Computers … Tools for the author

Sorry. There should have been a post yesterday. I try to post blogs on Mondays because – well, it’s my routine.

However …

How my desk looked yesterday!

How my desk looked yesterday!

I was thinking only the other day that I really ought to try using a typewriter again. There is something about the sight of the old keyboard, and the rhythmic rattle of the hammers striking the platen that really appeals to me still. Not the electric hum and clacking of the IBM golfball, or the whizz of the daisywheel (yes, I remember such things from when I was a salesman), but the lovely tick, click, patter of real mechanical keys. Of course the downside of the darned things is that an author has to keep going back and editing. And then, when the book’s written, has to retype the whole thing again. That is a big downside, but there is also a great upside: while retyping and working, you’re editing too, so the final result is invariably a ruddy sight better than most of my current first drafts.

I’ve sold two million books in my time. God only knows how many words I’ve typed in twenty years of writing professionally. I know that the best way to write is to sit at my desk and let my mind wander as my fingers play with the keys.

Many years ago (have I mentioned this recently?) I was at a very enjoyable Crime Writers’ Association meal in London, when a stranger and his wife walked in. He was a writer, he said, and was visiting on his way back from a holiday in Ireland. His name? Laurence Block. A thoroughly decent, lovely bloke. He told me that after many years of dedicated computer use for writing, he had gone to Ireland to a place where there was no electricity. As a result, he had typed the first draft of his latest on a manual typewriter, and found it a wonderfully freeing experience. Next time, he said, he planned to work with a pen and paper!

Jeffrey (or Geoffrey? I could look it up, but really can’t be bothered) Archer always uses a black tempo pen to write. He writes until the pen’s dead, chucks it away and starts another. Very wasteful. I don’t mind pencils or fountain pens, but I’d really get grumpy about landfill sites if I worked like that. And Jeffrey (or Geoffrey) makes more per book than I’ve earned in twenty years of writing, so I guess he can afford to be profligate with his pens, and to pay a secretary to retype all his words.

No, nowadays all authors (apart from him) write with computers. It’s faster (speed is of the essence), it’s easier and it’s less effort. More to the point, publishers demand electronic copy. Ye Gods, recently I heard of a publisher demanding that new authors should have at least 3,000 followers on Twitter. They expect the author to do all marketing and PR, all the selling and social media. When we’re supposed to write, God only knows.

However, yesterday I was confronted with the horrible experience of having to consider basics again.

It was only a little while ago I mused over the fact that modern people are really little different from our ancestors. I noted that, if you stripped away the thin veneer of civilisation, removed electricity, transport, abundant power, and therefore the reliability of food supply, of heating and all computer power, you would soon find that life would revert to its past, unpleasant, brutal brevity.

Yesterday, my computer ceased to function. For about eight hours my machine reverted to a spinning wheel of doom. I sat before it like a novice at an altar, praying the damn thing would get over its Monday morning blues, but it didn’t, and in the end I had to set up a complete disk check with virus-checking software, then look at the disk to verify the data etc. It took me over 15 hours, so I was up until gone one o’clock this morning. It has worked, I think.

And I am damn glad, too. Because if there is one thing I cannot even think of affording, it’s a new computer. In my career, I must have sold up to two million books worldwide (I cannot be sure – foreign countries don’t necessarily let me know how many they’ve got rid of) but that doesn’t make me wealthy. I do better than most writers, but that only means I’m earning a bit more than the minimum wage.

Yup. I've sold a few books in my time!

Yup. I’ve sold a few books in my time!

So that computer failure did make me appreciate my smooth-running, functioning computer when it is working well. I could easily write using a typewriter, or a fountain pen or two. Writing with any medium holds no terrors for me. Yet, the thought of being forced to retype everything is one additional hassle I cannot afford. I have to get books written fast and start earning from them as quickly as possible.

So the uncertainty yesterday, that really did give me a lot of grief.

Happy reading!

7 Responses to “Computers … Tools for the author”
  1. Aimee says:

    Recently I’ve been writing on my Alphasmart Neo. It’s similar to a typewriter in function, but you do have the ability to edit while typing. But I find it a lot different to typing on a computer because of the small screen. You can plug it into the computer and copy the words over (although that does take some time) so no retyping needed. And the keys make a clunky sound :)

    But you’re right – there’s nothing like going back and writing on the simplest tools. I’d love a typewriter although I know it would be functionally inconvenient. And I couldn’t live without my computer to organise my writing, edit properly, and everything else I do on it. Being without my computer for just a couple of days is often catastrophic!


    • I really do wonder whether returning to a typewriter wouldn’t do me a power of good. It would slow me down, which is no bad thing, because I’d be thinking more about each sentence more carefully, and it would remove me from the distractions of social media and emails. If I could turn them off, I’d get a lot more done. As I am demonstrating right this minute … Damn!


  2. That is a gorgeous looking typewriter though :)


    • Thanks! I love it. It’s very small, with a keyboard only a little larger than my Apple’s. Works really very well, but it’s very different to type on. No touch typing here. It’s ‘hit the key with a mallet’ typing!


  3. clivemullis says:

    I use pen and paper now, (fountain pen I hasten to add. I find it quicker and more tangible, if you see what I mean. Mind, I haven’t got a deadline, apart from the one I impose on myself. I do have a 1920’s typewriter upstairs, you have to hit the keypad with a hammer to get it to strike, pity those poor secretaries from that era!


    • Odd – I did send a response to this but now I can’t see it. So, assuming it got swallowed or lost: thanks for the response, Clive. I would love to be able to write with my pens, but I just find I can type so much faster usually straight to computer. Especially now when I’m working on three projects simultaneously!

      Liked by 1 person

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