Writing in the Digital Age: Once Upon a Time

This machines scans, prints, copies and faxes. It does not make coffee. Or proofread. Yet.

Once upon a time, writers wrote with electric typewriter manual typewriter quill pen stylus ochre and charcoal on paper carbon paper parchment clay cave walls. That was in the good old days before Microsoft Word and tractor feed printers gave birth to word processing even writers could DIY…which led us to where we are today: Kindle, and Nook, and Sony, and an iPhone in every pocket.

Oops. Let me back up a bit. I tend to forget the social niceties like proper greetings. My propensity to launch directly into conversation drives my mother, husband, and daughter up a wall. So for their sakes, let me introduce myself, as I’m new to Book View Cafe and this is my first post here. I’m Kelly McClymer, a writer of novels and short stories in several genres so far (YA, historical romance, science fiction, fantasy), with a few more genres on my list to try (chicklit…which the epub revolution has definitively proven is not as dead as New York publishers claimed…is up this year, who knows what I’ll try next year). You can read all about me and my eclectic backlist of books on my website, if you like.

One of the things I like about BVC is that we are writers supporting other writers and we all pitch in and volunteer. I just volunteered for my first gig — writing a Friday blog series on the perils, pains, and pleasures of publishing in the digital age. This is something that I could write a book about (especially if it had a for the Clueless appended somewhere, in the manner of those books for Dummies). Takes one to write one, I always say. Who better to write about how to avoid mistakes than someone who had made every single mistake possible?

In the past year, I’ve learned how to take my out of print backlist and turn it into ebooks that can be downloaded to Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and several other outlets. I’ve learned how to write my own cover copy, choose excerpts, and promote my own work. All things my publishers used to do (or purport to do, at least). I’ve even learned that I like Twitter. Me, the person who gets anxious after a phone call has lasted for more than 30 seconds. I like the sense that I only have to keep up with what I happen across, not go backward to see what I missed. And I’ve learned so much from the Twitter links I’ve followed, I can’t imagine what I’d learn if I could monitor Twitter 24/7.

Other writers have been learning ahead, alongside, and behind me; all of us trying every manner of new thing and sharing our hard won knowledge with each other. Book View Cafe is one of those new things — a writer’s co-op run by writers for writers and meant to help reduce the learning curve, workload, and sense of loneliness that comes from being a one person shop.

I confess there are times when I have too much to do and too little time to do it and I long for the “good old days.” I’m not exactly sure when they were. Maybe in the 90s, when publishers were buying manuscripts right and left? Or the 40’s when a novelist could make a deal with Hollywood and actually see the movie made? Or the late Victorian age when Dickens walked the streets like a celebrity?

The problem is I’m a history buff, and a writer. As such, I’m in on the eternal writer’s secret: we all want more time to write. There isn’t a writer I know who doesn’t dream of a few days at a writer’s retreat where every need is met by an invisible servant who is never seen or heard, but always knows when we need a bite to eat, a glass of wine, or chocolate. Especially chocolate.

However, the digital age has made finding readers easier in the same way that washing machines made clothes washing easier for the early 20th century homemakers — clothes got washed faster, so more clothes were bought, and washed more often. In my house we do at least one load of laundry a day, and there still aren’t any clean towels when I go to take a shower.

With that history of inconvenient convenience in mind, I have a few goals for this column in the coming weeks and months. First, I’d like to help ease the learning curve for my fellow writers (if it takes less time to learn something, there’s more time for writing). Second, I’d like to explore ways to streamline the writer’s non-writing workflow (even bestselling writers have promotional obligations like book tours and appearances that have begun to go digital with webinars and Skype). Third, I’d like to explore the truly exciting (and frightening) way the digital age has taken a few degrees of separation from writers and their readers.

All of my goals are meant to serve us all in one specific way: to give writers more time to sneak into that retreat zone and write our hearts out, creating books that readers love without starving ourselves or our families in the process. Because, give us a pen, a stylus, or a lump of charcoal, we’ll write something with it…and then try and convince someone else to read it.

If you have any subjects in the digital age arena you want to know more about (metadata, Twitter, Facebook, social networking, unplugging so you can write) please feel free to make your request in a comment. I’m only about a quarter of the way up the learning curve myself, inching my way up with clawed fingers — and great Tweet links. I’m not afraid to share the good, bad, and ugly as I explore the new learning curve in intimate detail.



Writing in the Digital Age: Once Upon a Time — 5 Comments

  1. Hi Kelly, nice to meet’cha … I’m a regular attendee of this fine establishment.

    … Keep a clean towel hidden behind the bedroom door and don’t tell ANYONE about it …

    … I’m going to be glued to your posts with metaphorical metallurgical notebook in hand, note-taking and asking questions.

    Let the games begin!

  2. Welcome, Kelly.

    The very thought of Twitter gives me the grues, and I loathe Facebook, so finding other ways around that is interesting . . . but like you say, so much to do, so very little time.

  3. Welcome, Kelly!

    When you figure out how to warp time into 48 hour days, let me know! Or perhaps we could create software that processes all our promo data and churns it out into the proper forums, Until then, social media is something I can only admire fron a distance.