By Keith Blount
Douglas Adams came up with the following rules about the way we react to new technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
I am tempted to use this as an explanation for my immunity to the charms of the iPad, but my mother, who will be a septuagenarian next month and won't thank me for saying so, loves the thing, so I know that really age has nothing to do with it and I'm probably just an early-onset curmudgeon. But there is a truth here, even if it can't be pinpointed to age, and it's one I run into occasionally when I see our writing software discussed in writers' forums. Such exchanges often take the following form. Someone asks what software other writers use or recommend. They then get some helpful replies, pointing to Word alternatives, or to software like our own. At some point, however, in the writerly discussion equivalent of Godwin's law, there will come the inevitable growl:
Real writers don't use "writing software."
All you need is an idea and Microsoft Word.
Professional writers just use Word.
And, my favorite:
Jane Austen didn't need (spit) "writing software" to write Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!
And why, that Dostoyevsky/Flaubert/Tolstoy was written with cold gravel on a paper bag while the author was working twenty-nine hours down at t'mill. (Actually I quite like the idea of Flaubert working at a mill.)
It is undeniably true that many -- most? -- professional writers do only use Word, and it may well be true that my grouchy invented straw man does indeed only need Word and an idea, but does that make it an unbreakable rule? More importantly, does it follow, as is so often the implication, that a work written in software intended to make the writing process a little easier is therefore somehow worth less?
Many of us have a natural tendency towards conservatism when it comes to the tools we use and rely on, but when it comes to software aimed at writers there seems to be an extra layer of cynicism that I think is rooted in something else: "writing software" has, for many, become synonymous with what is really "story theory software." There is a whole industry of "how-to-write" software out there; software that, at its worst, promises to turn your fuzzy idea into a multi-million-dollar blockbuster by following on-screen wizards (which is a sweeping generalization in itself -- there is some great software out there founded on some very interesting and well-respected story theories, such as Dramatica Pro and Contour). Just as how-to-write books usually (with the exception of Stephen King's excellent On Writing) inspire cynicism in many writers, so do their software equivalents -- you know, writing software.