First, you wrote. You didn’t e-mail, facebook, blog, or check amazon ranks. You didn’t tweet, comment, post, or read group mail. Other than reading the morning newspaper, there wasn’t much else you could do but write.
For writers, life has become much easier than it was fifteen years ago. On a typical Monday morning fifteen years ago, I’d open my art gallery, set up displays and lighting, and then I’d sit down at my desk and start working on another short story or magazine piece. After working as an editor in publishing for Conde Nast, I decided to open my own business…an art gallery…so I’d have the time and the freedom to write my own work instead of editing someone else’s work. It wasn’t always easy running a business seven days a week and juggling a writing career. But it worked for me. The business was unrelated to the writing, and switching gears all the time was a good thing.
Monday to Thursday in the gallery were slow days, so I had plenty of time to write, get manuscripts out to publishers, and talk to editors on the phone. I was late coming to computers. I didn’t actually start writing on a computer until 2000, and all the work I submitted to publishers was hardcopy up until 2005. But I wasn’t the only one, and I know for a fact there are still agents and editors who prefer hardcopy to electronic pages. And, I didn’t even work on a word processor. I wrote everything on an IBM electric typewriter, from fiction to magazine pieces. I had shelves with stacks of ink cartridges, rows of white out, and all kinds of correct ribbons. When you made a mistake on a typewriter you either tried to correct it as best you could, or you just started over again.
That’s why I’m always a little amused when I hear writers talking about edits now. Fifteen years ago edits were revises and re-writes. And you either learned how to be a proficient typist or you spent days picking at keys trying to get it perfect. Editors wanted neat, perfect manuscripts. If you submitted something with corrections and white out, they didn’t even bother to read it. If you weren’t a great typist, you paid someone to type a manuscript for you, which wasn’t cheap. Of course nowadays with Word Documents it’s simple to get things right with just a few clicks and edits. If you want to change a characer’s name, it takes minutes. But with the old ways, it took time, energy, and attention to detail. You either learned to live with a character’s name or you re-write the entire book. In other words, writers wrote and re-wrote. And nothing was actually edited until it went to the publisher.
Thanks to computers and everything going electronic, all this has changed. I can get a short story written, edited, and submitted within a week. A novel can take anywhere from one month to two months in most cases. I even wrote one novel I had pubbed under a pen name in three weeks, which would have been impossible to do fifteen years ago.
But the interesting thing is I miss the old days sometimes. If computers disappeared tomorrow and I had to go back to working on a typewriter I wouldn’t have any problems at all. I could live without social networks, e-mails, and all the other things I’m come to depend on daily. I love having access to so many new books and I love reading all these online book review sites. But I could live without them all as well. I’m not sure I could say the same for most authors who never knew what it was like to type up a manuscript fifty times until it was perfect. It took tenacity and never ending attention to detail.