When I wrote my first novel I pecked it out on an IBM Selectric. Cut and paste literally involved cutting and Scotch-tapng chunks of paper from one sheet onto another. Word processing was a delightful revolution. And now, my current favorite writing tool is nearly as revolutionary for me: the Internet Typewriter.
This free and deliciously bare-bones site (referred to me by the wonderful Bud Sparhawk) is nothing but a blank page. You register or log in, and type. Whever you go, from whatever computer you log in, those words are there. No more of this irritating emailing of attached Pages or Word files to yourself. No more cutting or copying of new scenes from one file to another, juggling the different versions of that combat scene or romantic encounter. It’s all there and it follows you around!
This is enormously liberating in a couple ways. Firstly, of course, you can add to the ms any time and anywhere a fresh idea flashes into your brain.
But also, you can add notes. Comments to yourself, things to fix, ideas for the next scene but three, the reminder that you must get one of the characters to quote Heraclitus and here is the quote. In other words, the actual act of composition is different. All those flying concepts that zoom into your head while you’re waiting in line at the shoe store or buying cat food, you can now pop in. I am writing my current novel by sort of pushing an entire wad of notes, future plot developments, commentary and reminders on ahead of myself in the text file. There are perhaps ten pages of these things. Every time I actually get to one of these plot points in the progress of the novel, and write it, I delete out the reminder at the end: a highly satisfactory action almost as good as chocolate.
The text is also heavily sprinkled with internal editorial comments like “Do they have to talk about this now? Move to yesterday.” and “What has to happen here? 1. Burn hero in effigy. 2. Street riot, bloodshed? 3. Country too hot to hold him = exile.” To help me to find these comments and deal with them — they cannot appear in the finished work — I try to remember to set them off with [brackets] so that I can search for them. Another idea would be to use the Comments function in a late version of Word, or to mark bits like this in a color, but neither application is supported by Internet Typewriter, alas. In any case, a complete and total read of the final work must be done by fresh eyes.
Ideally, when the work is done, all of the notes and comments will be gone, subsumed into the novel itself. In actuality I expect some of this stuff will turn out to be dead ends or otherwise unuseable, and I will cut it and perhaps save it in aother file. Also, just in case, I do keep a separate Word file on my main frame at home which automagically updates to a cloud server. You can’t write SF thrillers unless you foster some paranoia.
What this will do for future PhD researchers is bad. There are no more mss drafts with marginal notes, no more sheaves of discarded scenes or aborted character sketches. All that will be visible will be the final version. I weep no tears for them, those unlucky History of SF grad students of the future. I am writing like the wind, riding on the magic carpet of my tech writing tools and speeding through this novel. Keep your horse and buggy — I have FTL!