Friday, February 29, 2008

Welcome to the Future!

I would never have gotten a novel published if it wasn’t for computers. Think I’m kidding? I’m not. I’m a fast typist, but I make a lot of mistakes. If I had to type a manuscript on a typewriter, it would take forever. At this point I can’t even imagine doing that. I have a friend who did, though. And she got to keep her heroine’s name because of it—it would be too hard to retype the entire manuscript. Clearly, my friend is a much more accurate typist than I am.

I’ve been around the writing game a long time. Not publishing much—but that’s a story for another day. What I want to focus on today are the differences between BC and AC (Before Computer and After Computer). Yes, personal computers have been around for a while. The problem was that they were expensive. Not to mention, a good-quality printer could cost more than the computer. At one point, we had a Commodore 64. That’s a dinosaur, if you’re too young to remember. The printer was dot-matrix (translation: all but impossible to read), and I couldn’t afford a better one. I could finally input my work onto a computer screen. I didn’t worry about mistakes; they could easily be fixed before printing. The only problem was the printout was so bad most publishers wouldn’t take it.

I finally came into the twentieth century when I used a tax refund to buy a Brother word processor. Pretty much a glorified typewriter, it did allow me to type to a screen, save my work, and print out a clean copy. A typewritten copy—"printing" was the computer actually typing the file (faster than any human typist). And boy was it loud! Not to mention, it took about three ribbons (ink) to type one novel-sized manuscript. Still, I got my first published credit using that thing.

Today I’m typing on a laptop. Welcome to the twenty-first century! Now my problem is resisting spider solitaire and staying off the Internet long enough to write.

Ah, the Internet. The most amazing thing in the history of mankind. Again, I was a late bloomer. My husband and I got our introduction to the World Wide Web by using the Net at libraries and later with Webtv. Amazing that Webtv thing. It’s a little box that hooks to your telephone wires and to your television. Your TV then becomes a computer screen and you can surf the Web. It’s slow, cranky, and the wireless keyboard and remote (yep, remote) weren’t the easiest things in the world to use (not that we realized that at the time). On the other hand, it was simple. You hook it up, turn it on, and you’re surfing. It gave Internet access to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it—or couldn’t understand computers enough to use the Net. It was great. And I can’t imagine going back to it.

The Internet has certainly changed the face of publishing. Before the Net, if you wanted to submit a short story to a magazine or a book to a publisher, you got the address from a Writers Market or other source. Then you wrote a letter and sent a self addressed stamped envelope to them asking for their guidelines. And then you waited, and hoped you hadn’t just wasted your time and postage. Now, I can do the same thing in a matter of minutes. Groovy, huh?

The Internet links people together. Personally, I think this is the biggest impact computer technology has had on the writing profession. At its heart, writing is a lonely undertaking. When a writer is working, it’s just them and a computer (or typewriter, or paper and pen). Try interrupting a writer sometime and you’ll find out pretty quickly how important being alone is to the craft. (I must take a moment here to apologize to my husband for growling at him earlier.) Still, there comes a time when a writer needs to talk to the only people in the world who can truly understand them. Because of the Internet, a writer doesn’t have to search out fellow wordsmiths in his or her neighborhood to talk to someone who understands (not that in-person writing friends aren’t still important, they are!). Writers have taken to the Web as if it is the lifeline it can be. Need to brainstorm? At any hour of the day or night, there are others out there to assist you. Feeling lonely? There are millions out there in cyberspace just waiting to make your acquaintance. Feel nobody understands your need to write the story of the voices in your head? There are others out there just like you. Need to promote your latest book? The Internet has made that cheaper and easier. Websites, blogs, MySpace, Facebook, book videos, banners, links, and many other opportunities exist out there on the Web. And there are readers out there, hungry to hear about your latest.

And we’ve come full circle. Writers are also readers. Want a specific type of book? You can easily find it. Just discovered a new writer and want to know what other books he or she has written? It’s out there. Want to know in which order the books in a series should be read? There are websites for that. Want to ask your favorite writer a question? There’s probably an email address or a guestbook where you can do that. The Internet is a magical place of fun, adventure, and companionship—for both writers and readers.

Happy surfing!

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