On Martin Sketchley's blog I noticed a discussion about Word and other word-processing software. A long time ago, a writer visiting me mentioned that her laptop had all the latest stuff on it, and she used it identically for other work as well as writing. That's very different from my approach, outlined below. Then I asked her a key question:

"Do you write every day?"

And the answer was no. She thought she was doing fine, but the point was that I deliberately used unconscious operant conditioning to put me in the correct neuropsychological state for writing every day. (Pavlovian conditioning often works with only a single shot - a single application of properly-timed stimulus, called anchoring by NLPers. It works better on humans and octopi than on dogs, and there's some evil film footage from Pavlov's experiments on children to prove it.)

What I most want from writing software is for it to be unobtrusive, so here's what I posted to Martin's blog:

As a full-time novelist, I find Word absolutely fine. (And if you want my tech credentials, I wrote my first program over 35 years ago.)

Here’s what I do:

Use full screen mode, with the get-out-of-full-screen-view icon deleted. Only text and background are visible, using a colour scheme which is totally different from what I use in any context other than writing fiction. This forms a deep mental association to the writing state, along with my choice of music.

I entirely disable any auto-correct or spell-check features, so there are no distractions on the screen, not even red or green underlines.

I perform spell-checking and suchlike only on completed drafts which my editors are going to receive. You can drop out of full-screen mode to do this – the Esc key is my friend – or simply remember that F7 kicks off the spell checker.

Beyond this, for writing I use my writing laptop – an old Thinkpad, the least glamorous computer I own – in my writing room (my study). This machine does not connect to the internet, ever. Besides forming the natural psychological trigger for writing every day, this has obvious security benefits. (Speaking of such practicalities, I back up my work daily, rotating through 3 different memory sticks.)

When I had to squeeze writing around a demanding full-time career that included four-and-a-half hours commuting on a good day, this approach was even more important, though the writing had to happen while I was on the move.

It’s about removing distractions and getting into the zone. Every day.


Blogger John Meaney said...

I might add that the folk over there didn't quite get it, but it's not my forum, so I'll stay quiet.

"But I use Word for other things besides writing," is sort of my point. Don't. Or rather, separate writing from everything else.

Word doesn't seem to work for what they want in non-fiction-writing tasks, but that's not relevant to writing.

Plus, you know, if you call Word a program, ya don't too much about software. (It's a couple of thousand collaborating components in a framework.) And they clearly have a successful business model.

May 18, 2011 at 1:34 PM  
Anonymous Dacey said...

I agree that microsoft word has all the tools that is needed for writing but microsoft word cannot compete the other writing software.

May 31, 2011 at 4:57 AM  
Blogger John Meaney said...

There you go, Dacey. Good enough is... good enough. I recommend turning off all bells and whistles, so WP products become distinguishable.

If someone can't (for whatever reason) set up a writing environment that's different from all other work, then I would seriously recommend writing fiction with a pen and a paper notebook.

May 31, 2011 at 6:33 PM  

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