A couple of weeks ago, I was reading BBC News when I stumbled across an article about my current favourite writer (yes, G. R. R. Martin again). Anyway, the article pointed out that whenever he writes, he uses a separate offline computer which runs an old DOS-based Word Processor from the 1980s/1990s. Wow! Yet again, I stand in awe of him 🙂
Although I’m something of a retro traditionalist when it comes to computer games and computer technology and I usually like to stay at least a few years behind the times, I’m unfortunately more of a Windows user than a DOS user (although I remember loading games in DOS when I was a kid). Even so, this article got me thinking about simplicity and word processing software in general.
In fact, until I was about twenty (back when I used to write more fiction than non-fiction), I always used to handwrite my stories before I typed them.
Trust me, an old-fashioned notepad is the ultimate portable word-processor and it can probably even put most of these newfangled tablet computers to shame in terms of ease of use and reliability – however, it’s more trouble than it’s worth when it comes to writing anything longer than about 2000 words.
Unless you have an assistant or a secretary who can type up your handwritten drafts for you, it more than doubles the length of the writing process. This is something I learnt when I wrote my first longer short story (a 6000-word sci-fi/thriller story I wrote in late 2008/early 2009 called “Trentport West”), which was also coincidentally the last time I wrote out my stories by hand.
But, there are three good things that I miss from writing everything by hand. First of all, it forces you to edit everything when you type it up – back when I was handwriting my stories, I’d do all of my editing during typing up my stories. So, once it was typed, it was done. This is probably still why I’m reluctant to edit things.
Secondly, there weren’t really any distractions. Yes, I could still procrastinate when I got to a difficult part of whatever I was writing – but this was an active effort, I had to put down my notebook and walk a few paces over to my computer. With any kind of word processing software, procrastination is just a click away.
But, on the flip side, the easy access to a billion wonderful forms of internet procrastination and various computer games means that I have to restrict myself to writing things that are interesting enough to stop me procrastination. So, procrastination isn’t an entirely bad thing.
Thirdly, it gave me an instant backup copy of whatever I was writing. Yes, these days, I tend to make backups every couple of days at the least and posting things to the internet is also another backup of sorts. But, in 2010, I experienced a rather severe computer crash and lost most of my data. Whilst this meant that I only have a few scant printouts of many of the stories I typed in 2008-2010, it also means that I don’t have to worry about anything I wrote from 2000-2008, since I’ve still got the original notebooks that I wrote these stories in.
Anyway, these days, I do almost all of my (mostly non-fiction) writing on a computer and I’ve discovered the joy of using simple word processing programs. You see, until I started this blog, I almost always used to use either an old version of MS Word (on the computer I owned from 2001 (?) to 2006) and either Star Office or Open Office on this computer. But, for some reason, something always felt slightly off about these programs.
However, when I started writing something literally every day for this blog, I quickly switched over to using WordPad version 5.1 and I’ve never looked back since.
In case you’ve never used it before, WordPad 5.1 is a bare-bones word processor that comes with Windows XP. You can change the fonts and font sizes that you use (although I mostly just use 10-point Arial, because it’s easier to read and doesn’t look as “writerly” as Times New Roman), you can even use bullet points and create bold, italic and underlined text. But that’s about it.
There’s no spell-checker or grammar checker (and I usually just copy my articles into Star Office for things like spell-checking and word counting) and you can’t even save your files as “.doc” or “.docx” files either (the best you can hope for is to save your work as a “.rtf”, which is compatible with almost every computer program imaginable – unlike these other two formats…).
And it’s amazing! I can’t imagine using a better program than WordPad 5.1 for writing in.
Why? Well, it’s just easier to write with for a whole host of reasons – when I click on the “WordPad” icon, it loads up instantly (as opposed to having to wait 30 seconds for Open Office or Star Office to load). There’s also no spell-checker, so I don’t find myself interrupting my writing to right-click on a word literally every time I spell “themselves” or “weird” incorrectly.
But, best of all, WordPad isn’t intimidating.
The “page” that I write on when I type something in a simple program like WordPad is just a white screen which hasn’t been squashed to resemble a piece of A4 paper. As such, when I sit down to write something on WordPad it feels like I’m just scribbling something in an old notepad, writing an e-mail or using a typewriter (and yes, I went through an old-fashioned typewriter phase when I was 19/20).
Without the intimidating feeling of looking at something that looks like a computer printout when I’m typing, I don’t feel any kind of pressure to produce something “perfect”. I can just get on with actually writing what I want to write.
So, if you feel a slight hesitation before you type anything or sitting down to type out a story or a non-fiction piece feels like this intimidatingly large and momentous task, then try using a simpler word-processing program like WordPad instead (you can probably find loads of free/open source simple word processors on the internet, if you don’t use Windows too). Trust me, the results might surprise you….
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂