A Post with Absolutely No Point

by Robert Gregory Browne

I pretty much live and work inside my computer.

It’s true.  If someone could put a computer chip in my brain that would allow me to see the screen on my retinas, I’d be a happy man.

I was on a panel at the Santa Barbara Festival of Books recently, talking about process, and one of my co-panelists, Gayle Lynds, was shocked when I said I never print out my drafts.

When I write books, the first time I see a draft on paper is when the copy editor sends it to me.  I never make corrections with a pen until I’m writing STET all over those copy-edited pages.  The book is written on a computer, revised on a computer and the only thing my editor ever gets from me is an electronic copy.

Even those STETTED (is that a word?) pages get scanned and sent electronically.  Saves me a trip to the post office, and a lot of money.  The one time I DID send the paper version of my UK copy edits, the delivery charge was 70 bucks.

Ouch.

All that said, I DO prefer to read paper based books.  No Kindles or Sony Readers for me, thank you.  Well, sure, I wouldn’t mind having one.  In fact, I’d love to have one.  But as handy as they might be, I’ll always prefer paperbacks.  Lose a paperback on a plane, and you’re only out seven bucks.

But the writing process, for me, is almost all electronic.  In fact, if they could find a way to send me the copy edits electronically, I’d jump for joy.  Because, let’s face it, the copy edit phase is the most joyless part of the authoring business. 

I’ve been a gadget fiend for as long as I can remember.  When I was a kid, I had more tape recorders than I knew what to do with.  Eight track recorders, reel-to-reel, cassette recorders, multi-track recorders.  I’ve always been something of an early adopter and tend to buy gadgets long before the prices come down.

Back in the early 1980’s, I bought a Yamaha hardware sequencer (and if you don’t know, it’s kind of like the modern equivalent of a player piano for musical composition) for three thousand dollars.  That was a crap load of money back then.  Hell, it still is.  And six months later, Yamaha came out with a smaller, better version for three hundred bucks.

I bought it, too.

Don’t even get me started on mp3 players.  I’ll just say that I was buying them before even Apple knew what they were.  When the iPod exploded onto the scene, my reaction was, "What’s the big deal?" — because I’d been using something better for a couple of years.  And iPods still blow.

For writers, the computer is the greatest invention ever.  Years ago, I used to bang out screenplays on an IBM Selectric typewriter, for godsakes.  I worked in the CBS script department typing scripts on mimeograph stencils and every time I made a mistake, I’d have to pull out the little bottle of blue fluid, smear some on the stencil, wait for it to dry, then type over it.

When we heard about these new word processor things, we begged the bosses to get us some for the office.  "Not cost effective," we were told.

A couple years later, I began my love affair with the computer.

Now I’m working on my fourth or fifth laptop (I bought my first around 1995) and I’m able to take my office with me.  I keep my lastest manuscript on a thumb drive that hangs at my neck, and carry it with me wherever I go.  I have a portable video player that not only stores all of my manuscripts, but also plays mp3s, and holds about 30 full-length movies and tv shows that I’ve stored for easy viewing during long plane rides.

I bought a high-quality portable stereo recorder for traveling notes and interviewing writer friends.  That’s the idea, anyway.  Next conference I may well follow through on the threat.

And just this weekend, I was wandering around Target and wound up buying one of these:

I suppose I should point out that it’s the size of a hardback book, weighs about the same, and costs a mere $300.  This, my friends (who says that?), is a writer’s dream.  No more lugging around that heavy notebook computer.  No, not me.  Now I have what they call a netbook.  And it’s a thing of beauty. Compact.  Convenient.  Cute.  But best of all, functional.

Let’s face it. I can’t help myself.  I’m hopelessly addicted to gadgets.  Which is why my wife refers to me, affectionately of course, as The Gadget Man.

Now will somebody find me a gadget that can tell me the point of this friggin’ post?

32 thoughts on “A Post with Absolutely No Point

  1. Catherine

    Rob,

    I can tell you of a gadget that may help you fulfil your edit without paper wish. Maybe.

    I did an internship at a business incubator, called the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast a few years back…which was basically filled to the brim with gadget happy people; creators of cool stuff. One of the first companies at the gadget happy workplace was/is called Typefi. They’ve since graduated to become what seems like a pretty big concern.

    This workplace was pretty great as all the different gadget happy people would gather to share beer and BBQ for Friday lunch and you’d get to discuss some of the non- confidental interesting stuff people were up to.

    I roughly remembered them as developing products to streamline publishing. As I thought they may of been doing something with editing too, I looked at their web page. I think they have something that may streamline the copy edit stage without scads of paper…Typefi Publish.

    This is snippet from their webpage.

    “The Typefi Publish XML based repository enables you to repurpose information to improve accuracy, eliminate redundant review and edit cycles, and enable just-in-time delivery of business information to print, web or PDF.”

    Seems as though the development stage can happen in an online environment with further adaptability.I hope this doesn’t come off as an ad…as my intention is more aligned to gadget sharing serendipity.

    Funny how beer conversations can stay with you though.

    Reply
  2. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Rob

    I, too, was early into the whole word processor thing. My first Amstrad didn’t even have a hard drive – you just worked from one odd-shaped floppy disk to the next.

    But on the road I like to use my neck-top computer. It is the size of a small pad of paper … mainly because it IS a small pad of paper. And a pencil.

    Hi-tech? Me?

    Reply
  3. Wilfred Bereswill

    Hey Rob, hope you’re feeling better. Can you get your fingers on that eeepc keyboard?

    I’m also a technofreak. My first business computer was a IBM PC 8088, two floppies, no HD. I think we used Wordstar.

    I did receive my copy edits in pdf format. Way cool. I occasionally print out my manuscripts for a reader, but I write and revise electronically.

    Reply
  4. Louise Ure

    I love the notion of the thumb drive necklace with your latest ms on it. Kind of like carrying your loved one’s DNA around with you.

    I guess I’m techno-comfortable, yet not a geek. But I sure do heart my iPhone.

    Reply
  5. Rob Gregory Browne

    Louise, as much as a geek as I am, I have never been a fan of phones. Landlines or cell phones. Phone conversations have always been a bit foreign to me.

    Which is why I have almost no interest in the latest phone gadgets — although the iPhone looks pretty cool (if it’s users would leave it in their goddamn pockets for awhile) — but I’m not interested in paying the astronomical fees associated with owning one…

    Reply
  6. Dana King

    There is a way to do the copy edits completely electronically. Word has a function called “Track Changes.” Let the copy editor have his/her way with the Word document, then email it back to you. You than have the option to accept or decline all changes, and can make edits (or not) based on marginal comments that are not part of the text of the document.

    It’s a pretty cool feature. I’m surprised publishers haven’t picked up on it yet.

    That being said, my last edit is ALWAYS a hard copy. It’s me security blanket.

    Reply
  7. Wilfred Bereswill

    Stephen, thumb drives are great right up until you leave them in a golf cart with your last two chapters that you haven’t backed up to anywhere else yet.

    And then the a-hole cart supervisor won’t let you look through the 200 carts for it.

    Not that that’s happened to me or anything.

    Reply
  8. Joyce Tremel

    I do all of my work on my computer, too. I only print out the final draft. As I’m still unpublished (yes, please, everyone feel sorry for me!), I haven’t had the pleasure of the copy edit experience.

    I hate phones too. I have a Tracfone, which works out well because I only use about 30 minutes per month. But I couldn’t live without my laptop computer.

    Reply
  9. Naomi

    GadgetMan:

    So the netbook has a plug-in for a thumb drive? (How many plug-ins does your particular netbook have?) And does using your thumb drive slow your speed at all?

    What’s the battery time?

    Reply
  10. J.D. Rhoades

    I love my thumb drive too, but I’ve lost three of them so far. For a while I had the current one clipped to my key chain, but the clip broke. Now it’s in the computer bag. I hope.

    I’m such a terrible typist, I probably would not be writing if not for the computer and its ability to just back up over a typo. My college roommate got one of the first Apple II’s and let me use it for papers and such. I never looked back.

    So what’s your gripe with the iPod, and what do you prefer in its stead?

    Reply
  11. toni mcgee causey

    I’m one who generally doesn’t print out a copy, either–I do all of the work on the computer ’til the copy edit phase, and yeah, it’d be great if they’d go to an online version of that.

    Love computers and gadgets. I had one of those eeepcs with me at RWA Rob. I also bought a silicone keyboard that rolls out to a regular size and attaches vis USB. It lights up, but mostly, it’s got the keys where I need them. (I couldn’t type at regular speeds on the eeePC keyboard.) I didn’t take long to get used to the feel of the silicone keyboard and I paid less than $30 for it, so it was worth it. Both were small enough and light enough to stuff in my purse when traveling, and going through security was easy. I didn’t have to lug a computer bag around.

    What I want is a really good, reliable voice recognition software, but I haven’t heard a recommendation for a good one.

    Reply
  12. JT Ellison

    We always knew you were wired differently, Rob.

    I’m a gadget freak too. We have an Eee and Randy just loves it. It’s so much easier than dragging the whole laptop around. iPods and an iPhone and laptops and gear. Lots of gear. I wrote my first computer program on an old Apple in 8th grade and have been hooked ever since.

    I end up printing pages because of critique group, but I don’t usually get the whole document out until it’s done. Then I print it and edit on paper. I used to print every chapter as I went, and I’m thinking about doing it again. It’s so satisfying to have a visual on your performance, those pages stacking up on your desk. And it’s one more back up system.

    I’m always worried I’ll miss something on the screen. And I work in Calibri. When the copyedit comes, it’s in Courier, and I can see all the mistakes. It actually works quite well.

    Reply
  13. Rob Gregory Browne

    Naomi, the Eee PC 900 has three USB ports, built-in wireless, an ethernet port, a VGA port and a battery that lasts about 2.5 to 3 hours. The hard drive on my machine is only 4 gigs, but there’s an SD card slot and you can use that as an additional hard drive to hold whatever size SD Card you prefer. I picked a 2 gig up at Fry’s for six bucks, but you can find larger capacity cards for fairly cheap.

    The only drawback to the machine is no DVD/CD player, but I use a thumb drive or SD card in place of one. DVDs are so yesterday… 🙂

    Reply
  14. Rob Gregory Browne

    Dusty, I bought an iPod for my wife. I discovered that it REALLY LOVES iTunes, wants to sync with it and, unless you jump through hoops, dragging and dropping to the thing is either impossible or problematic.

    With the MP3 players I use (Sandisk and Creative Zen W), all you have to do is highlight the file you want to transfer and drag it over to the computer, vice-versa. Easy peasy.

    Apple makes a beautiful LOOKING product, but I don’t like being locked into the Apple format and their ass backwards way of doing thing.

    That said, the iPod Touch is mighty tempting.

    Reply
  15. Tammy Cravit

    I too am a gadget whore (as my spouse likes to say), but I must confess I’ve been evolving toward minimalism in that regard. I do all my writing in plain text files, and an ever-increasing fraction of it on a six-year-old Mac iBook that I picked up on eBay for $150 not too long ago.

    When I can finally ditch the hated day job and remake myself as a fulltime freelance magazine writer/mystery novelist, I’ll probably buy a newer MacBook, but plain text is still the way I’m apt to go. (There are some great tools for converting plain text to RTF/Word/etc. when article submission time comes along.)

    Since I’ve yet to sell a novel, I haven’t had to deal with copyediting. I suspect that, with a plain-text workflow, the file comparison tools relied upon by the software industry could be adapted to the task.

    Reply
  16. J.D. Rhoades

    The slavery to iTunes is why I’ve always had mosgivings about the iPod, and why I use a Creative Zen Touch. The kids have Sandisks, which they love.

    I’m seriously considering the eee thing. I don’t game as much anymore, just write and surf. But that itty bitty keyboard is worrisome. I have large hands, and a regular keyboard is hard enough for me to hit.

    Reply
  17. pari

    Rob,I’ve got a slightly older eeepc and adore it.

    Other than that, I’m an uber technodork — don’t know an iPod from an iPhone from an iLuddite.

    Reply
  18. Rob Gregory Browne

    Dusty, it will be problematic for big hands, no question about it. You might consider going the route Toni did, by buying a roll-up USB keyboard.

    Pari, iLuddite. I like that. You notice how all the new tech gadgets seem to have i in front of them now, Apple or not?

    Reply
  19. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, too much tech. Head hurts.

    I like hard copies of pages to do revisions on and that’s so much easier on a plane than lugging a laptop, But that little gizmo would be great to travel with.

    Reply
  20. R.J. Mangahas

    Rob,

    I couldn’t tell you what the point of this post is. I will say this. I want to get me an Eee PC, although I still like to write long hand and see drafts on paper. Not so much liking the e-readers though. And the point I agree with a lot: iPods SUCK!!!!

    By the way, it was great to finally meet you and the others at the ‘Rati get together in Baltimore.

    Reply

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