At lunch the other day with an author friend, we discussed writing, as we always do, and at some point in the conversation, again as always, we agreed that the computer is both a curse and a blessing to the publishing business. In theory it should make everything better, but the downside of facilitation is glut: many writers, many manuscripts, higher slush piles for agents and editors, and longer waits for publication or even rejection letters.

I remember the time when the computer was a mystery that only a few people bothered with. Once for an inservice we teachers were forced to attempt to learn how to write a program. At that time the powers-that-be in education thought that every teacher would have to write her own, so we were led through a series of confusing instructions by people who couldn't have explained the process clearly even if we had been able to comprehend it. Of course it turned out that there are many smart people willing to write all sorts of programs, so these days the average user doesn't have to create them and doesn't have a clue how it happens. After experiencing the frustration of that workshop, I'd say that's a good thing.

The computer certainly makes my writing easier, and today I can't imagine handwriting manuscripts as I did at one time. However, since anyone can word process now and create a manuscript that looks nice and has all the right formatting, everyone can submit work to agents and publishers. How do they winnow the wheat from the chaff?

Computers give everyone the method for creating a novel but not the ability. It's great to have spell- and grammar-check (although I have moments of doubt). It's great to be able to, with a few commands, move chapter three farther into the MS so that the reader doesn't catch on too quickly. And it's great to hit "search" and find that spot where you named the ambulance attendant something like Dirk or Dick or Devin. What the computer can't help with is what I struggled for 30 years to teach my students about writing: plot, character, theme, setting, irony, and style. Whether you use a PC, a MAC, or a laptop, for the good stuff you're on your own.

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Comment by Peg Herring on January 4, 2008 at 2:30am
I think Sid's work has finally been recognized as genius after years of mucking about in obscurity!
Comment by Dana King on January 4, 2008 at 1:45am
Good points, all. The computer is a tool, not unlike a hammer, or a paintbrush, or a pen. It's what you do with it. The implements Michaelangelo used were no different from those used by Sid Pieceoshit, but, honestly, would you want a Pieceoshit hanging on your wall?

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