Reflections on writing and technology and more

Reflections on writing and technology

Many of my articles on this blog are reflections on writing and technology. Although there are some writers who eschew the idea of technology, I believe that if you define “technology” widely enough, it becomes obvious that all writers use technology.

Even those who are fortunate enough to have an assistant to whom they can dictate their thoughts, and who will then type them up, are using technology – albeit at one remove.

These are examples of technology too!

Can technology interfere with writing?

An interesting thing to ponder, then, is the extent to which the technology you use helps or hinders the writing process.

When I first encountered Scrivener, for example, I loved the idea of what it could do: built-in index cards, project notes and, in particular, compiling your manuscript directly into whatever format you wanted. But the learning curve seemed so steep that I felt the software would hinder more than help.

Then I discovered the “dashboard”, as I described in My Scrivener Dashboard. I also rediscovered an approach that I used to use with the kids when I was a teacher: learning on a need-to-know basis.

The least you need to know

In other words, you don’t have to learn everything about a word processor before you can write a letter; you just need to know how to type, save and print. OK, and maybe how to put some elements on the right of the page. But that’s about all. You don’t need to know how to automatically insert today’s date, save automatically, or record keyboard shortcuts.

Therefore, it seems to me that although it’s true that you can find software that is so “clunky” it really does detract from the writing process, the key factors are more likely to be attitude and knowledge.


When I first tried Scrivener I thought it was so complicated that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees – and I certainly couldn’t see, and neither did I look for, the one or two features that have since convinced me that it’s a brilliant tool for writers.


… or lack of it. As an example, I’ve been trying out a new platform for this blog, and for the life of me I couldn’t find how to create a link with a Title tag. That just means, when you hover the mouse over the link, the name of the link pops up. This is a good thing to have for the benefit of sight-impaired people who use screen readers that read out the text to them. It’s also good for anyone who doesn’t like clicking on a link without being sure what they should find when they get there.

I thought at first that the new platform didn’t allow HTML editing, which would make it a non-starter as far as I am concerned. But once I knew what to look for and how to do what I wanted to, I realised that actually the solution provided is pretty neat.


The end result of these reflections on writing and technology is that when technology impedes writing, the fault is not necessarily with the technology.

I have written this article as part of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge created by Sarah Arrow. This is the post for Day 2.


5 Ways to further your writing project when you can’t work on it directly

There can be several reasons why it is not possible to work on your book, blog or other writing project. Maybe you’ve saved it in the cloud, and don’t have an internet connection. Perhaps you didn’t think you would have the time to write, so didn’t take your laptop with you. Or maybe you’re waiting outside the school gates. Whatever the reason, you can usually still do something. Here are the strategies that I’ve found work for me.

Exactly! Picture by David Turnbull


I do a lot of writing in my head. I’ve heard of other people who do this too. If you are able to do it, or at least come up with a few points, then do so. You can type it up later, as long as you don’t forget what it was.

Make notes

These days it is very easy to jot down ideas for writing up later. If you have a smartphone, there are plenty of apps available. See Top 10 Free Note-Taking Apps For Smartphones for example. Or use a notebook and pen – remember those?

I try to get the best of both worlds: I write my notes in a Moleskin Evernote notebook, and then transfer the notes to my computer when I get home.

Do some research

If I find myself somewhere that I have internet access, I often use the time for research. This afternoon, for example, I was looking at a website that enables you to sell books and other products from your website. That didn’t contribute to my writing as such, but as it’s research I would have to do at some point anyway it was a good use of time. Even more so when you consider that it didn’t encroach on my writing time because I couldn’t have written anything while I was there.


Planning is very important in my opinion. For example, today I jotted down an outline of what I might include in the book I’ll be working on after the current one.


Writing is definitely enhanced by reading. It doesn’t have to be high literature or an encyclopaedia – even a short article or a small ad in the local paper can start a torrent of creativity.


In my opinion, being a writer is as much about about having a writer mindset as the writing itself. Well, almost as much: you have to write something some time!

I have written this article as part of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge created by Sarah Arrow. This is the post for Day 1.


7 ways to tackle writing a book when you need to write articles too

My aim is very simple: I should like to generate a passive income. I could do so by selling affiliate products or by having ads all over the place. But I prefer to do it, mainly at least, by writing.

But there’s a problem.

I know how he feels! Photo by Hernán Piñera

Here’s the way I envisage this income-generating idea working:

1. I write a best-selling book.

2. I write another best-selling book.

3. Repeat.

My understanding and hope is that once a certain momentum has been generated, the income will roll in without their having to expend much further effort. Well, unless I prove to be another Harper Lee I will always have to do more, but you can see where I'm coming from.

I think of all this in terms of a bicycle. Doing work and being paid for it is like riding a bike with no gears. As soon as you stop pedalling, the bike slows to a stop. The only way to keep it going is to keep pedalling. 

On the other hand, passive income is like riding a book with gears: you pedal a bit, and the bike goes much faster than your legs do.

I know this is a flawed analogy but I can’t think of a better one.

Unfortunately, earning a passive income is something that may happen in the future. I need to eat now.

So I have to devote some of the time I would like to spend on writing books, to writing articles that will earn me money in the short term.

In other words, I am writing when I ought to be … writing.

There is plenty of advice around on how to handle this state of affairs. The latest I’ve come across is Joanna Penn’s video on productivity which I haven’t watched completely yet. (See How to make a living from writing: new video series  for details on Joanna’s new video series, which is free. However, I thought I’d just share with you what I’m trying to do as far as this conundrum is concerned. I have a 7-pronged strategy:

1. Get up an hour earlier. For me, this means going to bed an hour earlier. See next point.

2. Record tv programs I want to watch. Television can be a real time sink. Once I ensconce myself on the settee, it is really easy to allow myself to be lulled into a semi-comatose state. That leads to my dragging myself up to bed later than ideal, and not having achieved anything. Much better, I think, to record the programs and then watch them when I am too tired to write.

3. Watch less tv. I find watching tv tiring anyway: probably the flickering or something. I find I tend to get more pleasure from reading, and it makes me more  energetic rather than less. Also, if it’s a good book, I feel good too, and that puts me in a better, i.e. more productive, frame of mind for writing.

4. Research about the same things in my books and articles. I write non-fiction, so I have an interest in certain areas. Although I do not write the same thing for both an article  and a book chapter, quite often the reading overlaps. Thus, if I do some reading up for an article I’m writing, I can often bookmark stuff to use in my books. It doesn’t help me directly, but it saves time indirectly.

5. I have a good sense of when I am most productive, in terms of my body clock. I have found that there is not much pint in trying to be creative at certain times. On those occasions I will do stuff that is not writing, but necessary to the success of the book. For example, I am currently looking for a book cover designer, so some of my time is spent researching that.

6. When I become despondent about the enormity of the goals I have set myself (i.e. every day!), I bear in mind that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Or so I’ve heard: I’m a vegetarian.

7. Finally, and related to the preceding point, I have a rule that I will do at least one thing every day to help me reach my book writing goals, even if that consists of just reading an article on the web.

I think the important thing is to not procrastinate, or think too much. I have tried to adopt what one of my managers referred to as the JFDI approach: just flipping do it!


How to make a living from writing: new video series

Joanna Penn has launched a new series of free videos on the theme of how to make a living from writing.

Joanna PennJoanna writes:

I'm working on building a video and audio course that goes through a step by step process of how to make a living with your writing. Plus, I'll be opening up a special community of like-minded authors so we can help each other along the way. It will include monthly group accountability calls with me so I can keep you moving :)

While that is under development, I have a FREE video training series for you starting with 11 ways to make money as an indie author. If you want to make a living with your writing, you should find it useful.

Click here to access the first video

Joanna is very successful, so she knows what she is talking about! As Matsuo Basho, a Japanese poet who lived from 1644 to 1694, said:

Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or go to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo.

Pretty good advice if you ask me.


The Writing Machine (Patent Pending)

I first had the idea for a writing machine many years ago, while watching an episode of the Avengers. Not the Marvel Avengers, but the John Steed and Emma Peel Avengers. There was a scene in which an elderly lady was creating romance novels by playing a piano: the angst/happiness balance was entirely determined by the ferocity or gentleness with which her hands tumbled over the keys.

I write a lot, and I love writing, but it takes time. So one afternoon, whilst lying on the bed suffering from the incessant heat, I decided to invent the Writing Machine.

I am currently working on a desktop version

As you can see from the picture, it looks complicated. That’s because it is complicated. I should prefer not to try to explain how it works, because I don’t see the point. Suffice it to say that the Writing Machine has enabled me to churn out many articles simultaneously. I merely select the type of article I wish to write (eg a rant, a list, a philosophical discourse), tell the WM how many words it needs to be, and press a button. It has a built-in libel checker (very handy for the rant articles), spellchecker etc etc.

I can set the WM to emulate any writer or any style. (I am delighted that many people have contacted me to say how useful they found my article “How to understand Facebook’s privacy settings”, written in the style of Geoffrey Chaucer.) If necessary, I can instruct it to write an article in rhyming couplets, a much under-used approach in my opinion.

It is fun to select a subject, and couple it with a completely inappropriate genre, as perhaps I have already hinted. For example, my seminal work entitled “The development of computational thinking in the Middle Ages” is written in Rhyming Slang. In contrast, my essay on “How to make anyone fall instantly in love with you before they have even met you” was written in the style of Raymond Chandler. This may strike some readers as oxymoronic, but I prefer to think of it as more of a creative clash of inconsistencies. (That phrase was created by the WM, by the way, when I couldn’t think of a suitable expression. At last, writer’s block has been obliterated by an algorithm.)

While the WM is churning out articles, thereby saving me time and labour, hours and hours of my time have been freed up. You may wonder what I am doing in my new-found leisure time. Why, writing articles, of course.

I wrote this article for the #blimage creative writing activity. All is explained in The #Blimage List, where you will find lists of other people’s writings under the auspices of #blimage. I have also written a #blimage article on the ICT and Computing in Education website, and my My Writes website. If you wish to try it out for yourself, all you have to do is write a blog post inspired by an image. Feel free to use the one I’ve employed here.



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