Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Joys of Technology

As a writer, sometimes it's easy to wish for the good old days before email and the internet. You know, the ones you hear about when publishers accepted unsolicited queries because people actually had to go through the effort and expense of printing and posting their beloved manuscript so the volumes were vaguely manageable.

The ones when agents weren't so overwhelmed with queries because everyone with Google and a book idea emailed them, that they now only accept submissions from people they've requested them from and file the rest in "Junk".

And yes, I will virtually hang my head in shame and admit that I was one of those people back in the day when I had absolutely no clue about the publishing business. Before I'd even finished my first manuscript, thanks to the power of Google, I had already selected who was going to be the lucky agent to represent my masterpiece, not just querying him once, but emailing him regularly over a few weeks with updated thoughts. Because of course he was just hanging around in front of his computer desperate  for yet another update on what m main character could do in Chapter 6 and wow I have this great idea for Chapter 10.  And yes, I received a far more gracious rejection than I deserved!

But, for all the extra challenges that technology has brought as a writer trying to get noticed among thousands of others, it also makes it easier to be a better writer.

I'm currently reworking one of my manuscripts to be based in Chicago, after being told by an editor that it needed to be based in the USA to have a chance of it being picked up. A bit of a challenge when I live in New Zealand and have spent all of five days in Chicago four years ago!

And yet here I am, sitting on my couch in Wellington reworking my manuscript, and with the click of a button and the flick of a screen in seconds I can find out exactly what I need to know to make it sounds like I might actually live in the US. How long would it take a character to fly from LA to Chicago? What flight would she be on if I needed her to get in early in the morning? What is the time difference? What suburb might my main character live in? How would she get to work?

With another click I can email a friend in the US with questions I'm unsure of. Does it make sense if I have my character cross X road or is it a busy four lane highway? Would someone of her age and profession realistically eat at Y cafe? How long would it take to drive from here to there?

The internet makes it all possible. Things that writers would never be able to find out, or would take significant amounts of time or expense to research can be found in minutes. Authors are more accessible, critique partners on the other side of the world email back feedback while you sleep, and when one day you get lucky enough to get on a plane the people at the other end whose blogs and tweets and trials you've followed are friends, not strangers.

So what about you? Favourite things about technology? Least?


  1. I love e-mail. I was a hold out for the longest time -- "What's wrong with the telephone and an answering machine?" but once I got e-mail, I became an addict. It is so nice to be able to send little one line notes to people when I think of it and not worry about interrupting their days.

  2. Good luck on your Chicago setting, Kara. My WIP is set in Wales and despite spending three weeks there, I am constantly on the internet looking for appropriate character names, costume details for the time period, etc. I couldn't live without it.

    We jumped on the e-mail bandwagon early since we lived so far from family and international phone calls were prohibitively expensive. It's cell phones I hate, especially when the person I am with is more interested in talking or texting than in the current experience.

  3. The convenience of technology is the attraction for me. I can email to be in touch with people because I'm thinking about them without being intrusive or cutting into their precious time. Like LeAnne, I don't like cell phones. I have one for emergencies when I'm on the road, but no one has my number because I don't want to be interrupted by it while I'm spending one on one time with someone. That face to face contact is special and I want nothing to come between me and that person in that moment. Technology is here to stay, it's how we handle it is what's important.

  4. You're brave Kara. Even though I have lived in the States for a couple of years, I decided to write US characters and have them come to Australia!

  5. I love the digital age. How did we manage before Google and Outlook?

    I have a friend in the UK. Because she's not "connected" (who on earth in this day and age isn't connected!), she's a great letter writer. Every time I receive a letter from her (most times I spend more time than I'd like trying to decipher her handwriting), I get caught up with the "romantic" notion of good old fashioned correspondence. But sadly, that warm, fuzzy feeling of wanting to respond in handwriting soon passes - just the thought of having to find an envelope and stamp and go to the Post Office, puts me off. The result is, all she gets back from me is a short SMS. Give me email any day!

    I have a box full of love letters (all perfumed on fancy paper in curly writing) from when my husband and I started dating. Unfortunately, Mixit, Googlechat, and Blackberry Messenger will leave no footprints. So, on the downside of the electronic age, the youth of today sadly will have little to none written memories to carry them through their old age.

  6. So true Marion! When my husband and I started dating we wrote letters as well (as well as numerous emails). I treasure them so much. In fact when we had an intruder last year I actually took them out of the house and keep them at work because I couldn't bear to lose them. As convenient as emails are, they're just not the same!