An editor considers tools and technology

It is always a matter of some surprise when I learn of an author, particularly one who writes SF, who refuses to embrace modern tools and technology. There are many of my colleagues who will disagree with my following assertions. That’s fine. I do, however, firmly believe if you’re going to operate in today’s business climate, you simply have to use the appropriate tools. And don’t for a moment think pursuing a career as a writer isn’t business.

So, what are the appropriate tools? As far as I’m concerned, they are as follows:

Computer: Whether you’re going to use a desktop or laptop, you simply must have a computer in order to store and manage your writing. Doesn’t matter if you chose to write that first iteration on yellow, lined pads, pen in hand, in your favourite corner of the garden, house, coffee shop or library. When it comes to actually managing and revising your work, you need to employ modern tools. Why? Because nearly every publishing house and editor is going to want your documents not in written or paper form, but generated from a computer. And you’re going to want to keep copies of every revision you’ve done, and to do so by way of paper will mean you’re either going to have to live in an abode with coffee tables which are stacks of manuscripts, or store all those iterations digitally.

Beyond that, when you do go shopping for a computer, don’t limit yourself by thinking you can get away with something at the bottom end of the offerings. Do that and you’ll end up in misery and frustration. If you’re going to be working with large files and storing data, buy bigger and better than you think you’ll need. Why? Because if you have lots of RAM, and lots of storage, it is unlikely you’re going to experience the crashes and stuttering and frustrations so many of my colleagues rant about. Your system will be able to handle your documents, without taxing or overloading.

I work with a 3.60GHz processor, 16.0GB RAM, 64-bit OS. What that means is I’m able, on a daily basis, to work with Photoshop, InDesign, Adobe Acrobat Reader, MSWord, MSExcel, Outlook, at least 6 windows open in Chrome, Spotify, and at least four other functions, all open at the same time, most working in the background, and often two working almost simultaneously.

I can never remember a crash. The only problems I’ve ever had is when our local hydro utility decides to work on the lines and just cut power without notice.

Internet access: I am shocked I even need to bring this point into the discussion. However, the number of written submissions I receive through the post still surprises me. And beyond that, why, as a writer, would you limit yourself to browsing the stacks in the library when you can also avail yourself of a global library and information by virtue of a few simple keystrokes, key words, and Google? Communication with other authors, with editors, with publishers all can be easily expanded and facilitated through the Internet. Payment for your work often depends on your ability to do online banking. To refuse to access this tremendous resource is like attempting to use a horse and buggy on the Autobahn.

Enough said.

MSWord: Oh, I can hear the wailing and derision even as I write this. Evil overlord MS. Bloatware, as one colleague calls it. Not intuitive, as another insists. Crashes all the time, says another. Oh, and if you’re experiencing any of those issues, see above under Computer.

Yes, yes, you can argue that this famous author uses a tweaked form of WordStar, or this other author uses something else.

Whatever your beef, just use Word. Why? Because it’s the industry standard. Because most publishers use Word and work with authors through Track Changes in the software. Because most publishers who are accepting digital submissions (which is most these days, thank goodness), will only accept DOC, DOCX or RTF files, and increasingly only DOC or DOCX files. Sure, you can create all those file formats through complicated measures built into other word processing programs. But often those documents which are generated are inferior and buggy by comparison to documents created in Word. So why put yourself through all that angst, because you’re unwilling to embrace the right tool for the right job?

And because I’m using analogies today, to refuse to use Word is like using a hand saw to cut all the lumber for that house you’re building, instead of using a skill saw or other power tool. Just don’t do it. Unless, of course, your point is to be archaic and slow.

Every professional tradesperson, and yes as a writer you are a tradesperson, should avail herself of the best tools available. Do so and your job becomes that much easier, and allows you to operate within the professional sphere.