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.
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?