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It seems like there’s the latest new computer or tablet released approximately every thirty seconds. Do you update it every time? Is it important for you to have the latest iPad with the keyboard attachment? Or do you back away from it altogether and just go with your notebook and pen?
When I started writing, I was definitely all about pen and paper. There is a certain amount of security and ownership over your words when you write them down in a notebook: you know that it won’t be subject to any sudden and dramatic hard-drive failure—it’s all down to you to keep it there. Admittedly, it was because I didn’t own a laptop (yet) at the time, so if I wanted to write outside of my bedroom, a notebook was mostly my only choice. But also, pen and paper doesn’t limit you to just writing words down in sentences one after the other. You can have diagrams, sketches, and disjointed notes that immediately call back a scene inside your head, and that make sense to absolutely nobody else but you. And perhaps that was partly the trouble: I have the messy kind of handwriting that even I can’t read after half an hour. It has been likened to what would happen if a cavalcade of spiders got into a bottle of ink, then had an emergency dance party all over a pad of paper.
My first attempts at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) were a few years ago, trying to force 50,000 words out during my A levels. Needless to say, I grabbed every little bit of time that I could on one of the school computers, littering my desktop with attachments of half-finished chapters. As my writing progressed, I became very thankful for the invention of email. Now, it’s not just email. It’s laptops, smartphones, tablets, apps to purportedly help you with your writing. The advent of this hyper technology is a mixed blessing for writers. On one hand, you can look up any detail at a moment’s notice on 3G internet, and you’ve always got a notebook with you that ignores how messy your handwriting is. However, it’s also a massive distraction, giving you instant notification right there and then of every single Facebook poke, every twitter mention, everything that you will click on just once and then find that half an hour has mysteriously disappeared. It’s gotten worse with the increasing number of free zones of wireless internet. It’s so easy to go into a coffee shop with the best of resolutions, a huge cup of tea, and the will to write, and then realise you’ve spent 45 minutes giggling over cat videos and everyone is looking at you!
I take part in NaNoWriMo every year, and the London-based community is very strong. Last year was my first experience of writing communally in London, faithfully hauling my laptop bag to London twice a week, where groups of up to forty writers would colonise a coffee shop, piling on chairs and pretzeling themselves into the tiniest of spaces on the floor. Laptop charger cables would snake around each other to get to the charger points, making sure that nobody had any danger of being cut off as they were writing a particularly good sentence. Each of these write-ins I found to be an incredible creative force, and that was to do with the company and the atmosphere being the ideal creative environment. In ninety minutes of writing, I’d somehow manage to get 3,000 words down.
However, my attendance of these meetings that month was somewhat blighted by a technological drama. Just five days before Nanowrimo ended, I turned my laptop on—and nothing happened.
Guess who hadn’t been emailing her writing to herself.
Thankfully I retrieved it all back after several heartstopping hours of drive recovery, but I’ll never forget to back up again!
Technology not only influences what we write on, but what we write about. The presence or the absence of technology can be such a defining characteristic of the era we’re telling a story of; it can create problems for characters or enable more solutions. From when man rubbed two sticks together and created fire, we have always been looking for solutions to problems, and technology has created so many of these solutions. These can be used as a vehicle to understand how our characters interact—from someone stumbling upon the rugged explorer that helped create a fire, to a chance meeting on the internet of two people that would have never crossed paths in other ways. The internet, especially, has widened everybody’s horizons and given characters the chance to grow and be influenced by others that aren’t necessarily within their local sphere. Even more exciting possibilities lie in how present technology can inspire writers to things that don’t exist yet: from the annals of science fiction with teleporters, time travel, and the odd Tardis, to worlds that seem just like ours, but wherein people have a certain special power—reading minds, invincible fighting skills, or even something as random as talking to animals.
So, I’d like to know, what do you think about technology? How does it influence what you write on and what you write about? I embrace it—with two golden rules:
1) When it comes to what you write on, always back up your work. Use email, a USB stick, Dropbox or another online storage service. Just don’t leave it vulnerable to technological drama.
2) When it comes to what you write about, don’t use technology to make your character invincible. The most interesting characters are ones that have at least one vulnerability, as every human being has a weakness that they can’t even foresee. After all, even technology needs to be plugged in, to have batteries charging, power flowing through its system. Without that human advantage, we’re all just rubbing sticks together to create fire in the woods.