BASIC SKILL SET OF THE 21ST CENTURY WRITER

In case you’re queuing up late for the buffet line, this month we’re focusing on speed!

In my post titled, “The Speed of Story,” back on February 8th, I proffered the hypothesis that there are four areas an idea needs to travel through to become a story:  1) Yon High, that magical place where ideas are born and doesn’t really involve us; 2) The Lightning Bolt, the way in which ideas are transmitted to you via Yon High; 3) The Brain, that complicated snake pit of self-doubt and worry; and 4) Output, the way in which you capture a story, which is what we’re here to discuss today…which naturally leads us into the Wilds of Technology.

The infamous They say it doesn’t really matter how you get the words down, just that you somehow do.  But I think it matters.  I think it matters a lot.

Don’t get me wrong.  Of course it’s most important that you get the words down at all, and I’m no stranger to writing it out in longhand to try and loosen up writer’s blockages.

But at the end of the day, the final form that your professional work must take — and it is crucial that you consider it your professional work — is some sort of digital format that, in most instances, should be compatible to Microsoft Word.  I won’t argue the merits of Microsoft Word versus some other word processing software.¹  Why not?  Because this is just one of those things that is.  No sense wasting energy trying to change something you can’t.

And besides all that, don’t you want to remove any sort of physical limitations that you can between you and the written word?  Better to be able to focus on what’s happening in the scene rather than where they hid the dang “q” again.

So here’s the bottom line:  If you want to make your living as a professional writer, you have to learn how to touch-type…and quickly.  Now, before you throw your hands up to tell me about your dad who typed reports for the Army for 30-plus years using only his two index fingers, thank you very much, let me inch a little farther out on this limb.

Not only do I think that being able to type 60-plus words per minute is an essential skill for the 21st century writer, I also think basic computer skills, web skills, graphic design skills, social networking skills, marketing skills, and even basic programming skills fall into this category.

I know that reading this is probably giving many of you an uncomfortable sinking feeling in your gut, but you have to look at this thing objectively.  We live in a digitally-connected world now.  Not only does this make information and opportunities more accessible to us, it makes them more accessible to everybody else in the world.  What that simply means is that there’s more competition, lots more.

And let’s take a look at some of that friendly competition.  We’ve got innovative published authors out there releasing their novels for free and winning awards and then signing traditional publishing contracts for their work.  We’ve got authors on Kickstarter.com raising money to fund their work.  We’ve got authors who have earned publishing contracts through their blogging efforts.

This is the brave new world we’re operating in…only it’s not so new anymore.  The kids that were spoon-fed on this stuff are now grown up and entering the field.  The competition is smarter and faster and not afraid to try new things.  And I’m willing to bet that all of them can type fast.

Now, if you are not a touch-typist at all, or are simply a slow typist, please don’t feel defensive or ashamed…or even illogically proud of your 23-wpm typing speed.  Just get busy.  There are hundreds of free typing tutor applications and games you can download.  The games are fun.  And if you spend just a few focused hours on developing your typing skills, you will see a marked improvement.  It doesn’t take long at all.  I learned to type fast in a few weeks back in high school, and I never had to think about it again.  It’s just like playing video games, guys.  Practice, practice, practice!  Once you develop this skill, you’ll never look back.

Now, for those of you who already know how to type, you get a “meets minimum requirements” sticker — yay! — and tomorrow we’ll discuss coding your own website from the ground up.

Ha-ha!  Just kidding.  Really, I am.  But maybe not completely.  I think the more we learn, the more we open ourselves up to having our own brave and innovative ideas.  Maybe it’s an overstatement to say a modern writer needs to be able to build their own website from scratch, but it couldn’t hurt.

But definitely, unequivocally, a writer’s gotta be able to type fast.²

______________________

¹ I actually use OpenOffice myself, which I love…and which also happens to be free.  But I am not shut to the notion of any other software I might need to further my career.

² Obviously, if you have some sort of disability that prevents you from using the keyboard, there are other options out there, most notably Dragon NaturallySpeaking.  The incredibly prolific Lynn Viehl uses it regularly and blogs about it here.

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8 Responses to BASIC SKILL SET OF THE 21ST CENTURY WRITER

  1. Heather says:

    I get that “meets minimum requirements” sticker, and I am pasting it to my shirt while I run out the door for my important work meeting where I am going to show a group of people how to form a website. Seriously. 😛

    Kudos to me? Maybe. For now, thanks for these great tips!

    I mostly love this section:

    “And let’s take a look at some of that friendly competition. We’ve got innovative published authors out there releasing their novels for free and winning awards and then signing traditional publishing contracts for their work. We’ve got authors on Kickstarter.com raising money to fund their work. We’ve got authors who have earned publishing contracts through their blogging efforts.”

    I like this because it helps me see what I am up against, and because it gives me great ideas for getting myself out there better as well! 🙂

    Happy Writing!!!

    Heatherrr

    • mybluescreen says:

      Thank you. What’s so awesome about the “competition” out there is everyone has such a generous and sharing attitude towards this thing we’re all doing. Case in point, Cory Doctorow makes his novel “The Makers” available for download for free, and he explains why here.

      Happy writing…and reading! 🙂

      BTW, that’s very cool that you’re teaching folks to make their own website…very cool. Hope it went well.

      • Heather says:

        Yes, I love it when people are open to sharing ideas and being helpful. Community is very important to me, so that is probably a good reason why I love people helping each other out.

        I don’t know that I will ever be a professional writer, I just know that I love it. I love the taste of a phrase forming on my lips, just before it seeps into my fingers and appears on the screen before me. The way it feels to breathe life into my imagination, while I envision the scene unfolding first like a children’s book and then like a movie. The characters developing in their own way and time, surprising me with new quirks.

        I tend to create worlds for myself, and I find myself getting lost in those worlds more than actually writing about them. I need to change that, but I am passionate about so many hobbies it is very hard for me to choose. I end up dividing my time in too many ways between singing, writing, photography, drawing, painting, reading, playing piano, and playing guitar. That doesn’t even include work and school… 😦

        Why must I love so many things?

      • mybluescreen says:

        I’m the same way. It’s ridiculous all the projects I’ve got going on. But I say, why choose? This is the artist’s prerogative. 🙂

  2. Just one question – say someone says my work is good enough for publication (doubtful, but I can dream), would it matter that everything I write is long hand first? Because even if I know exactly what I want to write it is always in long hand first. It is just something I feel comfortable with and I would hate to change it. My writing process is long hand, then publication on my blog and that’s when I make my alterations when typing up, so all edits are on the fly. So it means I have no digital first drafts. Would that be a problem for a professional writer in this day and age?

    Thank you in advance for any answer I may receive.

    • mybluescreen says:

      I don’t think it’s a problem at all…especially for you. You seem pretty prolific on your blog. Nicely done, by the way!

      I don’t think it’s necessary to have a digital first draft, just a digital final. If writing in longhand works for you, I wouldn’t change it. I actually have to force myself to write in longhand every once in a while; otherwise, I get the notion in my head that if I find myself without computer and keyboard, there’s nothing I can do until I am reunited with said ball and chain. I also think writing in longhand engages the brain just a little differently. I can’t really explain how except to say that sometimes it’s easier for me to get a first draft out in longhand versus keyboard entry…something about feeling free to be messy. I think a lot of other authors agree with this.

      This is a good question though. I had to go back and look at this post. Perhaps I came on a bit strong, but I do think that typing fast is an essential skill to becoming a prolific writer, not to mention an essential skill to any member of Modern Mankind. Sounds like you know how to type though. 🙂

      I think the bottom line…to just about everything…is that if it’s working for you and it’s working well, don’t mess with it. 😉

      • Ah, got it. And about the longhand thing for me its the other way around. When I first went to University I had to get used to typing everything as before I had done all my work in longhand, including coursework. As I recall, I was the only one to do that in the whole class.

        As for my typing, I think I am around 30 – 40 wpm..ish.

        And thanks for the compliment about my blog. I have my moments (no idea how close together they are though).

      • mybluescreen says:

        LOL! That’s funny. I have those same moments. 🙂

        I wish I wrote more often in longhand. I do take copious notes, but the only time I’ve written fiction in longhand (since high school, anyway) was for NaNoWriMo. I used to sit in the bed when my baby napped and scribble away. That’s the one NaNoWriMo I “won.”

        BTW, the fact that you’re writing and you have decent typing skills…hell, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. And believe me, I have caught myself saying, “Dang, I didn’t expect to have free time. Too bad I didn’t bring my computer.” I get myself mentally hobbled by it. So I do make sure to carry a notebook always to prevent my saying eyeball-rolling things like that.

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