Archive | January, 2015

Instruments of Torture –

21 Jan

Instruments of torture –  (Inspired by a note from a multi-published author in the UK. )

“It’s strange, but after reading so many historical novels when I was younger, and then suddenly having my attention riveted by Richard III, I (quite literally) sat down and wrote a book. I had just found my vocation. Looking back, it seems like a split second, and in the grand scheme of things, it really wasn’t much more than that. My father gave me the little portable typewriter, a pile of paper and carbons, and said, “If you can do better, get on and do it.” And that was it. My fingers have rippled over numerous keyboards since then.

“I remember my worst moment was my first full-sized office typewriter, an Olympia, and I battered the poor thing so much that the head of the ‘r’ key flew off. I tried sticking it back on with everything I could think of, to no avail. So I had to go back to my old portable typewriter. Talk about hard work! I eventually managed to get the ‘r’ repaired, but then came my beautiful electric typewriter, another Olympia. After a few years, the time was getting on toward electronic typewriters, then the early computerised one where you could see two lines on a little screen. Sheesh. Instruments of torture. Thank gawd for computers and Word!

“Hey, did you ever do a blog about this? From the old sit-up-and-beg ten-ton manuals that gave you a hernia to move, to the dainty laptops and tablets etc. of today?”

Okay, pal. Thanks for the suggestion and here it is.

It’s amazing to think that one Will Shakespeare wrote (at least) 37 plays, hundreds of poems and sonnets, and who knows what all else – with a feather. Think about that for a moment, then be grateful for your current writing instrument.

Believe it or not, the first typewriter was just invented in the 1860s, so it’s now some 150 years old. They were a rarity then, as now, although in some areas of the world, their popularity has never diminished, and they’re even making a come-back!  The noted QWERTY keyboard layout followed in 1874. There have been other attempts at a keyboard layout, but none of them have lasted.

Typewriters intended for use with languages other than English may use different keyboard layouts, mostly in order to accommodate the use of accent marks, symbols or dipthongs.

Of course, moveable type printing presses date back to even before Shakespeare, and aren’t we happy about that?

There are those of us who remember learning to type in school —  on a machine with no letters on the keys! Eeegads! Indeed, first off we had to learn the placement of the keys in order to be able to type anything other than gibberish. And at speed! How many words one could type in one minute became the standard measurement for a secretarial candidate. Without errors, too! It was a dreadful experience. Heaven forfend one would accidentally start out on the wrong key, and end up with something like this: O vsm yu[r 8- eptfd [rt g,omiyr eoyjpiy s ,odyslr/ (Translation: I can type 80 words per minute without a mistake!) Hah. Not even on my best day!

As time marched along, the big old clunky office models were re-designed for home use, and some of them were really gorgeous. Consider the Olivetti  which earned a place in MOMA. (I’m not real sure of the name of this model, but I did have one in the late 70s. It had a type ball, and rounded off edges and was wonderfully quiet, as I recall.)

After the long lever type letter thingies, (I don’t know what they’re called but they had the letter or number on the end of a 3-4 inch long lever, activated by striking the keys) someone invented the typeballs, with changeable fonts! Oh, my word! Didn’t we all go nuts over that? And not long after that were the daisy wheels which accomplished the same thing. I had several of both kinds.

IBM’s Selectric, Selectric II and Correcting Selectric II changed the face of corporate America’s business letters and other papers. They were an incredible engine of change, doing things never before imagined for an ordinary small office.  Another new option was proportional spacing, so we’d never again have to suffer the boredom of Courier font.

Then came small electronic word processors, with funny type fonts embedded in them. These weren’t very useful for business-type correspondence. Or for serious writers, either with their goofy-looking fonts.

By the end of the 1980s, however, computers were gaining ground and along with them came the evolution in the printing industry. At last, writers were able to make corrections without having to retype umpteen pages in the process!

And thus, the Instruments of Torture, became easier to use, but still frustrating to those of us who don’t necessarily speak computer.

Next time (in two weeks) is another post about getting started on your book. You won’t want to miss it! In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, please write to me at:


Happy New Year!

7 Jan

Er, did I hear you say you want to write a book?

Well, you’re in luck. I’m starting off this new year, with a once a month specific instruction for getting started and writing your own book. Originally, when I started this blog, back in 2010, it was to help me gather my thoughts together and publish a How to Write a Book Book.  I’m forever hearing the “I want to write a book” phrase from folks wherever I go. The next line is almost always, “But I don’t know how (or where) to begin.”

Listen, my children, and you shall hear, the basic rules governing what is a book, and how you, too, can write one of your own, if you’re persistent, and have at least a little bit of talent.

The first big question is: what kind of book do you want to write. Is it fiction or non-fiction?

The elements of writing a book of fiction are:  the plot (which should probably not be an actual event – although it might be a lightly disguised retelling of the event); the setting – which can be anywhere at any time, and the characters. Which comes first? Well, in my experience, they usually, all land on the poor author at the same time, with a resounding, “What if –?” Once these are established, comes the hard part: the actual writing, which includes knowing the language.

Being a good story-teller, while essential, is not sufficient by itself. A command of the language is also vital, but also not sufficient, by itself, either. If you can combine these two – ah, then you are a writer. A writer, after all, not only uses words, a writer loves words. A writer loves construing words together in a string, to form a thought, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book.

Something similar happens in non-fiction, only there is not usually a plot, and seldom any characters or setting. But there could be, depending on the type of non-fiction. A biography, obviously will have characters and setting; a how-to manual will not. Just as when baking, the recipe, or final product desired, determines the ingredients. No matter how hard you try, you cannot make a cake out of the ingredients for beef stew.

So, where does the book begin? The book begins when something happens, and someone else writes about that action. It is a common occurrence for first-time authors to include too much back­-story at the very beginning. Oh, all that information is important, no doubt about it. It just doesn’t need to be all lumped together in chapters one, two and three. Don’t discard that part, however. Keep it to scatter throughout the book. You might not use all of it, but it will be helpful to have it.  It’s all a part of getting to know your plot and your characters.

You do not need to possess your own computer to write a book, although it’s a major help! But these days, libraries and community centers have ‘computer rooms’ where you may use one of the resident machines. If this is your situation, you will need to have at least a CD-rom or a jump drive (portable media) of your own, on which you can keep your work in progress. I would also suggest that if you’re using one of these public computers while attending any sort of writing class, you should invest in a notepad (a small legal-pad type binder that measures 5” x 8” is a great size, and you can easily carry your portable media, a pen and a notepad all in one easy to carry folder. The pad will come in handy to make notes as you think of them when your computer isn’t nearby.

Should you need to write your book by hand, try to get to a ‘computer room’ at least once a week or every other week to key your work onto your portable media. Always carry your CD in a sleeve or case. One scratch on the back of it will quickly demonstrate the need for this precaution.

Now then. Don’t worry overmuch about starting your book in the beginning of the story. It’ll all make itself clear at some point. The main thing is to write. Write. WRITE!!! If you are determined, and persistent, you can have a rough draft of a book in about 13 weeks. Three months! It probably won’t be polished and ready for publication at that point, but still – you should have a workable nucleus, which is not to be sneezed at, believe me.

How does this work? It’s really very simple. A reasonable length for a book these days is 50,000 words. If you divide 50K by 13 (weeks), you get 3847. That’s the weekly goal toward your total wordcount. That’s actually only 550 words a day, or two pages of typewritten, double-spaced 8½ x 11” paper.  That’s really not all that much, if you think about it. It might take you two hours, but really it should take less. That doesn’t mean you should stop when you reach that number. If the book is really cooking, then keep with it. There’s no harm in doing two or three day’s worth of words at one time, if that’s the way your inspiration wants to work. Don’t argue with it!

To begin: Write a sentence (of 25 words or thereabouts) that describes your book. (I’m presuming you do know what constitutes a sentence. If not, it may take you a bit longer to produce a book, but it can still be done!) Once you’ve done that, expand that sentence to a paragraph. It can be more than one sentence at this point. The next step will be to write a page describing your story. If you plan to submit to a traditional/commercial publisher, you will be asked for these three things almost before anything else, so it’s a good exercise for you at the very beginning. A page is roughly 250-300 words.

(FYI — This post is 1090 words, and it took me a bit less than an hour to write it.)

Okay? Next month (Feb. 3) we’ll discuss the next step in the process as well as a brief primer on MS-Word. If you know anyone who wants to write a book, please feel free to forward this post. I can easily add new folks to the mailing list, as well.  If you have comments or questions or want more information about anything in this post, please do send me an e-mail: