Category: Editing

The Evolution of Writing Tools. Quill – Nib – Ballpoint – Typewriter – Keyboard – Smartphone

In my last post here I talked about how current technology affects the way we can produce, edit and distribute stories. To think a little more on that, I’d like to talk about how the technology we have at our fingertips (literally) shapes how we write. Or, at least, shapes how I write.

Anyone who’s ever tried writing will have reached that point where you feel the need to correct what you’ve done to date rather than continuing writing. This can be the death of the project; if you spend your time trying to get the first x% perfect then you may never get on with finishing it. But I’ve found the new writing tools available are a perfect means to prevent this.

For years I used to write the first draft of anything by hand, meaning I have a chest full of notebooks and am on around my fifth version of a particular model of Parker pen which they no longer manufacture (the other four having been lost at various times and places). It worked for me because not only is writing by hand a slower process than typing buy you can’t easily go back and edit what you’ve written. This made me think about each line I wrote to make sure I was fairly happy and wouldn’t have to rewrite it until I came to typing the whole thing up. The drawback was that my handwriting is atrocious at the best of times, but if I was writing whilst traveling by bus, car, train or plane then it often became illegible.

And then I bought my first touchscreen phone.This was a revelation.

I discovered the Swype keyboard on my phone, where you swipe your finger across the keyboard to spell out words rather than tapping at individual keys; the keyboard looks at the letters your finger passed over and works out what word you’re spelling. Once I’d got used to trusting the keyboard to know what word I was trying to spell (which it’s surprisingly good at) this was a turning point.

Suddenly I had everything I was in the middle of writing, multiple chapters and stories I was working on, all instantly accessible in my pocket without needing to load up my bag with notebooks. I could write whilst walking. As I could hold and operate the phone with one hand, it meant I could write while I was stood on a train and hold on with the other hand. Anything I wrote my phone was instantly saved to the cloud, so all my writing was immediately backed up and instantly accessible on any device.

The only drawback I found to this method of writing turned out to be a strength. It’s not easy to edit things on a touchscreen phone. Jumping through the text, changing words, cutting and pasting are all cumbersome tasks. However, this meant I didn’t procrastinate and instead kept on writing. This limitation pushed me forward to finish the first draft, leaving anything that needed to be fixed in subsequent drafts.

I wrote probably half of the first draft of Personal Jesus on my phone and almost the whole of the first draft of The God of Las Vegas. The quality of what I wrote is no different to if I’d written it long hand, it was just a different and more convenient method of getting the words out of my head and into a usable format.

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Measuring the Authorial Momentum

It feels so great, now that I have Personal Jesus with my editor. For the first time in months I’m able to devote some head space to book 3 in the California Gothic, The Goddess of Los Angeles. The first part of this was, of course, going back through and reading the 30,000 or so words I’d written before having to go back and re-edit. I also had to go through all of my notes to remind myself what the hell I was writing and where I was going with it. I’ve also revisited my list of David Bowie song titles (each of the chapters in Los Angeles takes its name from a Bowie song).

Even though I know how important the edits to Personal Jesus are, I couldn’t shake the feeling I wasn’t making progress through working on book 1 when I’d already finished book 2. However, even just writing two and a half thousand words over the past few days makes me feel I’ve made huge strides forward. I knew, of course, that editing book 1 was progressing as a whole, but because I wasn’t writing for the latest book in the series I felt that my authorial momentum had stalled.

The whole time I’ve been editing Personal Jesus I’ve had scenes and dialogue for Los Angeles drifting in and out of my mind, and I can at last begin to order my thoughts.

I just hope I get to finish my first draft without my editor coming back and telling me there are more major changes to make to Personal Jesus.

*Goes back to writing with fingers crossed*

I wonder if Jane Austen had this problem?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone who writes consistently will always start planning the next book before finishing the current one. You should be redrafting; researching those topics you unexpectedly found yourself including in the book but know little about; listing plot holes and trying to trap more. There are dozens of things you should be doing and you diligently work through them and persist in making you book the best you can make it.

But there is always at least one part (and usually several parts) of your mind that are racing ahead to the next project and lining up its characters, its themes, the fulcrums of its plot and the choices your characters are going to have to face.

You would think this would be a distraction, but in truth I think it just helps clarify the redrafting and editing, especially when the next book you are planning is the next in the series. It keeps you focused on what you’re doing despite it being a distraction. It adds elements of excitement and the new as you continually revise and rework something you have already written.

It stops your work from getting stale as your rework it. As long as your can temper your impatience and not just abandon the editing to jump straight into writing the new book, of course.

And so I go, back to redrafting The God of Las Vegas and to persist in daydreaming about the third California Gothic novel, The Goddess of Los Angeles.