Last week we looked at antiques: quill pens, fountain pens, and typewriters. And so we come to word processors and computers.
The word processor brings obvious advantages to writers. The ease with which you can write and revise, having typing and spelling mistakes corrected as you go, leads to…carelessness. I’m not simply referring to over-reliance on spell-checkers – that’s been covered adequately in other articles* on this site – but to sloppy style and composition.
It’s all too easy, as I have found in my nearly 30 years of using word processing software (I started with WordStar 3.1 on CP/M80 for the archeologists among you), to write using these tools. The obvious advantage is that it is easy to go back and change your words and your mind about what you want to say. But one of the serious disadvantages is that you can write half a sentence, break off and come back to write the other half, which may not match the first half in style, content or overall meaning.
Of course, this is technically possible with any other writing method – but somehow it seemed harder to stop in the middle of a sentence with a pen or a typewriter. In any case, with a typewriter, you felt honor-bound to finish the page. Dropping one piece of writing mid-sentence, taking out the sheet of paper, re-setting margins, etc. and continuing the original on the re-inserted piece of paper usually didn’t work too well.
This ability to stop writing a sentence, do something else, and continue from where you left off without always finishing the thought with which you started can make for very disjointed writing.
The “something else” can be totally unconnected with writing (food breaks and the like) or can be something writing- and computer-related (e.g. answering an e-mail message or Twitter message – in a completely different writing style to the one used in your main writing assignment) or can even be within the same document, going back and revising something that’s already been written.
While writing this piece, I’ve been guilty of all three types of mid-sentence breaks. Can you see them? I hope not, because I do go back and re-read what I have written, matching style and making sure the logic flows neatly from one part to the next.
However, it does seem painfully obvious to me reading some writing (including some of my own past work) that the flow of thought hasn’t been checked, and that the “first fine careless rapture” is the final published product.
It may not be as exciting to polish a diamond as to dig it out of the ground, but unpolished uncut diamonds are not nearly as valuable as their processed counterparts. Take time to polish your gems before putting them on display to the world.
More about word processors next week.