| David Gane

The Tools We Love

Long ago, I needed to relearn the habit of writing. I started simple—I woke every morning and tapped away at the computer, adding words and sentences until I hit four pages. Usually, I never had a plan of where the story would go or what would happen next but the process cut through many of my anxieties of writing that I had allowed to develop.

Once I got comfortable and finished more first drafts, I made the decision to change my process and started to write my daily four pages by hand. The reason was simple—I didn't want to give myself any excuse as to why I couldn't do the work. If the power went out, if I was travelling, or if my computer was busted, I could still work, any day and anywhere.

As I transitioned into writing with Ang, I returned to the computer, and then eventually moved on to an iPad[1] to do my work. I made this move because I liked that it was small, light, and compact, and I appreciated its simplicity. I also embraced its constraints—it didn't allow for multitasking, so I focused only on the words in front of me.

Yet, over the past few months, I realized the iPad was starting to slow me down. Any time I was working on the novel, and I had to step out to research a question, I would return at the start of the document, instead of the page I left. Not major, but on an 80 page document[2], time was wasted scrolling down, trying to find the place I left[3]. I also needed to cut out parts of the story sometimes and paste them into a separate “bits and pieces” file which would slow things down and reset both documents. As well, app crash/resets were occurring more frequently. Again, most of the information was saved and none of the work was lost, but the broken rhythm of the work became an annoyance.

The bigger issues were outside of writing the first draft. Although the iPad can help build an eBook, any unique formatting required work on a computer, not a tablet, as well as iBooks Authors requires a computer. I also struggled when working on certain websites—some sites aren't set up for the restrictions imposed by an iPad. As well, any external work on this website, like an update to the theme, can't be done on a tablet.

On top of this, I had dropped the tablet twice and two big cracks spread out from the corners and little pieces of glass would catch my fingers. Then, someone spilled water on my Logitech keyboard and I considered making an upgrade.

Yet, I struggled with the decision to let go of the iPad. In the past, I kludged together different systems on my iPad to run most of these tasks. I could do most heavy tasks by running a screen sharing client on my iPad and Mac Mini. I kept convincing myself that it was good enough, that I could buy a new keyboard and I didn't need to spend the money for a better system. Each day, my favourite apps got a little better and were able to do things that had previously only worked on the computer.[4] I loved being an iPad guy, having a system that was small and light, and had worked well for nearly four years.

It wasn't until I bought myself a new iPad and spent a day with it, that I accepted the truth—I needed something more. The new iPad did the job—I no longer started at the top of the document and my apps didn't crash or restart. I found myself saying that it was good enough, but I also started to ask myself why spend the money just for that. It was time to let go.

I upgraded to an 11” MacBook Air and as soon as I used it, I knew I had made the right choice. Right now, I have 9 apps open, and I bounce between them quickly and easily. I am writing again and the computer keeps up with my fingers (and brain) as I switch between multiple documents and ideas. I’m not struggling to find my place on the page, and I am able to work back and forth through the several documents at one time. For most of you, this is ordinary, but for me, this is something I haven’t experienced for a while.

For the longest time, I argued that the tools we use shouldn't hold us back. In my dogmatic thinking, I would say “If Hemingway could write on a typewriter or Shakespeare could write with a pen and paper, then why can’t I?” I believed that writers should be able to write whenever and wherever they are, no matter what they use.

Now, I'm not so sure. I know I could still write with a pen and paper. I know I could still write with my iPad. But I’m faster on my MacBook Air. I can handle more of the business aspect with it. And it’s still light and I can fit it in the small bag that carried my iPad, so I can take it everywhere.

Sometimes, we force ourselves into methods or processes because of certain beliefs, yet these can limit us. In my case, I was no longer as productive as I needed to be, and it wasn't until I forced myself out of this position that I was able to realize it. In my early decision to be flexible, I had slowly guided myself into an inflexible situation.

I still believe that writers need to be willing to work however and with whatever tools we have access to, but if you are able to work with more productive tools, I no longer think we should deny them out of rigid stubbornness.

  1. I started with the 1st generation, then transitioned to the iPad 3.5, which was an upgrade of the 3, but then missed out on the new processor that released 4 later that year. ↩︎

  2. We have broken the novel into parts, so that it was more manageable to work on. Also, 80 pages is an estimate. On the section we are working on, I am guessing we'll have to add another 20 pages to get it all done. ↩︎

  3. Although I never had a direct answer, my guess was that the large documents were maxing out my RAM and everything was reloaded when I returned. ↩︎

  4. Even yesterday, one of my favourite apps updated, and I felt a pang of regret. ↩︎

Tags: Process

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