Thursday, January 25, 2018

Evolution of a Writer

I'm sure you know the old adage: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

But do they? Really?

Last week I dug out an old copy of my educational philosophy. I wrote it back when I was finishing grad school, and now I need to update it because my school is going through a transition.

Reading through it reminded me of some similarities in my writing and teaching careers.

When I first decided to become a teacher, I took a job teaching history in high school. That was 31 years ago, but I still remember saying to my husband, "I can't believe they're going to pay me to talk about history all day."

All my fellow teachers can stop laughing now. 😂 It didn't take long for me to realize that there was far more to teaching than "talking about history all day."

About that same time, I was writing my first book - a looooong historical novel. No surprise that, although I got positive feedback, I was often told that the history needed to take second place to the story.

Fortunately, for both my students and my readers, I learned my lesson.

I learned that teaching is more about the students than the content, and I learned that writing is more about the reader than my love of history. I guess you could say I really took that message to heart since I now write suspense rather than historical fiction.😇

Anyway, as I was pondering the changes in both my educational philosophy and my writing, I kept coming back to how much the world has also changed in the past 30 years.

The technology that pretty much rules our lives now, was fairly nonexistent at that point. In school we still used those mechanical copying machines that left you covered in purple ink. For my writing, I relied mostly on a legal pad and pencil before eventually upgrading to the miraculous word processor that didn't require whiteout!

But how have things changed?

~  My students cannot conceive of a world where you can't reach someone instantly.
I think fondly of those wonderful AOL message boards which (apart from early RT and RWA conferences) were my only link to other writers.

~  Today, readers email us or post messages on FB or Twitter. It's not at all unusual to be friends with your fans or with other writers.
I cherished the letters sent by Mary Jo Putney in response to my fan mail. (Snail mail, of course. There was no other kind.) She was my first link to the world of "real writers," and I appreciated the time she took to respond to a newbie.

~  At night, after my children were asleep, I used to seclude myself in a quiet room and write my heart out.
These days, if I haven't gotten sidetracked by FB when signing in to #1k1hr, I'm constantly tempted to "just log in and see what everyone is up to," a classic case of the FOMO that Terri Reed wrote about a few weeks back.

~ I have walls of research books I could lose myself in, but when I need to know what a particular town in Texas looks like, I can have an image in the amount of time it takes me to type the name into a search engine.

For me, the single biggest change also has to do with technology.

Thirty years ago - or even ten, I never would have had the courage to write inspirational fiction. I didn't think I knew enough, was eloquent enough, or had sufficient experience to write about faith in my life, let alone others' lives.

But I learned something about that too. And I learned it on the internet.

I don't remember exactly how I stumbled across Matt Maher's music videos, but from them, I gained the courage to try to find my voice in Christian fiction.

I'd pretty much stopped writing at that point. But then I heard this song.

And if I ever need to be reminded that I'm not in this alone...

It's easy to bemoan the changes the internet has wrought (especially in terms of distraction and lost work time), but there are so many amazing benefits.

Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same in their essence.  That's especially true if you consider the greatest truth of all.

This may be my favorite of all Matt's songs, and it's a wonderful reminder of why those of us who write inspirational fiction write what we write - we lift high the banner of the cross.

I thought it might be fun today to talk about how our writing lives (or just our lives) and expectations have changed due to technology.

So, has the internet changed you and your writing? For better or worse?


  1. Great post idea, Cate. The internet has changed my writing for the better in that I have instant access to research. I love that. It's changed it for the worse because I also have instant distraction.

    1. That distraction is what does me in. I need to learn willpower!

  2. Ah the memories...mimeograph and carbon paper, typewriters and correction tape. I am so grateful for computers. Now, to just do what I'm supposed to do and not get sidetracked by the rest. Great post, Cate.

    1. Mimeograph. Thanks, Christine. I’d forgotten the name of the machine.

      Distraction. Sidetracked. Seems to be a common theme.

  3. Loved your post. I'm a teacher, too. This semester, I called technology and made them bring me an overhead projector. The computer kept glitching; the overhead never does.
    And, I loved the aol romance boards. I miss them.

    1. Pamela, I have a reminder posted - Technology is a tool not a toy. I think I need to post that above my own computer!

      I have to admit to a certain fondness for all my old buds on AOL, even though none of them knew my as Cate.

  4. I love Matt Maher!!!

    Also love this post, Cate! The internet is amazing! I remember needing to know how to spell a city in Vietnam for one of my first writing attempts. I found a story about that town in the daily newspaper and was thrilled. I knew God was watching out for me...and giving me the info I needed without having to go to the library.

    Now I can pause to tape a question into Google and get the answer just that fast! Incredible.

    As an aside, I'm so glad I took Typing I and Typing II in high school! And that was in the Dark Ages. Wish I had taken shorthand...why don't they teach it anymore? Of, I know, because of technology!

    I often bring up rotary phones to my kids and the TV remote controls of old...that was only child and the family remote.

    "Debby, change the channel."
    "Debby, turn up the volume."
    "Debby, adjust the rabbit ears."

    I'm dating myself! :)

    1. Correction: "Now I can pause to type a question..."

      Evidently, I need to practice my typing skills! :)

    2. Isn’t Matt great, Debby? His songs always soothe my spirit. My religion class loves to sing his No Greater Love. We call it Religion Rock.

    3. That's so cute, Cate! Religion Rock!

      Praising God in song should bring joy and can take different forms. Like the various book genres and imprints. We give glory to God when we write, whether LIH, LI or LIS!

    4. LOL, Debby, I took shorthand in high school and was actually pretty fast! However, even though my earliest employment involved secretarial work, I never really had an opportunity to use shorthand on the job. I still have my Gregg textbooks, though!

  5. Good post. I use technology every day and on three difference devices. Now I panic if I leave the house and forget my phone!! I'm not quite ready to talk to an black orb or say "Okay, Google." Not so much!!!

    1. Oh, Lenora. That’s so true. I panic if I leave it home even if I’m just walking the dog. Feels like a part of me is missing.

  6. So, so true. When I got my first IBM Selectric typewriter, I was thrilled. I literally burned it up. One day it simply started to smoke, and that was that. I bought another and tried not to operate it so many hours at one time. Then the Radio Shack TRS-80 came along. The printer cost more than the computer and was HUGE. I can't even remember how many computers I've had since. My research books mostly take up space, and I no longer spend endless hours at the library augmenting them. It's all at our fingertips now. Seems to me we pay for that convenience with ever more promotional and marketing chores. But the writing itself is still just that, writing.

    1. Arlene! That made me laugh.

      Yes, I had an IBM Selectric at my first job and I thought I was sooooo cool. I don't remember what brand word processor I had, but I wrote a lot on it. Unfortunately, when I decided I wanted to resurrect one of those stories, I met a brick wall - the sad side effect of all that technological advance - no machine that could still read the discs.

  7. It's amazing how many things have changed over the past 30 years, Cate! Mostly, I'm glad--especially for the ease of staying connected with friends or looking up research details quickly on the internet.

    And I seem to recall that one of my first computers had 80 whopping megs of hard-drive space! A few years later, I upgraded to an 80-gigabyte machine and thought that was HUGE! Now, 500-1000G seems hardly enough!

    But wow, even with all the technological advances, sometimes it seems I don't have nearly as much time for actual writing!

    1. LOL, Myra. I think my phone has more memory than my first computer had!

  8. Great post, Cate! And I love the videos.

    I remember back when we used the computer for word processing. Drafts were written by hand for everything. It took forever. Back in college, my entire desk was taken up with a monitor, a keyboard and a stack of floppy discs. I had a tower stationed underneath, which meant I had to careful not to kick it. I tend to swing my feet. A lot. I spent hours at the library doing research. Encyclopedias were popular, as was micofiche, both things you couldn't check out.

    Fast forward to the current day. I have a laptop I can bring anywhere. There are hotspots everywhere, even on cell phones, so Wi-Fi is available most places I travel. I can do all my research, type out a draft, edit it, chat with friends online, and listen to music all without leaving my chair.

    It's an amazing thing. Though I do agree with the others that the easy access can distract me, cutting into my productivity. And I still prefer to talk with my friends face to face.


    1. Distractibility: 1. inability to sustain one's attention or attentiveness, which is rapidly diverted from one topic to another.

      That's me about everything these days. I'm reading a book about how the internet has changed our brains. Maybe I should talk about that next month when I'm back here.

  9. It took me a long time to want to use technology. It can be both a blessing and a distraction that is hard to keep in balance. It makes the writing easier and harder.

    1. I resisted the draft writing on a computer for a long time. I was used to my yellow legal pad or notebook and pen. But eventually I learned to "think with my fingers" as I typed.


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