Writers don’t need special software

In centuries past, books were hand copied by monks in distant lands, laboured over for months or years at a time, then read by a few dozen, or at most a few hundred people. Then Gutenberg came along, and before they knew what was happening, monks all over Europe were looking for jobs and the ordinary man on the street was reading the latest trashy novel.

But at least those first drafts were hand written, in whatever mangled scrawl the writer used. In many cases, hand written early drafts are still proudly on display in museums all over the world. And then the typewriter came along and made first drafts just another printed page.

Woe to writing!

The English author Kingsley Amis never used a word processor. He thought they were god awful machines that could never replace his trusty Adler typewriter that had served him well for thirty years.

It’s 2013, and we still hear variations of the monk’s and Kingsley’s laments from Luddites across the world. The only difference is the target of their ire. No one these days has a problem with printed books. No one wishes to go back to the oral tradition, before this pesky ‘writing’ took hold and changed storytelling forever. No one apart from those living in Germanic religious sects in the US wants to use a typewriter.

The word processor is the new all-you-need writer’s aid. It’s the quill and the typewriter of today, and Microsoft Word is the flagship. God help anyone who suggests that something new might be of use to writers.

Absurd.

Sure, writers today could write their novels by hand. They could use a typewriter. They could turn to figure painting and tell their story by adorning the walls of French caves with pictures of the Mars Rover.

But why?

Specialised technology exists in every field. A soccer Mom drives a different car to a salesman, who drives a different car to a policeman and an eco-warrior. Travel to any large city by train, and chances are you’ll take an intercity powered by petroleum of some kind to reach the city, a light rail system run on electricity to reach your destination suburb, and a tram or bus to reach the street or building you’re heading for. Specialised technology to meet special needs. People who live different lives want different cars. Different types of travel are best served by different types of transport.

Writing is no different.

A journalist wants one thing from his writing software, a student writing an essay for college wants something a little different, the guy putting a resumé together something else entirely.

And the novelist, the poet, the screenplay writer?

They want something just that little bit unique too. And why not? It wasn’t the Adler typewriter that made Kingsley Amis a great writer. The spell checker in Microsoft Word didn’t turn mediocre writers into Pulitzer or Booker winners. The tool itself doesn’t improve writing, all it does is make the working life of the individual writer that little bit easier and more productive.

The creative stuff, that thing that great books are made of, comes from inside the writer’s head. Writers may not need special software, but why shouldn’t they have it?

27 Mar 2013