I’ve always considered myself to be a modified Luddite. I don’t own a mixer– just a wooden spoon, a whisk, and an egg beater. Because, really, if you can’t make a cake with those things, should you really even be making a cake? Okay, I’m even a little cocky about it. Obnoxious, right?
When I first discovered that I really loved writing as much as reading, I appropriated my mother’s ancient Smith Corona. It was the kind of typewriter that sat in its case all the time, and it used fabric ribbon. You couldn’t erase, unless you had typed whatever it was on special paper– which was still sold at the time, even though I had to hunt around at different Long’s Drugs stores to find it. I even had one of those rotary erasers with a tiny brush at one end. Even when I had a word processor to write school papers on, I still used my (now it was my Smith Corona) manual typewriter. I only stopped using it when I couldn’t find ribbons for it anymore, and too many of the keys started sticking.
On the one hand, having a real typewriter made me a fairly accurate typist. This came in handy a few years later when I started working in Interlibrary Borrowing and had to type triplicate forms on an IBM Selectric. Also, I think it made me pay attention to the details of writing, the nitty gritty typographical sorts of things, like where to put commas, how to do dialogue– because on a manual typewriter from the 1950’s you don’t get second chances. Your choices are to XXX everything that is a mistake, which alters the entire look of whatever draft you are working on, or to just start that page over from scratch. It bends the way you learn, I am pretty sure, to have an unforgiving typewriter. Now we are lazy. We know that a misspelling is going to get underlined in red squiggles, grammatical errors in green. We can type whatever the hell we want and simply check it afterwards. There is even a whole school of thought in the realm of composition writing where this is a good thing (and I actually agree, so this is not a knock) and that this way of writing is productive for beginning or fearful writers. I taught using the underpinnings of this idea for years, so I do ultimately agree.
But sometimes we need to be pushed. Sometimes we do need that unforgiving sort of teacher– in my case, a typewriter– so that we can learn not to make so many mistakes. Perhaps it all boils down to the individual student’s personality, their writing experiences, how they interact with writing situations– a ridiculous amount of variables exist.
But here I am now, sitting at a computer that has the graciousness to edit me with gentle reminders and colored squiggles, and I’m not complaining about it. I’m also not complaining about the way that computers– especially this latest generation– have affected the way that I write. Not quality, mind you. Just method.
When I first went into the MFA Program, years and years ago, I did not trust computers. They crashed. Discs were corrupt or did not fit. And then there were smaller discs. And then round ones. So many changes! Paper was the more reliable form, still, because unless you actually lost or destroyed the notebook, you would always have your writing. For years, I wasted SO MUCH PAPER because I printed out every story start I deemed worth saving. Hello, Howard Hughes! No, not really. I threw a lot of them out, too, once I did not find them useful, or if I rewrote them or something. Sometimes I’d toss out a box or folder in a fit of pique– and let me tell you, deleting a file on a computer with a single blip of a button pales in comparison to throwing something out dramatically and tearfully into the garbage, or setting something on fire. Every writer should own a metal trashcan for this purpose alone.
A few months ago, when our computer died, my mom let us use her computer. She wasn’t using it anyway due to a faulty internet connection that seemed impossible to fix (I won’t get into details here, just believe me) and we could not afford a new computer. Also, I was a teacher, and I had to grade online– it was a big snarl of a mess. So, we set up her computer in the kitchen and figured out how to use it. My husband had an easier time, since he uses computers all the time at work. I, on the other hand, use computers in a very limited way. I write on them and watch videos on them. That’s about it. Oh, yes! I read the news on them.
We could not afford to spend more money on Microsoft Office, when it wasn’t even our computer and we did not know how long we would have it. Plus, my mom’s computer was a Dell and we wanted to get another Apple– that meant getting two separate copies of it– what a mess, and so expensive! So, while we had a computer, I only used it in even a more limited way than before, because I didn’t have a writing program to use. I experimented with a private blog, used solely to write fiction. I thought I could use WordPress as a cloud, but it was a bit awkward. It’s easy as sin to blog, but keeping fictional chapters straight is a bit laborious– or at least it was for me.
But then a student introduced me to Google Docs, and whoa! Hello, cloud storage! Now the digital age had surpassed the simple notebook! I know, I know, there are drawbacks. But for my simple needs– not losing my shit– I was finally happy. Now it doesn’t matter what computer I’m on– I can just log in and there are my chapters, all in a row. After the teensiest bit of research, I can even publish an ebook formatted right from Google Docs. No retyping required– just copy and paste. What?!
I’m a convert. A modified Luddite. I won’t go all fundamentalist– at least, I don’t think I will. I mean, I bet fundamentalists don’t realize how nuts they sound, right? I still have my wooden spoon and my balloon whisk, and I’ve no plans on cluttering up my kitchen with an unnecessary electric mixer– but oh my gosh, how I can appreciate a cloud.