A writer's digital toolkit

6 August 2012 / 1 comment
In the past, a writer's toolkit may have consisted of a pen and paper, or a typewriter, a dictionary and a thesaurus and other reference books. These days there are so many digital aids that a writer can tap into, and often, the answer to a writer's query may just be one click away.


When writing my Searching for Von Honningsbergs book, I wanted to refresh my memory of the Angara River, in Irkutsk, in Siberia. I had visited there over ten years ago. But when I failed to find any of my own photographs to assist me in better visualising it, I was able to find youtube videos of random travellers filming their escapades around Irkutsk.


I'm a bit of a lazy writer. I don't even get off my ass anymore to look up a word in the dictionary or thesaurus. I use dictionary.com or thesaurus.com and then ignore the Americanised spelling. Yahoo Answers usually tells me what the difference is between licence and license - but I always wonder who does actually answer these questions??!! A while ago, I discovered that there are apps that have been developed for writers. From what I understand, they can help you structure your story, organise chapters, character development etc. This sounds far too organised for me - but who knows, perhaps something like this could be helpful?


Right now, I am reading my first ever ebook - through Kobo on my iPad. I like to think that I'm pretty savvy with technology, but I must admit, it did take me a while until I could even work out how to get a book into my library (through purchasing through my web browser, rather than in the app - in case anyone wants to know!) It's a different kind of reading experience, but one that I am coming to enjoy. They have obviously thought about how a reader reads and have tried to imitate this: it tells you how far through a chapter you are (so you know you only have 3 pages to go, until you can turn out the light), or how far through the book you are (60% - so you can visualise the fold in the spine).


While I still can't figure out how to highlight a whole page of text properly, I am enjoying the notes function. You can highlight some text and type your own thoughts onto a note screen. Then you can view all these notes all together - which is really clever. Remember those days of flicking back through a whole book, trying to find where that quote was? Well, those days may be disappearing. I've heard that Kindle even has a search function, where you can type in a phrase that you want to find. That kind of functionality, I believe, far surpasses a print book. That would have been so useful when I was back at school or university.


I was talking to a friend the other day about digital technology. I confessed to her that I've kind of lost the ability to just stand and be still sometimes. If I'm in a queue at the supermarket, out comes the iphone and I'm checking my email messages. I can't even wait for me computer to load at work, without checking what's happening on my iphone. What is with that? Can't I just enjoy that moment of nothingness while my computer boots up? It seems not. I recognise that I have a problem.


I remember the day that I first used the internet distinctively. I was at the library in Liepaja, Latvia, where I was living for a year as an exchange student. Anyway, I was there with my Brazilian friend Ilona - and we were there to set up a hotmail account. It was some time in 1995.


Anyway, back to this more recent conversation with my friend. She pointed out to me that we are a very lucky generation of people - in that we have experienced life pre this digital technology burst and post. We have gotten to live through both. So we know a time before mobile phones, but we also get to experience smart phones and who knows what else before we die. But, we are the only generation to experience both and to be able to compare - and that is something quite interesting, I think.


And while I've already admitted that I can't switch the off button in my brain most of the time, I've just discovered something else to stimulate me during any down time that I can beg, borrow or steal - podcasts. Now, I know that they've been around for ages, years even, I just never understood the point. A friend of mine has been raving about them for a while, she does her housework and dishes while listening to podcasts of interesting programs on Radio National. She has one earpiece in and the other out - to listen out for the kids.


Then, just last week, I googled 'Peter Barry I hate Martin Amis', because this is the first book that I am reading for my indie book a month, and I came to the Radio National website and there was an audio of him talking about his novel for the books program. And it was absolutely fascinating. And like that, I got onto iTunes and subscribed to the Radio National book programs, as well as the BBC book club and a couple of other podcasts. Now I can even walk the dog while listening to Peter Carey or Lionel Shriver talk about their books, and hope that their way with words can somehow rub off on me, kind of like a hypnosis session.


So, us writers, here in 2012, have a lot of resources available to us. Will it make us better writers or more distracted writers? Only time will tell...
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