C is for Computer

Welcome back to The Author’s Alphabet.  You can read earlier posts here.  Each week, I’ll be posting another letter of the alphabet, selecting a word that starts with that letter, and sharing my view of what that word means to me, as an author.  Then, the fun begins — you get to comment, question, poke, prod, and otherwise get involved with the discussion.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.28.09 AM

C is for computer.

Years ago, I attended a class at the Smithsonian — Historical Novels and the Authors who Wrote Them.  For eight weeks, I got to listen to incredible historical novelists discussing the challenges of their genre, describing how they created their work.  One surprising thing to me:  Exactly half the novelists wrote their first drafts by hand (sometimes with elaborate paper and pen options), while the other half wrote first drafts on computers.  At the time, I couldn’t imagine writing out an entire novel by hand.  Truth be told, I still can’t.

Even those authors who wrote by hand, though, eventually needed to grapple with a computer.  Most typed in their handwritten manuscripts on their own.  One hired a typist.  Even the most pen-and-ink traditional author, though, needed to accept that publishing ultimately requires bits and bytes, computerized files for the creation of print or electronic books.

After that one generalization, though, all bets are off the table.

Some authors rely on desktop computers.  Others have transitioned to laptops (yes, I’m raising my hand right now), or to netbooks.  Tablets are gaining ground (along with portable keyboards.)

Authors, like the rest of the world, are divided by the Windows/Apple war.  Many of us are bound to specific systems by day-jobs; we have to maintain compatibility with outside employers.

And then there’s the software.  Name a software tool that accepts words as input, and there’s some author, somewhere who uses.  Here on BVC, we have writers who continue to use WordPerfect 4.2 (that’s the old DOS version, before it bloated into something unrecognizable).  Most of us use some version of Word, but we have avid proponents for dozens of other word-processing programs.  Many of us create our work in Scrivener, a software package that combines some aspects of word processing with project management, text formatting, and other writer-appealing bells and whistles.  In the end, we use a vast array of products, but we all end up with .mobi and .epub formats.  (Those of us working in traditional publishing also usually end up with a .doc or .docx file; the business world continues to speak Word, for the most part.)

Bottom line:  We all use computers.  But we all mean something radically different when we talk about our computer setups.  (Many BVC folks will be talking about their first computers in our new blog series.)

Me?  I use a MacBook Pro.  I create my novels in Scrivener, with some supporting documentation prepared in Word.  I create my ebook files using a combination of Word and Scrivener.  And I back up everything, hourly, with Apple’s Time Machine software.  (That software saved me earlier this year, when I experienced a complete hard drive failure on my then-primary computer, a desktop.  I was up and running on my then-back-up machine — the laptop — in fifteen minutes.)

So, what about you?  If you’re an author, what computer and software are vital to your writing life?  If you’re a reader, do you read electronically?  If so, what systems do you use?




C is for Computer — 13 Comments

  1. Pingback: C is for Computer | Mindy Klasky, Author

  2. I’ve been using computers since the days of the Vic-20 and Atari 400’s. I was an independent manufacturers rep back then. I got into this fledgling field by offering cassettes with games on them. For many years I even built my own systems (pc) from scratch.

    I own a tablet (Asus TF300 T) that has over 200 books on it and have only read one or two of them to date. The tablet was purchased as an on the road and vacation way to check e-mails and Facebook. I just find I’m more comfortable carrying around a paperback that I can slip into my pocketbook when I’m on the go. Paper is also a safer way to read when you tend to doze off in your lounge chair while reading.

    • Interesting – I know lots of authors who are using Asuses (Asi?) as their travel writing computers. It’s worth it for them to cram their fingers on the tiny keyboard, when they can take the keyboard everywhere! (And I find paper a safer read at the beach, too, where sand will always win.)

  3. At one point I worked at a biotech company in the late 80s/early 90s and they were a Mac house. For the FDA submissions, however, they used publishing software on the mainframe (the FDA was only just starting to transition to electronic submissions). I don’t recall what the program was, but do remember I loved it. Each “chapter” was a separate document, and where you nested them would instantly renumber them. A lifesaver if the group of authors kept changing their minds. 🙂

    • When I left law firm libraries five years ago, certain agencies of the federal government still required filings in WordPerfect (one of the Windows versions.) For the longest time, I kept a copy on my computer, hoping that it would return to market dominance. (But my FDA filings were never in WP, or any house proprietary system!)

  4. I hand wrote the first six or eight chapters of Fallen, and I haven’t hand written much since then. I do jot down notes as they come to me, on any writable surface I can find, haha.

    • I *definitely* jot down notes — I keep a notebook in my purse, and I nearly always solve plot problems by walking to the subway… (Happened just tonight, in fact!)

  5. Net book for first draft for me, I love the little keyboard that doesn’t require me to stretch my fingers. After that, everything else goes on my Toshiba laptop. Not looking to upgrade but the netbook is showing signs of age and the Toshiba is slowing down. My little baby boy (he’s 40) works in the computer industry and is trying to convert me to Apple products. I hesitate. It’s time consuming enough to switch primary computers, but learning a new system on top of that intimidates me.

    Even though I’ve been using computers since my Vic 20 and Commodore 64 computers still intimidate me. Just ask Vonda McIntyre who formats my BVC books and anthologies for me.

    • I switched to Apple six years ago. I was *very* apprehensive, and I threw a few fits because everyone told me it was “so intuitive”, but my mind never intuited that way. I was at a lecture tonight, though, and the speaker had a Windows machine that was choking on PowerPoint, and I stared at the projection and thought, “Wow, I used to know how to use that screen…)

  6. Not a writer by trade but by hobby and an avid reader. I’m a techie nut. I haven’t bought a physical book in ages because I love my Kindle Fire so much. I can bring hundreds of books with me everywhere I go. I also like the flexibility of ePublishing for authors, its like when musicians first discovered how easily they could share their music online and reach out to a new audience.

    If I’m writing I’m using Word in a current Windows format. I have a Microsoft Surface tablet with a skydrive so I can access it from any of my devices attached to the skydrive so I can just keep writing from wherever.

    I type more than 120 words per minute…accurately so I couldn’t imagine hand writing ANYTHING. I taught myself to type in 4th grade because I’m left-handed and have a messy handwriting and I didn’t like the way the ink smeared on the paper due to writing with my left hand. All these decades later I couldn’t imagine any other way of getting my ideas out there.

    • I learned to type on a sticky electric typewriter, which required foot-tons of pressure to move the keys. Some days, I’m a breeze on my Apple keyboard; other days, I look like one of those proverbial monkeys, typing in a room, trying to generate Shakespeare…

  7. I opted out of the Windows/Mac war in the 1990s: Linux all the way. I write rough draft in Kate and edit mostly in Calligra Words, occasionally in LibreOffice. The present (still alpha, I’m destruction-testing it) incarnation of Calligra Words has pretty decent epub export so I read drafts on my kobo– somehow reading it “like a book” makes it much easier to spot the big problems.
    I tried some writing software but most of it assumes that one has a much more structured way of working than I have. One experiment here on my blog. Not that it’s ever, in my perception at least, made my writing better or easier, it just makes me feel guilty that I don’t work that way (like feeling guilty that I don’t outline).

    • Never, ever feel guilty for working in a way that is productive for you! (That said, I can’t *imagine* writing without outlining!)