you're curious, the scene I posted for the let's talk blogfest was written entirely in longhand, with only the odd spelling correction, as was the one about Thia and Val for the Bad Girl blogfest. Tell me what you think.

  4. Tessa,

    I, too, write an occassional scene or short story in long hand. Sometimes, it helps to be away from the computer. And sometimes, it works the first time because I sit and think on a sentence before writing it down, whereas with composing on the laptop I fly.

    But I wonder about the people that compose entirely long hand, or more extreme, on the typewriter. I think I'd lose half my ideas before I'd get them down on paper.

    I'm going to go check out your blogfest scenes now!

    Thanks for visiting!