Thursday, June 12, 2014

Understanding a Writer's Tools

William Zinsser, in his classic volume, On Writing Well, notes that a writer's tools of trade have changed, and continue to change, over time.  Many writers like me started out writing on sheets of legal paper in pen or pencil, graduated to the typewriter (manual then electric) and eventually embraced the PC as the tool of choice.  The tools, indeed, have changed. But the hallmarks of good writing have remained unfazed.

Last week I had a rather lengthy discussion with an editor about the intricacies of a book manuscript I had completed. At question were the smallest of details--and consistency with the latest style manuals--where and as these applied to periods, commas, and their respective usages. The editor may have thought I was getting a bit testy, but in point of fact these conversations were important to me and we were both seeking a unity of approach and position that would lead to the strongest possible book.

It is true that computers have built-in editorial components now (such as spellcheck and verb-tense usage), but nothing has been invented yet, I'm afraid, that can take the place of the meticulous editorial eye . . . the line-by-line review of hundreds of pages of material.  I wish I were better at it.

Personally, my writing tools have changed little in fifteen years.  I am still writing on a fifteen-year-old computer with floppy drives, still creating print from a fifteen-year-old laser printer that, at the time, was a speed demon, but is now as slow as molasses.  My ageing software reminds me of my ageing wife.  Whenever I experience a glitch in the computer I give it a gentle tap, or a hug, or sometimes curse at the keyboard . . . and I get results.  The thing fires up again and still provides satisfaction.

I know that all of these old tools will one day fail me.  And my wife has been urging me for the past five years to trade up for a younger model, to purchase a tool that will provide me with the speed and convenience that she thinks I deserve. 

But I can't bring myself to pull the trigger.  My old model, like my old wife, is still chugging along.  We have grown old together and I understand that, when the computer catches fire and smoke begins to roll out of the monitor, she is just trying to tell me that she has had enough for the night (my wife, after all, does the same thing).  All the old model needs is a bit of tenderness and some lovin' and she'll be good as new in the morning. 

That's the wonder of being a writer in the marketplace of the newer tools.  It really helps to understand women.

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