How the Internet is improving writing

Reading time: Just over 3 minutes

You may hate technology or love it but at least be aware of how the Internet is improving writing…

I graduated from high school 40 years ago this June. (Yikes! Time doesn’t just fly. It’s rocket-propelled.)

Back in this mesolithic era, teachers moaned about…

  • the loss of our attention, which they attributed to television
  • our poor reading skills, which they attributed to books like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and,
  • our (or perhaps I should admit, my) dismal ability in math, which they attributed to lack of memorization of times tables.

These types of complaints haven’t stopped, especially when it relates to technology. But, for me, technology is actually improving reading and writing. Here are five reasons why:

  1. The act of writing is easier. When I wrote my undergraduate thesis, in 1979, I did it on a typewriter. I can no longer remember how I managed to do that. I needed scotch tape and scissors (or glue) by my side at all times. To this day, I have a deep and profound appreciation for the ease with which command + C and command + V allows me to move entire blocks of type with a mere flick of the fingers. Furthermore, I don’t need Liquid Paper. Nor do I require any of that nasty blue carbon paper that always seemed to fall apart. My printer takes care of making copies.
  2. The act of researching is infinitely easier. The Main Library at my university was in a room the size of a large train station, with high ceilings and clerestory windows. It held a large card catalogue — a striking set of hundreds of burnished-oak drawers — containing at least one card for every volume in the library. Yes, it was in alphabetical order but then you had to go find and fetch the book. Furthermore, you couldn’t do this stuff at 2 am (if you were a night owl) or 6 am (if you were a morning lark) because the library would be closed! Google now lets us find out just about anything we want, at any time of day or night, in less than a few seconds.
  3. There are many apps that can help improve all of our writing. Writing on a computer is not only easier — editing is as well. Here are some of the free or absurdly inexpensive Internet tools or apps that can help:
    • The Hemingway App: This turns editing into a computer game. Your goal? Fix the type that’s highlighted in colour (because the sentences are passive or too long). Yes, it’s that easy. Free
    • Readability statistics:  This simple online tool allows you to paste in your text and then hit the word “process.” Then it tells you the grade level your readers will need to understand your writing (lower is better) and your average sentence length. Free.
    • Evernote: Worried that you might have forgotten to include some key piece of evidence in your article? If you store all your findings in the web-based software Evernote, you can keep track of everything via key words. Really, really easy especially if you’re doing lots of Internet-based research. Free or $5/month for a premium account.
    • Scrivener: I bought this software a year ago and haven’t used it yet. I’m going to correct that deficiency this week because I think it will help me edit my latest book. The best feature of Scrivener, apparently, is that it makes it super easy to reorder scenes/material. As well, it lets you auto-create Kindle and ePub files. It’s available for both Macs and PCs. $45
  4. The increasing demand for informal writing improves everyone’s ability. Dire predictions about the “end of print” however have not translated to the end of reading and writing. If anything, we have to do more of it than we did 30 years ago. Newspapers may be dying but there are an estimated 31 million bloggers in the US and more than 500,000 new posts per day on WordPress sites alone. Yes, some of what we write (and therefore read) is cra junk — eg: 23 hot men who will make you want to move to Chicago)  — but the demands of blogging have forced us to write faster and less formally and make less of a big deal about it. If we’re less angst-ridden about our writing, we can produce more easily. When I want to help people speed up their writing I frequently suggest they imagine they’re writing an email. This tip alone often helps double their speed. Freelance editors (in the US  or Canada) can help make it excellent.
  5. We can all self-publish. Thirty years ago you had to find a traditional publisher or suffer the cost and embarrassment of a “vanity press.”  Now you can publish your own blog for little more than spare change. And you can even publish a book on your own, using print-on-demand services and Amazon or other online bookstores to sell it. Not all books are great but “specialist” subjects now have a chance and the marketplace gets to decide which ones will succeed.

Fifty years ago, people predicted that TV was killing everything, including reading. Now people are reading more than ever. But better than that, people are writing more. That makes me very happy.

How has technology changed your writing? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section of my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by March 31/15 will be put in a draw for a copy of the beach-read novel The Vacationersby Emma Straub. Please, scroll down to the comments section, directly underneath the “more from my site” links, below.