This continues a series of guest columns on how technology is reshaping hobbies and passions – basket weaving, rugby – whatever.
This time it is Charlotte Otter, who knows a thing or two about books and writing. As her widely read blog catalogs, she has read over 150 books in the last couple of years. Unquestionably, words are her “hobby”.
“From the age of five, I wanted to be a writer, and now it is both my job (I am a freelance journalist) and my hobby (I am writing a novel and I blog). Before I started school, I remember trying to write my name into my Beatrix Potter books - a big “C” for Charlotte and then arbitrary letters, including an “X”. Now that I can spell my name, I hope to be one day signing it correctly in my own novels, possibly with an elegant fountain pen, and not only in books by other writers.
So how has technology changed my hobby? I spent my entire school and university career handwriting everything. I remember the cramps in my right hand as I rushed to get an essay in at the last minute. Luckily, my good cursive was usually worth five extra percentage points.
Technology entered my writing life in 1992, when, during a postgraduate journalism class, we were sent on a computer course and then encouraged to word process our submissions. I was lucky enough to have a boyfriend who had a computer so instead of booking time on the university’s machines, I had the luxury of working at home. I once famously phoned him during a high-level customer meeting to ask him how to print, and he still married me. “Shift F7” has now become the code-word for when I am having a technology moment. They happen; you can ask him :)
My laptop is nothing more than a tool, the way writers in other ages used stone or clay tablets, vellum, parchment or paper. My keyboard is the means to put words down, the way writers have used styluses, quills, ink brushes, pencils and pens. I happen to use an Apple MacBook 1.1, but for my purposes, it is a glorified typewriter - a means to write and store that writing.
When I am writing creatively, as opposed to for business or in my blog, I often still handwrite. The flow from mind to pen still comes naturally for me, and especially if I need to write something in particular character’s voice, then I often break from the laptop, free write something on paper and later enter it into the computer. For me, typing is left-brain activity, while writing on paper is right-brain. I find the intuitive connections there.
The explosion in writing came with the Internet and connectivity. First it was useful as a source of stuff - shopping on Amazon for books - and for research, but now it is a place to connect. I connect with other writers via my blog and on Facebook. The Internet is not only changing how we work, but it’s changing language. When it comes to gaming, I am such a “noob” that a “brick” might “gib” me. “Tweeting” is no longer just for the birds.
There are amazing resources for writers on the Web just in the blogosphere alone. I have recently finished the first draft of my novel and have found a wonderful blogger called The Plot Whisperer. She is a professional plot consultant, but offers advice for writers on her blog for free. I am working through her plot planning course in advance of starting the second draft. I also read the blogs of literary agents and publishers.
When the time comes to market my novel, I will turn to the Web again. The first goal of someone with a manuscript is to find a literary agent, and sites like Agent Query provide databases of agents, what fiction they like to sell and how to approach them. If I’m in need of immediate gratification, I can put my manuscript, unfinished or not, up on Harper Collins’ site Authonomy which is like Pop Idol for writers. The HC editors guarantee to read the top five manuscripts every month.
Traditional publishing is being challenged by alternatives, so if my novel doesn’t find the audience I hope it will down the usual routes, I will have other options open to me - I could self-publish (using a service like www.lulu.com) or serialize it on my blog. Writers are starting to talk about collaborative, Web 2.0 models where they could peer edit, submit manuscripts to respected readers and then publish online for free. Readers could then download and read the manuscripts in any format they choose, from paper to Kindle.
I’ve avoided Twitter so far, because I struggle to express myself in only 140 characters. But believe me, if I get a publishing contract I’ll use every marketing tool out there to help sell it.
@WholeWideWorld? Read my book!”