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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

CHANGES IN TECHNOLOGY

Posted Friday, July 29, 2011, at 8:12 AM

I love my computers. I say that in the plural because I have five of them: a desktop at home, a desktop and laptop at the office, and two notebooks. My eye is also on an iPad, which I hope to have by the end of the year. (I'm pacing myself.) The Internet is a wonderful tool for doing research, and the word processing programs (Microsoft Word being my program of choice) are a godsend for aspiring authors.

When my articles, short stories and books were first being published nearly 30 years ago, I wrote my first drafts in longhand, then propped the scribbled pages up next to my typewriter and typed them out. Then I edited on the pages, propped them up again and retyped them. Many were the times I retyped an entire page because I'd changed only a word or two. Now, with Word, I can make changes within the document and simply print out a new page. Or the entire document, if I feel like it.

There are pluses and minuses to this. The big plus, of course, is not retyping hundreds of pages as I make editing changes. The minus is that it's so much easier to make changes that I'm not sure they're always for the best. Back when I had my hand-typed pages and was editing on them in pencil, I made darned sure that any and all edits were thoughtfully considered. Also, if I crossed out a word and wrote in a substitute, the crossed-out word was still visible. Sometimes, when looking at it again, the first word seemed like the right one after all, and going back to it was easy. In a Word document it's so easy to make changes and print them out that I find myself editing and printing willy-nilly, going through many more versions and using much more paper than I ever did before. (I thought typewriter ribbon was expensive at the time; it doesn't hold a candle to ink cartridges.) And if I change a word or phrase in my document using Word, the original is gone - unless I use the tracking changes feature, which I've never cared for.

All that being said, don't be a slave to your computer word processing program. While working on several documents lately, I've run across some often frustrating and sometimes funny glitches in Word. Each one is a reminder not to blindly follow everything my Word program tells me.

For example, sometimes Word will give out one of those squiggly underlines that indicate a word is wrong. Don't trust it! Word has suggested I change "their" to "they're" when I know my way is right. C'mon, I'm not an idiot. Would I really write "When they arrived at they're house, they found it had burned to the ground."? Of course not. Yet that was the suggestion Word made. It also seems to have trouble with "its" and "it's" and again I will ignore its rather adamant underlinings and go with my own common sense.

But my favorite, by far, is the change Word recently suggested to a sentence in a book Shapato Publishing will soon put out. The Callie Stories (fiction) by Karen Jones Schutt of Sioux Falls, is a wonderful collection of stories about life on the farm in the 1940s, written from the POV of eight-year-old Callie.

This is the sentence, part of which Word gave the squiggly underline: "When she got to the bottom of the stairs everyone wanted to know where she had been hiding, but she wouldn't tell." Word's suggested change for the underlined part? "When she found the underlying cause of the stairs everyone wanted to know ..."

I'm pretty sure Karen would not approve.

"Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: you find the present tense, but the past perfect!" Owens Lee Pomeroy


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The voice recognition software I have is called Dragon Naturally Speaking (not sure where that name came from). At less than $100 it's reasonably priced, and on Amazon.com the older versions cost even less.

It takes some training, in that you read a script into the microphone so the program "learns" your voice and becomes, with regular use, ever more accurate.

It's easy to use, and pretty neat to see your words, as you speak them, appear on a document or email, but it won't replace my keyboard. I'm a pretty fast typist, so I haven't found the VRS to be much of an improvement. But for those who don't like to or can't type, it can be a lifesaver.

Good luck!

-- Posted by JTennant on Wed, Aug 3, 2011, at 6:47 PM

Located in Minn, now moved to Illinois... all these moves make it hard to find time to do all the writing that I want. I find if I print out my pages it's easier to take them with me and edit on the pages as I have time. But the extra steps it takes to do this is time so time consuming! What's that about voice recognition software? Maybe that'll save me some time.

-- Posted by fictionfan on Mon, Aug 1, 2011, at 8:34 AM

I love my computer--and have only one--at least one at a time. A poor typist--I barely passed my typing in HS--and struggled for years to make decent looking manuscripts. Then along came word processors and computers. It is wonderful to be able to put out clean manuscripts these days.

You are so right about Spell and Grammar Check. They are helpful tools, but I continue to study grammar through reference material. Incidentally, my "Strunk and White" sits quietly on the shelf as I can Google several different reference sites for any question I might have. I don't long for the good old days.

-- Posted by Betty Taylor on Sun, Jul 31, 2011, at 4:04 PM

I know what you mean about using more paper because it's so easy make changes and print out a new document. I've noticed I do the same thing, but I still wouldn't go back to the old way, on the typewriter. Voice recognition software is getting better all the time too. Maybe in a few years we won't be using a keyboard at all.

-- Posted by farmergirl.sp on Sun, Jul 31, 2011, at 3:04 PM

Fun blog, as always Jean. I look forward to it every week, and seem to always learn something new. Keep up the good work!

-- Posted by DHarris on Sun, Jul 31, 2011, at 2:56 PM

"And if I change a word or phrase in my document using Word, the original is gone - unless I using the tracking changes feature, which I've never cared for."

Howcome Werd didn't find them misteaks?

-- Posted by Lee51 on Fri, Jul 29, 2011, at 9:44 PM


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Jean Tennant has been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Beginning with short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, she eventually branched out to full-length work, with several novels published by Warner Books, Kensington and Silhouette. Now the owner of Shapato Publishing, LLC, in Everly, Iowa, she teaches writers' workshops throughout the Midwest, for which her schedule can be seen at: www.jeantennant.com. Jean lives in Everly with her husband, Grover Reiser, and their dogs, Kirby and Dakota. Favorite quote: "Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.
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