Ten or fifteen years ago, I used to be asked if switching from a typewriter to a computer had changed the way I wrote. This is not a question I get much any more as typewriters recede into the mists of time, but every time I finish a book, I can’t help comparing the differences. I’ve seen over the years.
My first few books were written on the Smith-Corona manual portable typewriter that I took to college with me. If I made a mistake, I had to reach for the bottle of White-Out.
Then came my first electric typewriter with a ribbon that was half-correction tape. If I backspaced and retyped the error, the correction tape would lift the ink off the page. No more buying White-out by the quart. I felt as if I were really stepping in high cotton!
Even with the electric model though, when I finished the final draft of the book, I knew I had 72 solid hours of typing to produce a clean copy for my editor. As I typed, I would occasionally realize that a later scene really ought to come earlier in the book. But was it worth retyping 50 pages for a slight improvement? I didn’t think so.
My first computer was a dot-matrix miracle. I could cut-and-paste electronically. Move scenes. Reorder chapters. So yes, the computer did make me a better writer. And when I was finished, the printer could churn out a complete manuscript in only five or hours instead of 72! Of course, the pages came out in one long continuous sheet, but so what? Tearing on the dotted lines and trying not to mix up the pages, I felt as if I were on the cutting edge of technology.
Now, of course, I have a plain paper printer and when I printed out Christmas Mourning this past week, it took much less than an hour and the pages were collated.
Twenty odd years ago, I remember reading that Arthur C. Clarke had just sent his latest book to his editor via something called the Internet. The process sounded like something out of one of his SciFi books. This weekend, I e’d the manuscript to my agent’s Kindle.
What would Jules Verne make of that?