Writing in the Cloud

This morning I saw posted on my facebook newsfeed: HOW TO: Write a Novel using the Web.  As a writer myself, I’m generally curious what other writers are saying and I’m also interested in how society is adapting to new media. Yet, the more I read of the article the more I was repulsed by the idea of using each of the different applications, particularly those for organizing notes and characters. What’s wrong with keeping a notebook? What’s wrong with just using Word or any other normal word processor?

Perhaps it is because I already have a “system” that I am resistant to change; the idea of learning how to use a completely new program and software seems like it would take more time and cause more frustration than it’s worth. However, I am wary against the idea of creating online character profiles, or to store so much on the web about your story. Be sure to read the programs’ terms of service and bear in mind that there is not yet an international copyright law for the Internet.

In a similar vein, there has been quite a bit of response to Josh Olson’s recent article, “I will not read your fucking script”, in which Olson rails against aspiring writers who corner professional writers into reading their unpublished manuscripts. One of the responses is from David Gerrold, a sci-fi writer: his main point is that a professional writer can be seriously legally compromised by reading someone else’s unpublished, uncopyrighted work. Even sending the response, “No, I will not read your script/story/novel/etc.” acknowledges receipt of the document and you cannnot prove that you did not open the document and read it. If anything you write afterwards bears some resemblance to that person’s unpublished work, they can sue you for plagiarism. Although I am one of those who says that there are no new stories under the sun, I still claim that one of the writer’s worst fears is someone stealing their work.

A friend of mine has also recently mentioned that she wants to disconnect her real self from her online self, because apparently universities and employers can use a service to search your email address, thus gaining access to all the sites you have registered with that address. They can see what is on your Good Reads list, or Amazon wishlists, etc. Apparently she knows of someone who was asked about something on his Amazon wishlist during a job interview. As a DATA graduate, I know that if something is on the web, it can be found. I may not be quite as programming-savvy as I used to be but I still have a knack for finding what I need if I put my mind to it. So do you really want to be storing your novel’s outline, characters, and notes on the web? Forgive me for being paranoid, but I think not.

That said: this writer encourages the old-fashioned notebook for organizing your novel. Or, if you’re like me: several notebooks, notecards, a sketchbook, and endless .rtf files in meticulously labeled folders. If you are going to use some sort of software to organize your novel or script, make sure that it is located on your harddrive and not in the Cloud, where anyone can find it. The universal accessiblity of storing documents on the web is certainly appealing, but until there are real safeguards, it’s best to stay localized and to make plenty of back-ups.

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2 thoughts on “Writing in the Cloud

  1. Kelly says:

    I concur. While I myself incorporate more technology into the writing process than, say, anyone before the year 1980, I usually scribble some longhand notes in a (Moleskine) notebook. Lately I’ve been writing the initial draft of anything in said notebook. It makes me feel artistic.

    I am wary of software or internet writing aids, too, because of what they might do to your creativity. You may not need to write a “What my character wants” chart for your MC’s next-door neighbor, who is simply watering her lawn. Or it might turn out that the neighbor has been stealing packages from the protagonist’s front porch before the protagonist can come home from work. But this is for you, not the computer, to decide.

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    • Chera says:

      Yes. Additionally, I would be afraid that programs like Evernote (which I admit I have not used, and shall shortly say why) that promise to allow you “to sync together text, audio, video, and images and offers mobile applications so you can be sure you’ll have a record of your thoughts any time inspiration strikes” would over-sensitize the writing process. Granted, it may be a great tool for recording ideas and information, but at the end of the day you are still going to have to organize and make sense of those ideas. You are not going to be a better writer simply as a result of sheer amount of raw data. A large part of the discipline of writing is learning how to shape the ideas and images that come to mind. And as useful as that program may be, allowing you to use your mobile phone or whatever device you’re using, they will, inevitably, lose battery, sometimes at the very moment you need them. The most mobile note-taking device remains the humble notebook.

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