The Evolution of Writing Tools

The first thing I teach my computer tech students is technology has one goal: to make our lives easier. Whether we’re talking simple machines like levers and pulleys or supercomputers to handle complex data sets like weather and climate change, the entire purpose is to make work easy and efficient. Some of those tools may get more complex over time, but they can also handle a lot more of the work.

The same has gone for writing tools. When I wrote the tweet above, I was using Google Docs. Everything is instantly saved, no worrying about losing a few hundred words to a power outage, and I have the added bonus of being able to pick up any machine anywhere and getting back to work right where I left off. Even if my home or work Internet connection goes down, I can keep working offline or open a new connection through my cell phone’s shared data. I’ve even accessed online files on a laptop from the car thanks to my phone.

This was almost unthinkable when my friends and I first started getting serious about our writing some 15-20 years ago. I was hammering away on Professional Write on an old computer at first, then transitioned through WordPerfect, OpenOffice.org, and Pages before settling on Google Docs.

We even have better tools within those apps. Google Docs, for example, has a rich revision history built in for tracking changes to manuscripts rather than having several copies of the same novel or story on several different disks or folders.

I know a few writers who lament how the tools have gotten too complex, and all the menus and clicks just get in their way. However, there are plenty of stripped-down or minimalist writing tools out there, and even they have the ability to share across computers or in different formats.

Speaking of, the end of the format war is probably my favorite outcome of the progress of technology. Results were very spotty going from WordPerfect to Word back in the day, and even going between the same program on PC or Mac could be sketchy. I used OpenOffice.org and Pages to work with editors using Microsoft Word and they never noticed, but it did take a little work and management on my part.

Today? Just about everything opens every format seamlessly. Some editors request .rtf files for safety’s sake, but for the most part, you can send them anything and they should be able to open it. If they’re demanding .doc files, it’s more or less out of habit or because it’s what everyone else does. With Google Docs, one click will send a manuscript to an editor as a .doc anyway.

It’s nice to be able to concentrate on the writing itself and not the fiddly bits that allow it to happen. Which, by the way, is why it’s also nice to write on a Chromebook rather than on a laptop where a hard drive might crash, a virus might derail a few hours of progess, or one has to monkey with drivers and updates causing crashes. With a Chromebook, the writer just opens the lid and gets to work.

Now we’ve almost come full circle. A pencil and paper were crash proof, write-anywhere tools. Now, with Chromebooks and smartphones and Google Docs, we’re just about back to that same level of reliability.

I look forward to seeing what’s next.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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