Back in the ancient times when I was first published, a question I frequently got at author events was whether I did my writing on a computer. Something about that query hinted that the person asking the question hoped that, if one somehow picked the right gizmo, it would function as the magic wand and one would be a successful writer.
I was always quick to disabuse aspiring writers of that notion. My answer was usually along these lines:
Hey, it doesn’t matter what tools you use. What matters is that you write. Get those ideas out of your head and onto paper, computer screen, whatever.
An aside – best advice I ever heard came from Edgar-award-winning author Julie Smith: Don’t get it right, get it written.
Still, it’s great to have the tools of the trade. Updated tools, if that’s what you want.
I’ve always used pen, pencil, and paper. Still do. Though more about that later. I am old enough that for me, graduating from a manual typewriter to a correcting electric typewriter was a big honking deal. And when I finally got a computer, well! Dual disk drive and those big five-inch floppy disks. That was an even bigger deal. No more retyping pages over and over and over again when I made changes to the manuscript.
Then there was that dot matrix printer, the one that had strips and sprockets on both sides of the page. The pages had to be separated and the strips torn off. Those were the days!
At the time, I had a rotund gray cat named Gus. He thought it was great fun to raid the wastebasket and festoon the apartment with all those strips. I mean, the whole apartment. Out of the office, down the hall, and all over the living room.
Getting the laser printer was a step up, even if it did take up a lot of space and I could barely lift the damn thing.
How things changed over the years. The huge desktop and monitor gave way to the smaller desktop and the flatscreen monitor. Eventually came the leap to the laptop. Which certainly freed up more space on my desk.
When the laser printer died of old age, I replaced it with an inkjet. Much smaller, and I could lift it without straining my back. Even the inkjet that I replaced a couple of years back was much heavier than the one I have now.
Those big floppies became smaller disks. Then came the hard drive, with lots of space. Flash drives! Nowadays, there’s the cloud – iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive.
Back in July 2019, I was walking down a sidewalk in front of the Oakland Main Library. Uneven sidewalk, and next thing I knew, I was face down on the pavement. I drove myself to Kaiser, more concerned about the skin scraped off the palms of both hands than I was about the increasing pain in my left arm. Sure enough, I’d fractured my wrist. Six weeks in a cast and two of those in a sling. I had a book due in September.
I’d never learned the Dragon software, where one speaks into a mike and the voice translates into words on the computer. Microsoft Word has a similar function but it needs training and I don’t have the patience for that, particularly when I’m on deadline. I wound up dictating lots of notes into my iPhone, finding the voice recognition to be much better. Hello, Siri! But I found out that dictating a work of fiction doesn’t work very well for me. I am definitely a fingers-on-keyboard writer.
These days, I’m writing away from home, more than I used to. Even at home, I frequently get away from my desk in the office to camp out on the sofa, with my laptop, lap desk, and my black cat Clio, who doesn’t understand why she can’t get on my lap.
I also have two terrific tools that work at home or away. The Microsoft Surface Go is my baby computer. It’s a small tablet with a cover that’s also a keyboard. The only problem is that I use a separate ergonomic keyboard at home and on my Go, I’m forever hitting that Caps Lock key.
My other favorite tool is a ReMarkable 2. It’s a tablet with a stylus. I can write in longhand on the screen and can even erase what I’ve written. I can send something from the big computer to the ReM2 and edit in longhand. I can sketch out the street map of my fictional town and draw a chart or diagram to show how characters, plot points, and settings are linked.
It’s a 21st-century update of my trusty lined notebook and pen. I love it and find it quite useful, using it at home and when traveling.
It’s always about the writing, of course. But the tools of the trade can really make it so much better.
The rights to the four most recent Jeri Howard books (Bit Player, Cold Trail, Water Signs and The Devil Close Behind) reverted to me when Perseverance Press closed its doors in the summer of 2021. As a tool of the trade to increase sales, I’ve have just republished those four ebooks with new covers that mesh with the nine previous books. Plus a box set, The Jeri Howard Anthology, Books 10-13.
Now if I can just get cracking and finish Jeri Howard #14, The Things We Keep!