The wastepaper basket is a writer’s best friend.
– Isaac Bashevis Singer
These words were true when the Nobel Prize winner Mr. Singer said them and they are true today, with a few key alterations.
Not long ago, I was asked what it’s like to write in the 21st century, and I thought it’s about time to give my answer. I can’t help but think that if the author of A Day of Pleasure had said those words today in 2016, he might have said the delete button is a writer’s best friend.
Writing today is not what it was fifty years ago, or a hundred or more. There was a time when to write a manuscript meant sitting at a typewriter for a few hours a day. It involved mailing off papers and fixing typos by rewriting a page. Some still prefer to write this way, because that’s their process. Some also prefer to write things down on pen and paper before transferring their words to a keyboard, and that’s good as well.
But I don’t do those things. When I begin to type a manuscript, I do so by opening the word processor on my computer. And honestly? It’s doubtful that I would be where I am now without that option.
I have a non-verbal learning disorder. This means off the top of my head; I have difficulty with spelling, and memory, and on, and on. If, when I first sat down to write Wychman Road, I had done so with a pencil and paper, then I might still be working on it today. Here, in the 21st century, are ways in which advances in technology can assist a writer. If you already write or edit, you will be familiar with much of this. But please don’t think I’m trying to waste your time. This is primarily for those with no experience.
Before I write any actual content, I create the chapter titles, as a roadmap. Not only can I have the chapters sit and wait for me until the writing has reached them, but I have the option to make the Word headings as well. This means that no matter where I am in the document, I can click Find Headings, and quickly jump around to different chapters, to make small edits and check my work.
This is something that’s not only useful for me as a writer, but as an editor, and for working with writers. Once a manuscript is finished, it must go through many rounds of edits before it can be printed and bound. Instead of creating an entirely new document to do substantive rewrites, I can do them within the original manuscript, but going to the menu system in Word, clicking review, and then clicking track changes. Changes that I or others make will show up highlighted in red. Deleted text will be shown in red with a line through them. If one wishes to make a comment on the book, a note or suggestion for later, it will show up on the right of the document, connected to the section in question. After reviewing their edits, a writer simply has to return to review and click on either accept or reject changes to implement them into the manuscript. The ability to track changes, to write and rewrite on a whim with basically no consequences, is a godsend. This cuts months off the writing and editing process, as well as allowing writers and editors to communicate more smoothly
Computer editing tools.
I’m sure the one thing that everybody knew before I started this list was a spell check. Here I’m going to give as much of a warning as I am a recommendation. Yes, spell check is useful. Yes, Word will often underline incorrectly spelled words in red, and you can press control+F7 to go through your document and let Word magically fix all your mistakes.
But it doesn’t work like that. Microsoft Word’s spellchecker simply isn’t that good. It isn’t going to catch even a third of your mistakes. The words it does catch, it might alter incorrectly, changing things that shouldn’t be amended. This is particularly a problem with creative writing since word will try and be technically correct. This can massively interfere with dialog, and also isn’t so great with made up words (no there isn’t such a word as wych.) Yes, it’s still helpful. Hell, even I still use it sometimes. I also use Grammarly, which is a little expensive, but incredibly useful on a technical level. For someone with my issues in spelling/grammar, something like Grammarly is super helpful. Still, until we reach the singularity, do not rely on a spellchecker to perfect your document for you. I think that having a button saying your mistakes will be fixed tempts some to be lazy. This is something you need to do yourself.
Writing on the Go
I do nearly all my writing on my Laptop. this means I can work almost anywhere, whenever I get a chance. While I don’t recommend writing in loud coffee shops or bustling malls, you can. I can write outside, or at school, or at home. as easily taken for granted as this portability can be, it is a huge step for writers like me. That being said, I do suggest that one blocks out certain times of the day for writing. It’s easier to keep up good work with a schedule, as opposed to just pulling out your laptop whenever you feel like it.
As I’m typing this, the world is still a few days away from Wychman Road being available in paperback, but it’s been out for Kindle since January 7th. I don’t read eBooks, but they are here to stay. As a writer, the biggest advantage of eBooks is for garnering reviewers. If you want a reviewer to take your book, you can send them a free eBook copy. Whatever gets people to read, I’m on board with it!
I’ve written about National Write a Novel Month before, so I’ll not going to go into detail. But suffice it to say, there are sites and apps out there, which can serve as motivators, pushing you to keep writing and improving, and that’s never a bad thing.
And finally, Social Media.
After all is said and done, it ‘s hard to get people interested in your books if nobody ever hears about them. The internet opens a new world. It allows authors to connect with one another, and connect with readers in a way that’s never happened before.
I’m writing this article for WordPress, which is a form of social media. Hopefully, someone learns something from it. Without sites such as WordPress, This article might never see the light of day. Social Media means readers can reach out to authors they like, to learn about what they do and what else they’ve written. Whether you’re published by the big or small press, or whether you self-publish yourself, you need places such as this. I’d also recommend adding your books to Goodreads, since this is a free and easy way for readers to let share what they think about the books they read, putting the power where it should be, in the hands of those who read books.
The last thing I should mention is self-publishing.
I never have self-published. To any who seek this option, I would advise using Createspace or Ingram. I would also recommend hiring an editor, because yes, you will always need one. This is all I can say on self-publishing because I have no experience with it. But this is something that writing in the 21st century has brought us, and it must not be ignored. Now more than ever before, it is easier to get your work out in the wild. The downside to this is that there is So Much, that there is always a danger of becoming lost in the mix of thousands of other self-published books. If you want more info on self-publishing, the internet is full of How-To articles to help you out.
This has been my 2 cents on writing in the 21st century. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but Dems the brakes I suppose. I hope something on this list helps somebody out there. To all of you and myself, Good luck out there!