David Hewson has a blog. On this blog, he describes himself in one sentence: I write for a living.
David Hewson is the author of the Nick Costa and the Killing series, as well as other books. His listings of best sellers on Amazon run page after page.
When David Hewson describes himself by saying that he writes for a living, he is not only stating the obvious, he is being modest about it.
David Hewson has, as I said, a blog. And in that blog, he talks about what he does so well. Reading David Hewson discuss the nuts and bolts of his writerly life makes for absorbing reading.
I spent a good bit of my Sunday, reading blogs written by writers about writing. None of them interested me more than David Hewson’s. He particularly snagged my interest with descriptions of his new-found love for Microsoft Word.
Mr Hewson has gifted a relative with his Mac and moved his writing life over to the care of a PC. He’s enamored with the simplicity of living his working life inside the Microsoft Office suite.
As much as I admire and respect David Hewson, who is so obviously my writing superior, I feel sad for any writer who entrusts their professional life to a PC running Microsoft Office. I’m going to take you through a bit of my personal history to explain why.
I spent years working inside Microsoft Office. I ran it on at least a half dozen different PCs. Back in the 1990s, I had a job that required me to work on a Mac, running the now-defunct Pagemaker. Macs back then were designed by bean counters, and they showed it. Macs of that era were so unreliable that they made PCs look stable.
I explained it to a friend this way: “Using Windows is like balancing on a board that’s on top a bunch of marbles. Using a Mac is like balancing on the marbles.”
It was bad enough that I took work home and did it on my PC — also running Pagemaker — to avoid the instability of the Mac. I was glad, glad, glad to go running away from those 1990s Macs and home to the PC.
For the next years, and on into my return to politics, I used a PC, running Microsoft Office. The only software I supplemented it with was a free-form document database called AskSam.
One reason I am able to conduct myself according to what I think is right in my elective office is that I run my own campaigns. I raise my own funds, maintain my own databases, do my own targeting, take my own photos, design my own literature, and, when time allows, print my own mailings (by the many thousands of copies) on my own Xerox printer. My campaigns cost a fraction of what other people’s do.
That lets me be independent, for the simple reason that I’m not owned.
It also made Microsoft Office and my PC a core campaign component. The first time my PC went turtle on its back during a campaign was about 12 days out from an election. It destroyed a huge amount of data I had collected about who was going to vote for me, who needed rides to the polls, who wanted a yard sign, etc. Fortunately, I had hard copies. But I had to stop everything else while I worked around the clock, getting the computer running again and re-entering all that data.
As it turned out, the election was a runaway. But if it had been close, that PC could have gotten me beat.
I never used an older PC again. I bought a new one — and a good new one — every two years. Despite that, the machines drove me nuts with their glitches and flip flops and constant need for care and attention.
I reached the blanket-splitting day when a computer that was only a couple of months old decided that it was stolen. The machine then began a process of shutting itself down. I’d launch a software (always by Microsoft) and the software would announce that it was stolen and shut down.
I tried reformatting the computer, but it wouldn’t give me access to do that because it thought it was — you guessed it — stolen. I couldn’t get help from Microsoft, not even when I paid extortionist fees for it. They said I should contact the computer manufacturer. Dell (who built the computer) told me it was a software problem and that I needed to talk to Microsoft.
After a couple of months of being bounced back and forth between corporations while my computer merrily went about shutting itself down, I had an expensive paperweight.
And I was finished with PCs.
I’d been using an iPod. It occurred to me that a company that could build something as reliable and usable as the iPod might also be able to produce a computer that didn’t think it was stolen.
I didn’t consider the decision beyond that. This was about my job. I had already used all my dither time trying to convince my PC that it belonged to me and was not stolen. I went to the Apple store and bought a Mac.
It was the single best technical decision I’ve ever made. I know two writers here at Patheos who’ve had their work deep-sixed by clunky PCs in just the past few months. Meanwhile, the lady who bought my old Powerbook is still using it every day in her accounting business without a single problem. I have a 7-year-old Mac Pro and a 5-year-old Macbook, both of which run like clocks.
As long as Apple continues to make machines that are as stable and reliable as the Macs I’ve had since I switched, I will never go back to using PCs again.
I understand the need for Microsoft Word. It is the lingua franca of the virtual world. When I grade papers for the classes that I teach, I use Word. When I correspond with my office, I draft letters and communications in Word. I know that when I finish the book I’m writing, I will have to deal, once again, with Word.
I dread trying to work with an editor and make corrections in Word. In fact, I dread putting the book in Word. I pray that it will stay together long enough to send it off. But that’s the reality, and there’s no changing it.
I will probably plunk down the dollars to buy Word 2013 and run it on my Mac in Parallels for that one purpose. David Hewson says that Word 2013 is stable. When the time comes, I will give it a shot.
But I’d just as soon keep a rattlesnake for a pet as try to write a book in Word. Been there. Done that. Back in my thesis days.
If memory serves, Word performs just about as well for writing long documents as the PC performed in my campaigns for election. It crashed repeatedly, and when it crashed, it corrupted the file so that I couldn’t use it again, which meant retyping from a hard copy. Writing a long (hundreds of pages long) document in Word was an exercise in temper-control. There were days when I had to get up and go for a walk to keep from throwing my expensive computer into the yard.
I finally had to divide the thesis into a separate file for each chapter, and then correct and re-write only when it was absolutely necessary. I actually did a lot of the drafting in Publisher to avoid taxing dear little Word. Submitting the thesis to faculty and then incorporating their changes — all of which had to be done in Word — was cold terror. It was like trying to sneak past that pet rattlesnake without waking it up, every step of the way.
I lived in fear and dread of Microsoft Word. By the end of it, I hated that software.
David Hewson, who is the writer I will never be, says that Word 2013 is stable for him. I suppose it’s possible that Microsoft has performed an exorcism on the software. But I honestly doubt it.
I think that David Hewson is such a consummate professional writer who has been doing this job of work so successfully for so long that his writing process is — at least compared to mine — on rails. I doubt very much that he takes all the side trips and makes the many adjustments and re-writes that afflict me.
My working “outline” for the book I’m writing resembles a spider’s web more than anything else. I am the only person who could ever make sense of it. I am convinced that if I had tried to create this outline in Word, it wouldn’t exist.
What I use to write long documents is a software that David Hewson and I both like. Mr Hewson likes it so much that he’s written a book about it. The software is called Scrivener and it is the answer to prayers that writers didn’t even know they were praying.
If the notes and “outlines” for your writing tend to look like someone took an office trash can and upended it on your desk, then Scrivener is for you. I’m not going to try to describe it. If you’re a writer, have a look and decide for yourself.
I no longer house my research documents in AskSam. I’ve moved to a software called DevonThink Pro Office. David Hewson uses OneNote, which is part of the Office suite, for the same purpose.
The key is to find what works for you and to stick with it. Software is a considerable investment in time as well as money. It’s just a fact that the more you use a tool the more proficient with it you become. Computers and software are tools. If the PC honestly works for you, then stick with it and don’t change.
But as for me, the PC cost me too much time and energy just fiddling with it. It also had the infuriating habit of going turtle on its back when I needed it most. Life is too short and money too hard to come by to put up with that.
My kids tell me that this is just because I’ve got bad computer karma or something. All I know is that I was able to appease that karma right out of the box by changing to another type of computer.
What about you? Are you a Mac or a PC?