Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Writer & the Computer

Last week, I spent eight days without a computer.  Now, that shouldn’t have affected my writing too much.  I’ve been writing fiction for many decades and had my first professional publication in 1980.  I wrote six novels and innumerable short stories and poems, using a mixture of handwriting and a manual typewriter, until I finally got my first PC in the mid-nineties (60Mb hard drive and about one step on from Bill Gates’s prototype of Windows).  I shouldn’t depend on a computer to be a writer.

The result (at first, certainly) was to leave me at a complete loose end.  All my WiPs of any kind exist only as computer files.  They’re backed up, of course (memory stick, CD and Googledocs) but nothing I can get at without a computer.  There was nothing current I could work on.  I could have started a new story from scratch, of course, but even that would have had pitfalls.  I re-use a lot of characters and settings, and I tend to rely on being able to flick open the file for a previous story to check on what I said there about this or that.  All on the computer, of course.

All right, so maybe I could submit some stories.  Well, even if I could find markets that take snail-mail submissions, and then pay the exorbitant mailing costs (international mail, since there are very few UK-based markets), I need the internet to find them and check out their guidelines.  Then I’d need a submittable copy of the story and a proper cover letter – both of which mean printing it off the computer.

So could I use the time for research, or discussion of the craft?  Well, about from a monthly writers group, all my discussion about writing is carried on over the internet; and, while I have a large collection of books and could no doubt research some topics, I rely heavily on what I can find online.

I did gradually find solutions.  My town doesn’t have any internet cafes, but I was able to use the computers at the library – for one hour a day, excluding the two days the library’s shut and the one day I arrived to find their computers down.  That enabled me to check my emails and at least look in on the writing groups I belong to, but most importantly, I was able to print off various unfinished and unrevised stories, and then work on the hard copy.  Then again, when I finally got the computer back, I had a lot of typing to do, so that wouldn’t have been a long-term solution.

The upside was that, without the distraction of social media and games, I was able to focus more on the work I did have access to, and I got several things done that had been hanging around for too long.  The downside was that I couldn’t really have kept that up for long.  Printing at the library’s a lot more expensive than printing at home; I’d have to have found some time to type up the work I’d done; and I’d also have had to have found time to submit it, all within the very limited computer access.  And I’d have ended up with stacks of paper to file away somewhere – something I’m eternally grateful to computers for freeing me from.

Hello, I’m Nyki, and I’m a computer-dependent writer.


  1. It's really crazy how much we rely on the computer even for little incidental steps. Take it away, and that all comes crashing down.

    I do a hard-copy edit for novels only: it's my first pass and a half (1x to mark, 1x to transcribe, but neither is a full pass), and I swear by it.

    Glad you're back up and running!

  2. I'm also old enough to remember a world before computers, but I have no desire to go back. Glad it's finally fixed.