Sunday, August 08, 2010

Don’t You Just Love It? - Christina Hollis

Technology has transformed the work of every writer. When my career began, publishers wanted paper - and lots of it. Their first requirement was a neat, double spaced, typewritten script with wide margins, printed on one side of the paper only. It sounds like the opening spiel of an exam, and in some ways it was. A big test was remembering to put the carbon paper (what’s that, Granny?) in the right way around. Keeping a copy is vital today, too, but in those days it needed shelves of storage space. A single title novel of 100,000 words generates one heck of a lot of paper. When manuscripts came back dog eared with bits missing and ‘No Thanks!’ scrawled in one corner, a smart new copy had to be typed up or photocopied and sent out to the next firm on my list.

It cost a fortune to mail heavyweight fiction submissions and include return postage, so in the early days I wrote far more in the way of magazine articles and short stories. Then I got my first computer. That was a whole new experience. My original model was cutting edge but it is slightly water-damaged now, owing to Noah’s storage system in The Ark. It didn’t use disks or USB’s for data storage. Instead, at the end of each working day I had to copy everything I’d written onto cassette tapes (another sunset industry!) .

Since those far off days I’ve had a succession of computers. Each one has been orders of magnitude more powerful than the last. This means they replicate any mistakes at warp speed. Now, after an unbroken line of PCs, my current machine is a MAC. Why? Apparently ‘because it is less prone to attack by viruses’.

There’s a reason for that.

Unfortunately, it is so obvious that it glides right under all the techies’ radar.

That is why my very latest gadget is rarely out of my sight. It’s an Alphasmart, as used and raved about by top author Nicola Marsh. It’s a keyboard with a tiny memory - and that’s all. No Sudoku, Spider Patience, calculator, calendar or Internet distractions. It’s the next best thing to writing on pencil and paper - the big advantage being what happens when you’ve finished. Instead of laboriously typing out each word from my handwritten script, I simply unite the Alphasmart and my computer via a one-way cable. With one press of a button, everything I’ve just written is uploaded straight onto the MAC. There’s no paper trail, no trip to the Post Office, and no postage costs. Things move faster too. Using the Alphasmart means I’m incapable of surfing the net when I should be writing. I’d have to fire up the conventional computer - a task too far when I’m snuggled up inventing stuff.

Taken all round, the Alphasmart is computing’s answer to Fred Astaire - unspectacular to look at, but it never stops working and is outstanding in its field. It’s my pride and joy. Thanks, Nicola!

Has one particular bit of new technology improved your life?

Christina Hollis writes Modern Romance and Presents Extra for Harlequin Mills and Boon Limited . She works by hand, by way of computer keyboard, and sometimes even by the light of the moon...


practimom said...

well, i would love to be able to tell you how a kindle or nook has improved mty reading habits, but, alas i cannot. i do like how my computer lets me get in touch with all the wonderful ladies whose books i read. it is so amazingly cool to chat with someone who has given me hours of entertainment and joy. i love talking to celebraties every day.

Christina Hollis said...

Keeping in touch is so easy with the Internet, isn't it, Practimom? Now that lots of libraries have computers for public use, just about everyone can 'chat' around the world. I love doing that!

Ann Lethbridge said...

I love my alphasmart. The other great thing about it is that I can sit outside with it ~ on the beach, in the garden, and its light. Oh and the batteries, 3 AA's and it lasts for months and months.
I just wish I could have something that would type what is going on in my head when I am driving. I tried the tape recorder, but transcribing was a pain. I've even made notes at the traffic lights. oops.
The new tech that changed my life though is the gps. I have no sense of direction. Now I never get lost.

Christina Hollis said...

Glad to find another Alphasmart devotee, Ann. I've never tried GPS - I like the challenge of map reading!!

Mary said...

I would have to say my computer has given me a new lease on my voice. I'm an introvert and never socialize much, but being on the internet I can interact with others so easily.

Oh and I would also have to say that my bread maker has made dinners with fresh baked bread....much better. LOL Just press a few buttons, add a few ingredients and in a couple of hours we have bread. Love that.

Christina Hollis said...

Hi Mary - glad you're another bread maker fan! We've rarely bought bread since we got our first one. We're on model 3 now, as the first two wore out. I think the smell of freshly baked bread really makes a house feel like a home.

runner10 said...

I am enjoying my ipod. It is a great way to escape all the distractions.