Volume 2 of the Something in the Water series arrives Tuesday, January 30!

How Much Tech Does an Author Need?

How Much Tech Does an Author Need?

These days, it seems like everyone fancies themselves an author—and who wouldn’t? With advances in technology, self-publishing has never been easier or cheaper. A process that once cost tens of thousands of dollars now costs next to nothing if you want it to. You can literally write something in Word, hit a button, and boom-bang, you’ve got yourself a book.

With so many writers, there would seem to be about a million and one different writer processes. Each and every writer will determine what works for them. For some, they’ll like to get up in the early morning and write for a solid hour or two. Others will have to seek solitude to get their ideas down.

Tools of the Trade

Since everyone has a different method of working, it makes sense everyone uses slightly different tools. Many, many authors will quickly find themselves inundated with recommendations and adverts for new apps and software. Some will offer editing services, like the Hemingway app. Programs like Scrivener can help you set up your book project, organizing and tracking key details. Others will hawk specialized hardware, like a new “typewriter” that works digitally but, like its analog counterpart, can’t connect you to the internet. Some authors swear by these tools.

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There’s a reason these things have gone the way of the dinosaur.

The question is how much tech do you actually need to be an author?

The Bare Necessities

The answer is easy. You need a pen and paper. That’s it.
Alternately, you can work in a Word document, especially if you find writing onscreen more natural to you (and many Millennials will find this is the scenario for they face). Folks who were born firmly in the era of paper and pen might find that medium helps improve their concentration and the flow of writing. Even if you’re not comfortable with this outmoded technology, there are studies showing concentration and retention are improved by working on paper.

Frills and Distractions

So what of programs like Scrivener? Nothing but bells and whistles, really. While these programs claim to help you get back to writing by organizing your thoughts and decluttering, what they’re actually doing is getting you to do something other than writing. While some writers will undoubtedly find the added structure these tools give them helpful, the potential to waste your time simply organizing notecards or inputting useless information into the system is very high.
With all the buzz about “distraction-free writing” going on, it’s a little shocking that people haven’t realized most “tools” are nothing but giant distractions, much in the same way Twitter and Facebook are huge time-sucks for writers. Sure, they’re fun and they can make you feel like you’re doing something, but they’re really taking away from your word count—from the actual process of writing.

Never Mind the Software

What about hardware tech? Also useless. If you really want “distraction-free writing,” then switch to the pen-and-paper method. If you can’t, then turn off your internet connection! Unplug your phone and power off the cell if you can. If you really don’t want to be distracted, you have the power to minimize the distractions around you. You don’t need a specialized piece of equipment to do it. Trust me.

Robots Are No Replacement

All right, how about the editing apps? Surely those must be necessary. While they are more useful to authors, they’re generally not going to replace an actual edit by a real, live editor. While a program can flag certain problems, you may not agree what’s flagged is actually a problem.
A program might make suggestions about how to “fix” things, but again, you may not agree with the fixes. An editor can provide you much more sensitive and responsive feedback than an app can. Technology has gotten better, but just look at Word’s spelling and grammar checks to understand the limitations of a program in editing.

Sure glad Word caught all that!

An even better, anecdotal example? We processed a book through an XML tagging and conversion system. That system handles on 3 citation styles. The book had been formatted in a completely different style. The system raised more than 600 flags about what were essentially non-issues. It just couldn’t reconcile the formatting.

Tech Is Useful Sometimes

So where do authors need technology?
It’s not that we can’t or don’t want to use technology—it’s a matter of how. We should be using technology’s capabilities to both publish (e.g., digital distribution) and to market our books. Using an app to schedule tweets or snapping an Instagram of a fan at a book signing is an appropriate use of technology for authors.
But only when you’re not writing.
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