Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Technology for Writers, Part Two: 
Performing a Personal Technology Audit

By Mary Winter
© 2006,
Mary Winter

Technology changes at an alarming rate.  New products enter the marketplace rendering more and more items obsolete.  In the last article, the price of obsolescence was discussed, and here, Iíll tell you how to evaluate your own technology needs.  This article wonít tell you what you need, or how to obtain what you need Ė thatís for experts.  What I will tell you is how to determine whether you need to upgrade and how to recognize youíve outgrown your current technology.

With the advent of electronic publishing and the internet, the world has opened up for writers.  Now in addition to being able to craft good prose, we have to be promotion geniuses, web site developers, and more.  So, instead of an old electric typewriter or word processor, the technology writers need has expanded considerably.

Letís take a look at the basics.  A writer needs a program in which to write.  An internet connection for sending and receiving email as well as web searches has become a necessity.  A spreadsheet can help balance profit and loss statements.  A means to create and update a website also has become a must, especially for writers who donít wish to pay for or canít afford professional website development.  This means the average writer needs four items, plus the computer on which to run everything.

Are you wired?

No matter how youíre published, you need an internet connection.  Dial-up, DSL, cable, or satellite, the how you get connected doesnít matter so long as it works for you.  But how to you evaluate your current connectivity needs?  A few simple questions are all it takes.

1)  How many emails do you send/receive on average? 

2)  Do you spend a lot of time on the web for research?

3)  Do you often send/receive or download large files (files larger than 1 MB)?

Each person is different, but if you receive a limited number of emails (friends, family, and publisher, but few mailing lists), you donít use the web for much research, and the only files you send/receive are your manuscript(s), then dial-up will most likely work for you.  However, if you are on large volume mailing lists, or several mailing lists, and spend extensive time on the internet (including participating in chats), then high speed makes things much easier.  Now, if you have dial-up at home, but can go to places such as cafes or bookstores where high speed is available, then the need to change may not be as pressing.  The decision between DSL, cable, and/or satellite, will most likely be decided by your location and whatís available in your area.  Unfortunately rural areas may have limited options or even no access to high speed internet.


How slow can you go?

Your computerís speed is determined by several factors including processor speed, hard drive space, RAM, and operating system.  Thankfully, you donít need to become a computer technician to determine what you need.  Simply think about your computer.  Does it take fifteen minutes to start up?  Are you constantly waiting for windows and screens?  If you are, then it may be time to think about updating your computer.  You may want to discuss your needs with a computer professional to determine what you do, and donít need. 

For example, a writer will not need a high-end graphics card or sound card, not unless he or she spends a lot of time playing computer games.  In fact, most ďoff the shelfĒ computers designed for home or family use also work just as well for writers. 

Prose, Profit, and Loss

The software packages you chose depend a lot on personal preferences and what came with the computer.  Some people adore WordPerfect and Corel products, while others swear by Microsoft Office.  OpenOffice is a free alternative to both suites of programs, and a search of the internet reveals numerous programs for tracking money and composing written documents.  I wonít say much here except as long as the program can convert the files into an industry standard format (such as Rich Text Format) and you like it, stay with it.  A writerís software choice may be influenced by what her peers are using or by what her editor uses. 

Surfing in Style

Thereís no doubt that an internet presence helps an author.  Online promotion can make, or break, a writerís career.  While the ďhow toĒs of creating a website would take up an entire article on their own, and there are as many ways of creating websites as there are people who create them, a few questions will help determine your needs.


1)     Are you really comfortable creating a website?

2)     If you currently maintain a website does your program allow for easy changes and upgrades?

3)     Do you find your internet work goes quickly? (For example, are you fighting for instructions on how to do something or trying to work with a program that wonít do what you want it to?)

If you answered yes to those three questions, then it sounds as if your internet setup works for you.  If so, great.  If not, now is the time to talk to other authors and internet professionals to find a system that fits your budget, technical expertise, and ambitions.

Fun and Games

In addition to these four items, there are other components the technology savvy author might want to have.  A handheld makes updating stories or reading ebooks handy, and a laptop makes your writing portable.  Obviously you can find as many, or as little, electronic gadgets that make your life easier.  Again, hereís where talking to other authors comes in handy.  What do they use and why?  What donít they use and why?  Such conversations might reveal ways in which you can streamline your writing process.

Thankfully, most people will find they have exactly the right technology for the job.  Most of us donít need super fast computers or a myriad of additional gadgets to get through our day.  However, just like cars, computers can fail, and when that happens, itís imperative to have a good backup, and that is the subject of the next article.