I love technology
This feels like some kind of ‘Technophiliacs Anonymous’ group meeting: “Hi, my name’s Matt and I love technology.” To many of my friends and associates, technology is a dirty word. They don’t see the benefit in fiddling around with a computer or a smartphone when a piece of paper never runs out of batteries, never crashes, and never erases precious hours of work because you forgot to click the right button.
They have a point. Batteries do die. Computers do crash. Work does get lost because I forget to hit ‘save’ at the right time (or at all). However, for all its many faults, technology has become my best friend — particularly in the field of writing.
1. Google Docs.
I don’t have acres of time to play around with. I have children. I have a job. I have other responsibilities. I could neglect the above and focus on my writing, but this would be a betrayal. Instead, I find the time in which to write (there’s another conversation to be had about finding time versus making time) — five minutes here, ten minutes there. I do most of my writing at work: in break times, at lunch times, in busy offices, in occasional snatched moments in a classroom when everyone around me has their heads down and my signing services aren’t required.
Google Docs makes my latest chapter available to me anywhere, on literally any device. (And I mean literally. I’m not a man who uses that word lightly, or when I actually mean ‘figuratively’.) I can pick up a chapter on my laptop, my phone, an iPad, a college computer — on any device that has access to Google (which is all of them). I can snatch my five minutes of writing, and it’s there: permanently added to the word count. I don’t have to type up later. I don’t have to keep masses of paper in a file, or even a notebook. I don’t have to worry about having a pen to hand. Instead, with a few taps my work is available for me to read, edit and add to.
This ties nicely into my ‘Nike’ philosophy of writing: Just Do It. I consider time spent waiting for the muse to be time wasted. She may visit, and she may not, but — and here’s the crucial thing — she can visit at any point in the writing process. So even if she’s not there during the first draft, she’ll pop up at some point in the revision stage, or maybe the beta-reading stage. Using a technology such as Google Docs frees me from the myth of the ‘writing space’. I don’t have to have the perfect environment in which to write — I’ve written paragraphs in the queue at the checkout in my local supermarket, whilst waiting for a train, and whilst rocking my baby daughter to sleep.
Google Docs also makes my writing available for collaborators to comment on at any time. As long as they have the link and the necessary permissions, they can add as many comments as they like, whenever they like. This works to great effect with my current publisher, Endever, as the whole of the editing process takes place on Google Docs. I can see comments come up in real time, make changes, and get approval, all in one smooth motion.
2. Kindle Reader.
With the proliferation of e-Readers, consumption of fiction on an electronic device is becoming the norm. I do most of my reading on the Kindle App on my iPhone, and hence the experience of reading through the app has become the experience I expect when reading a professionally published book.
Here’s the trick: I can export chapters or whole drafts of my latest project to my Kindle App, and read them in a ‘real life’ setting — that is, in a format my brain associates with the finished product. This has the useful effect of throwing up awkward phrasing, disjointed dialogue, unconvincing description, unnecessary repetition, and many of the other mistakes and foibles that plague a novel in development. Because my brain expects a polished product, it picks up much better on those areas that are not polished.
This is a small perk, and one that is not strictly necessary to the writing process — but I find it helps.
Another way of reviewing my work is to listen to it. This is especially helpful on my one-hour walk to work (if I’m not driving the kids around). I can plug in my headphones, hit play, and listen to the dulcet tones of whatever voice iOS has chosen to read my book for me. True, it’s nowhere near as good as listening to a well-produced audiobook, and the iOS voiceover stumbles over some words and punctuation — but it’s near enough, and it gives me an excellent feel for the ebb and flow of the story.
For example, when I was re-drafting Momentum in the runup to submission to Endever, I listened through using the iOS voiceover and realised that there was an enormous emotional bump about a third of the way through the story. All of the characters took a sudden left-turn in terms of how they were relating to each other. On the page it wasn’t so obvious — in my ears, glaringly so.
These tricks might not be for everyone — and I’m not saying they are. I still like to jot ideas down on a pad with a pen, as I feel it helps me think more two-dimensionally, and the ideas can remain unfixed and fluid until I decide to nail them down on the (virtual) page.
However, what I am trying to convey is that technology can have enormous benefits for writers — particularly those of us without much time on our hands. And what technology should help us to do is to produce the best, most polished piece of work we can.