How Computers Affect Your Writing Style

Have you considered how computers affect your writing style?

I’m not talking about Word’s Autocorrect. Were corrected to We’re is very annoying, but can be proofread out, as can which instead of witch.   I believe computers affect how we construct sentences and paragraphs and the way in which we set down our stories.

When I first started writing, I wrote on lined A4, made a very few edits, then typed it on my cheap and wonky electric typewriter.  (No,  that’s not true.  Much of my juvenile writing was left – exactly as it was –  in red Sylvine notebooks.)  I always used to write in pencil, and, in my latter handwriting days, do a lot of rubbing out, until I got things right, but making corrections on a manuscript, on which I’d written on every narrow line, would have been well nigh impossible.  Those of us who visit museums will have seen initial manuscripts of some classic writers (eg the Brontes), with lots of little

Publisher's galley
Galley. Attrib Wikimedia.

corrections written above the text and in margins.  I recall, my father who wrote geography textbooks, in the 1960s and 1970s, being given long galleys (like a till roll only wider), and him making – very minor – correction marks in the margins.

During the same era, Claire Rayner was rattling off doctor and nurse stories straight on to the typewriter, presumably with no editing at all.  When Dickens wrote his great novels, he published a chapter in Household Words every week, then wrote the next chapter during the proceeding week.  No wonder some of his plot lines – particularly The Old Curiousity Shop – meandered.   I understand from my publisher friend that many writers still prefer to write by hand, and use the typing-up as a first edit, although, she said, it doesn’t work for her.  Nowadays I always type.  I like the clean page, clean, that is of all errors and alterations.  Typing comes easily, probably because I learned to touch-type as a new graduate.  (My father didn’t believe I’d ever get a job otherwise.)

Old computer, Microsoft PC, about 1995.
Old computer (attrib Flickr)

When we got our first desktop computer in 1996 (cost £1400, running the very first version of Windows 95 – wow, cutting edge stuff!), suddenly it was possible to cut and paste sentences around the page… and paragraphs… to move scenes from one chapter to another.  You could make those little changes with the backspace delete key, no need for the editor’s hieroglyphics – and we could make them over and over again.  We could alter the names of characters using find and replace , even change point-of-view (although I recommend care on this one.)

And how we edit!   I must have made a hundred edits just on this post.   Increasingly it’s become expected of us that every word on our page is perfect, adds something to character and progresses the plot.  You couldn’t demand that of someone writing by hand and having their work typed by a professional typist.  No wonder it’s taking me so long to write The Novel.  I’m the worst.  Whenever I open the document for my current chapter, I read what I’ve written and spend up to an hour making edits.  I suspect some are more pertinent than others.  How much is a story improved by ‘Marya says’, not ‘says Marya’?  I suspect that, to a large extent, I’m wasting my time, improving things that don’t matter very much… because I can.

I’ve more to say on this, but I’m leaving this topic for now, as I’ve rabbited on enough.

 

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5 thoughts on “How Computers Affect Your Writing Style

  1. It’s a very interesting topic. A few years ago when I was in Ghana for a week, I had no laptop/desktop but wanted to blog and had to use the hotel’s free internet/computer facility in a mosquito infested room. I wrote my posts by hand and transferred them as quickly as possible to the ether, but what was amazing was that I barely changed a single word. Like you, my blog posts see many, many small changes – and as I seem to have become obsessed with the rhythm of my words I suppose that is to be expected. But I do find it slightly reassuring that when I write by hand it comes out right first time. That doesn’t stop me writing on the desktop though, it has become a habit. Humans, eh? 😉

    1. How interesting that you manage to write ‘perfectly’ by hand! I do know that, when I wrote by hand, I made very few edits.

  2. I used to write long-hand when I was young and then type on a typewriter, using oodles of white out! I am convinced I tend to write a lot more now that I type on a laptop exclusively. I find myself erasing entire paragraphs as I edit that I might have left out to begin with if I had written on paper.

    1. Me too. That’s exactly how I write. When taking out whole paragraphs, I cut, rather than delete, and paste in a ‘dump’ file, in case I change my mind about removing it.

  3. I’ve only ever written using a computer. I rather suspect that if I’d had to do it by hand I’d have given up very quickly.

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