Writing in a Time of Technology

I use a lot of tech when I write. Everything from a fountain pen on notepaper, to a notebook computer, to a desktop computer with dual monitors. Which tool(s) I use depend on where I am in the process and what I’m trying to accomplish. Using a pen or a laptop at a coffee shop is pretty self-explanatory, so I want to spend some time talking about the tools I use at home, especially during the rewrite process, which is where I’m at presently.
To create my world, I used a program called Fractal Terrains. I went through several attempts before the software gave me a world map that had on it a continent that came close enough to my idea of what I wanted for my story. The program even put in rivers and lakes. I found that working with the elements that I didn’t specifically plan or design put some constraints on me that improved the writing. On my own I might have forgotten things like putting rivers in inconvenient places. It’s been awhile since I used it, so I may not do an in-depth review of this program. I then used a companion program called Campaign Cartographer to make a map out of the part of the world I’m using. At some future date I may put in roads, villages, place names, etc. When I’m writing at my desk, I’ll open this program to check distances between points and remind me of where those inconvenient rivers might be.
If you’re reading this online then you’re familiar with web browsers and some day I may review the different sites I use for reference. When I’m writing new material, the web browser is closed and when I’m rewriting or editing it’s open. Closed when I’m creating because it’s easier to do research (or “research”) instead of actually writing. Open when I’m rewriting or editing because it’s then that I’ll need to check facts or be sure of word meanings.
Shot of OneNote showing some of the sections I use.
The map was imported from Campaign Cartographer.
The best program that Microsoft didn’t steal swindle buy from some-one else, is called OneNote. I use OneNote 2010 to keep track of all of my research. If I figure out how, I’ll even post an empty novel writing notebook I prepared for use in OneNote. It contains the same sections I created for tracking research for my current novel: World Building (physical elements like maps and climate), Culture (religion, language, dress, history), Characters, Writing (outlines, reminders, things to do), and Business (agents, markets, tracking). I added a section for Rewrite to track the extensive differences between Draft 1 and Draft 2. For research – or more importantly, for remembering what I’ve researched and what I plan to do with what I’ve researched – OneNote is indispensable. If it’s on the web, Internet Explorer has a Send to OneNote feature that captures the page and provides a link to it in the note. If you have a tablet with pen input, you can add hand written notes.
My novel has two first person narratives running in parallel and the story moves over several weeks. My nation’s history goes back more than a thousand years and I have seven primary characters and several more secondary characters. Each of them have birthdays, events in their lives, places to be and times to be there. It may be that some people can keep track of all of that in their heads, but I can’t. I use Microsoft Excel with several workbooks open: a country timeline, a story timeline, a character timeline, and a history of the rulers of my country. I don’t actually track word count or rising and falling action as I’ve seen some do. I tried and found that it had limited utility for me, but that could always change.

Desktop version of Pandora

Pandora or iTunes. I need music while I write. I discovered Pandora a year or so ago and really love the way I can create different music streams depending on my mood. Instrumentals for writing. I need to have the only words around be the ones I’m putting on paper. Songs distract me too much.
When I’m not using pen and paper, I use WordPerfect for my writing. I know. The world uses Microsoft Word. Even Mac users are being sucked into using that inferior product. I’ll do an extensive review with compare and contrast between Word and WordPerfect, including their underlying word processing metaphor in a later blog post. Suffice it to say, for long form documents like a novel with multiple chapters, WordPerfect is far easier to use and less prone to corrupting files.
To sum up, when I’m writing I’ll have the following programs open. The closer to the top of the list, the more likely it is that the program will be running it comes time to write:
  • WordPerfect
  • Pandora or iTunes
  • OneNote
  • Excel
  • Campaign Cartographer
  • FireFox

Let me get back to that fountain pen. Despite all of the tech – because? – the fountain pen plays a very important role for me. The story always ends up in electronic format, but sometimes I can’t create on the computer. The typing, the compilation of words on screen sometimes becomes an impediment to the writing instead of an aid to it. If I’m creating poetry or lyrics I can’t do it on screen. If I’m working on a difficult section where I know there are going to be a lot of starts and stops, then I’ll go back to paper and ink for the creation. It’s easier for me to draw a line through a written section and start anew than it is for me to select and delete. Not sure why. Delete it and it’s gone and there might be something in that false start that helps point me to the true start. On paper I can cross it out but the words are still there to be mined for the next attempt. When I edit, at some point, I have to go through it pen to paper at some point. I can do some work on the screen, but the close work is always with a pen on paper. Not even an “ink-enabled” tablet changed that.

Besides, if I’m feeling uncertain, an afternoon spent pen in hand resulting in ink-stained fingers is a great way to connect with the process of writing.

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