The Recycled Tech Writer’s Toolbox. (Kate O'Hara)

I worked in a construction area for a time and was required to wear a hard hat. Mine was labeled “Recycled Tech Writer.”  I’m a techie – a true geek. I learned to compose on a manual typewriter keyboard with my first full-time writing job in 1964. I kept a notebook and pencil by my bedside to write down dream induced ideas, but any actual writing was done at the keyboard. That same year I wrote my first computer program in an obscure language you’d now call assembler. I bought my first home PC, a TRS-80 Color Computer (affectionately called a CoCo), in 1980. Since it didn’t have a writing “app,” I programmed my own word processor in basic so I could do my freelance tech writing jobs on it. I have owned and worked with so many different computers, peripherals, devices and software over the years I can’t even remember all of them, much less list them. So, what’s in my writer’s techie toolbox today? A 2007 desktop computer with Windows.

Doesn’t sound too cutting edge to you? Well, I have to admit I rebuilt it 2 years ago and it has a few performance enhancements, but it was a multimedia monster at conception. Sure, I have a lot of current software for special purposes, but my primary one for writing is Microsoft Word (in Office 12). I know there are spiffier writer apps and newer versions of Office, but at my advanced age, having a trustworthy old friend I know intimately is a comfort ;-) I have used Word as my primary writing tool for decades (and decades before that) since it first became available. Learning the quirks and capabilities of this versatile software over the years has made composition easier for me in many ways, so I stick with it despite trials of newer software that try to lure me away. I’ve tried various laptops, notebooks, tablets and countless software, but have slowly abandoned them as adding more trouble than value. So, I am now reduced to composing on one old desktop computer with an old version of the oldest graphical interface word processor software. Some geek, right?

I did grudgingly add a new piece of software last fall that I like a lot, Scrivener from Literature & Latte. I wasn’t won over to their word processor, but the organizing tools are terrific for someone like me. Being a techie, I admit to still being a plotter now that fiction is my passion. Scrivener can organize my writing projects by a variety of types: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Miscellaneous (like poetry) and even Scriptwriting with appropriate tools and layouts for each. The project is then built of parts, chapters, scenes, etc. These can be displayed several ways, but I like to use the corkboard so I can see all my notes and rearrange scenes or plot points by simply dragging and dropping them. The tools I love best and use most are the character and setting descriptions. This is a reasonably priced piece of software for writers who might like to organize ideas all in one place instead of using multiple notebooks, file cards and whiteboards.

To be fair, I have a Kindle tablet and use it for proofing and markup away from home. I also get a lot of help from online technology like Google for quick research without a trip to the library plus dictionary, style and thesaurus sites. I can send files around the world for collaboration and loosely translate them into nearly every language instantly. The computer age has made writing both faster and more immediate, but not necessarily easier. You still have to do the tedious chore of putting words on paper—or at least on a screen. The motto for techie writers is “Save early, save often.”