Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Importance of Basic Computer Skills

Shakespeare had to know how to sharpen a quill and dip it in ink. Hemingway had to know how to use a typewriter.

You need to know how to use a computer.

Computer skills are completely imperative for the modern writer. And I don't just mean opening up whatever word processing application that comes with your computer and banging out a manuscript. I mean basic familiarity with Microsoft Word, navigating e-mail and the Internet, preferably some knowledge of blogs and social networks, and all of the resulting etiquette and formatting rules.

Your agent and editor are going to want to communicate via e-mail. They're going to want you to send your manuscript in a compatible format. Your editor will probably want to do your line edits by commenting and highlighting in a Word document. Your typeset manuscript may arrive for your review as a PDF. Your cover will certainly arrive as a PDF. Even if you don't have a blog your publicist may want you to write guest blog posts, and thus will want you to know what makes for a good one. Or they'll set up a Facebook or Twitter account for one of your characters that they want you to maintain.

None of these people in the chain are going to be happy if you insist on doing this stuff on paper and phone, if it's even possible to do it on paper. And hopefully you have a sense of how emotion can be difficult to perceive accurately in an e-mail and thus adopt a proper e-mail "tone" when you're communicating.

Whenever I bring this topic up, people often ask me, "What if an author sends you a completely brilliant manuscript through the mail, only it's been handwritten in pen and they don't know how to use a computer?"

Here's what I'd say: I'd call the author, tell them their manuscript is completely brilliant, and politely ask them to send it to me in a Word document. If they don't know how: no better time to learn.

To be sure, everyone along the way will be unfailingly polite if you're learning these skills and no one is going to kick an author to the curb just because they struggle with some computer tasks.

But things are competitive out there, and computer skills should be considered as much a part of an author's toolkit as metaphors and foreshadowing.

Besides, have you ever tried to write with a quill? Shakespeare would have traded a kingdom for a laptop.


Matt Sinclair said...

I completely agree. I'd even say this should be obvious, but the fact that you need to write this suggests that it's not so obvious. Of course, will those who need to know this read it, since it's online and not magically appearing on their pad of paper.

Nathan Bransford said...


Hmm... good point. Maybe I should print it out and hand it out on the streets of San Francisco after work.

Bane of Anubis said...

Hand it out on the bus -- make sure it has coupons, though :p

Margaret Yang said...

Compared to learning how to write a decent novel, learning how to make my own webpage was easy.

Marsha Sigman said...

I shudder to think of life without my computer.....besides the complications it would cause with my writing, how would I diagnose all my friends symptoms without WebMD?

Jada said...

I think these blogs will always involve some element of preaching to the converted. And I agree that if you can write a novel, you can learn a few basic computer skills.

joelle said...

I just spent the weekend doing my copyedits for my first novel and Penguin is now doing them electronically. This means they came to me in a Word document that the CE had marked up using Track Changes in one colour, that my editor had also added a few edits to in her own colour, and then as I changed or commented, it was done in yet another colour. It was locked so I couldn't mess up the CE or my editor's changes and after I finished, my editor will go through all of them and accept the ones we want and leave the ones I marked STET. Even though I am extremely computer literate, my experience with Track Changes was somewhat limited, so it was a learning experience for me. But I liked it. My editor said it's Penguin's move toward sustainability - saving trees. Also, I live in the middle of nowhere, so to get me a FedEx package takes 2 days even if they ship it overnight, and takes several planes, a trip through customs, a ferry ride, and then a car ride so this new way saves on fuel too. I love it!

Rick Daley said...

In 2007 Microsoft unleashed a new version of Office on the world. If you have trouble opening some Word or Excel files, look at the file extension (the part to the right of the dot). If it is .docx or or .xlsx then it's in the Office 2007 format.

Office 2007 will open Office 97-2003 files (.doc or .xls), and if you have 2007 you can do a "Save As..." and choose Office 97-2003 as the file type.

For those who do not have MS Office 2007, there is a compatibility viewer available for free at:

Suzan Harden said...

"A laptop, a laptop! My kingdom for a laptop!"

"Unplug, my lord; I'll help you reboot."

Yep, definitely would have changed Richard The Third.

Marsha Sigman said...

Rick: I hate that the free converter only allows you to open a read only copy of the doc or spreadsheet. It really is forcing you to upgrade.

Mira said...

Well, first of all, I would give my kingdom for a laptop. I really could use one.

Well, I'm wondering if anyone is reading this, thinking "Oh, that Nathan, these young whippersnappers just don't understand." But the secret is, computers are easy to learn. Really. Honest. And they give you access to a whole world. They're fun, actually.

I know there are intimidating words like .pdf and word processing application, but that's just jargon, really. Once you see it, it's easy.

A staff member who works for me has this irrational fear of the computer, but once I go through it a few times, and maybe write the steps out, the person gets it. And feels proud! I had that person do some training on the computer - boy, they fought me on that - but once they did, it was a victory of enormous proportions!

Computers are just like a fancy typewriter, really, with lots of bells and whistles.

Mira said...

Oh, I meant - I had the person with the irrational fear train some other people on the computer. That shoot their confidence sky high! It was heart-warming.

Computers are easy. Really.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan – I agree with you 100%, especially since you mention that you wouldn’t reject a brilliant manuscript because the author didn’t have computer skills. You would just expect that they learn them.

In 2003, I didn’t know how to use email or the Internet. In 2003, my first book was published. I knew I needed to promote it online and communicate by email, so I buckled down and learned how to work in the digital age. It’s been great fun!

My most recent digital-age success has been submitting lines electronically to the digital-age publication project, Book: The Sequel , and having at least five of my lines published in the book and at least one showing up on The Daily Beast .

It amazes me how much I learned in the past few years. I now have my own website that I update regularly. I started publishing my own newsletter through Yahoo! Groups, then asked writers and people working in Hollywood who I met online to write for my newsletter in order to make it more interesting for readers. When I received lots of fantastic articles, I approached an eBook publisher about the possibility of publishing each year of articles as a separate book. He agreed and published the book in both eBook and paperback formats. I then approached reviewers online and submitted the newsletter books to book award contests. The books received great reviews and won awards, including the Silver Award in the 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards in which books published by Yale University Press and The Metropolitan Museum of Art competed. I now communicate daily and send queries by email, actively participate in online writers’ groups, comment on agents’ blogs (hopefully, not too much to be annoying). I’ve requested reviews for all my books by email, entered and won lots of book award contests, and communicate daily on Twitter.

In 2003, learning how to use email and the Internet seemed absolutely daunting. However, I realized I needed to do it, and am now amazed at how much fun I’ve had!

Anonymous said...


You should have mentioned It works just like Microsoft Word, and it's free. You can even give it your friends (legally!).

Most writers don't have the $$$ to blow on Microsoft bloatware. is perfect for most writers. You can Save As .doc, even .docx, so you can easily interoperate with editors still stuck in the Microsoft Dark Ages.

Jeff Abbott said...

I know some think Nathan is stating the obvious--but having been out on tour this past week, I have met aspiring writers who
--do not know how to use email
--do not know what a word processing program is
--do not know that there are literary agents offering advice on the web

Of course the people who need this advice the most are not online to see Nathan's blog.

Marilyn Peake said...

Another bonus from learning how to use the Internet: halfway through reading Orson Scott Card’s SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, I have a much better understanding of the fictional "ansible" network for faster-than-lightspeed communication. (Term "ansible" originally coined by Ursula K. LeGuin). I love SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, one of my favorite books ever !

Nathan Bransford said...


I still think at a minimum people should know how to use Word. If you then want to be all anti-Microsoft and use something else so be it, but Word is the minimum.

Marilyn Peake said...


When did so many agents start blogging on the Internet? I only discovered agent blogs this past year, and wish I had discovered them a whole lot sooner!!

Anonymous said...

Any opinion on this agency agreement?

"The rights represented by Literary Agency include English language publication; first serial rights; foreign language publication; motion picture, television and stage rights; merchandising rights; video cassette and home video devices; and all other subsidiary rights now or hereafter known."

I know this is, erm, a bit off-topic, but would appreciate if anyone (well, especially Nathan) wants to chime in.

Nathan Bransford said...


Not sure that I should be commenting on another agency's agreement. If you have any questions about it I'd take it up with your agent, I'm sure they'll be happy to address any concerns.

Anonymous said...

Open Office is a perfectly fantastic product, with a single exception. They don't support, after five years of user complains, what Word calls 'Normal View.'

You cannot view a document with enforced margins and a little dotted line as a page break. It's either web view--no margins and no page breaks--or print view, where the margins and breaks between pages eats up half your screen.

I loved OO for three hours, then realized that no, they really -didn't- have 'Normal View.'


..or find a fifteen year old, and make them your slave.
...I mean "intern".

Kim McDougall said...

Yes, yes and YES! And a quadruple yes to Rick Daley for mentioning the docx fiasco. I've already had to ask a dozen people to resend files because of this and they seem to be completely unaware of the translation problem.

Thanks for pointing out the obvious that is not so obvious.

Anonymous said...

Matt Sinclair wrote: "I completely agree. I'd even say this should be obvious, but the fact that you need to write this suggests that it's not so obvious. Of course, will those who need to know this read it, since it's online and not magically appearing on their pad of paper."

What he said.

Presumably everyone here already possesses - as the title of the blog itself states - 'basic computer skills'.

The people who need to read this blog post are exactly the people who won't be reading it, presumably because they don't own a computer, or even feel the need to access one (at the library, say), and therefore don't possess 'basic computer skills'.

It's a harsh world, Nathan, as you well know - but as so many of the kids are saying these days, or at least were saying a few months ago...

Epic fail.


Nathan Bransford said...


I can assure you there are people who read this blog who need to be reminded of this. You may not have been around for this post.

And there are others who need reminding about the Internet decorum part of the post. But I'm sure you don't know anyone who meets that description.

annerallen said...

Thanks a bunch to Rick Daley! Nathan's blog is information central these days.

Interesting tidbit: a recent study says the women-over-45 demographic is much more likely to buy books online than young whippersnappers. Maybe it's not the oldsters that are sending the quill-and- parchment manuscripts?

Marla Warren said...

I remember a commercial a few years back in which an elderly professor was complaining about having to use technology. He blusters, “Would Shakespeare use a computer?” His young assistant replies, “He would now.”

And Nathan, I hope this is not off-topic, but your post reminded me of a hilarious sketch done for Comic Relief, starring Hugh Laurie as Shakespeare and Rowan Atkinson as his producer, discussing a few problems with Shakespeare's new play Hamlet.

Shakespeare sketch - A Small Rewrite

Suzan Harden, I love your comments!

Bob Mayer said...

I've been in publishing for a couple of decades. 40 books published. The only publisher I worked with that used track changes was F&W. I'm glad to hear Penguin is going that way. The system is so archaic. Yes, computer skill are important, but author skills are important too and no one seems focused on training authors. It's like-- hey, here's a book contract, we assume you know everything you need to know about a job you've never had before.
I've designed my Warrior Writer workshop to focus on the writer, not the writing. Both creatively and in business. I've put into it all the things no one told me in my career, that would have been very useful to know. There were times when I asked, and there was no answer. Publishing can't allow such inefficiency in the fast-paced modern world.
Fiction writers tend to group near the INFJ profile of the Meyers-Briggs. The exact opposite of that character type-- the ESTP-- is promoter. Hmm. Problem area. That's the tip of the iceberg.
Agents tend to be 'sellers' according to MB-- exact opposite is 'architect'. Something else to think about when discussing crafting a career plan.
What should be obvious, as Nathan points out, isn't.

Diana said...

I agree with everything you said, except for the insistence on using Word to write one's manuscript. A person can use any software they want to use to write their manuscript. They can save a copy of their manuscript file in rtf and transfer it into Word then save it as Word document without losing any formatting. It's a few extra keystrokes at the end, but saves hours of aggravation. (Even better would be to accept manuscripts in RTF format, you can read them in Word without a problem.)

RTF is the standard format that all word processors can read.

I'm an engineer. Word is the most user unfriendly word processing program on the market. I don't use it unless I absolutely have to.

As a small press publisher, I don't insist on my contributors using my preferred word processing program, most people don't have it. I can send edits back and forth in rtf format.

Jen C said...

So the fact that I spend the good majority of my waking hours in front of a computer is a good thing. I'd always suspected as such! Take that, people who say I have no life!

Rebecca Cooper said...

Shakespeare on a laptop. *gigglesnort*

I don't even want to think about writing a book on a typewriter, let alone with a QUILL. *shudder*

Etiquette Bitch said...

well said. far nicer than i would've said it. i used to teach basic software (including word) and, although i couldn't, i'd love to bark to most of my then-students: "get with the times!"

Anonymous said...

Nathan Bransford wrote: "I can assure you there are people who read this blog who need to be reminded of this. You may not have been around for this post.

And there are others who need reminding about the Internet decorum part of the post. But I'm sure you don't know anyone who meets that description."

Yup, what he said.

- about the breach of decorum part in particular.

One of the comments Mr. Bransford made earlier, in another section of this blog, was incredibly interesting to me: specifically he explained that, due to our increasing reliance on electronic forms of communication, it's no longer as necessary (as it once was) for an American literary agent to setup shop in America's publishing hub, which is of course New Jersey.

Mr. Bransford made it clear that he's quite capable of running his affairs from San Francisco, in part, and even maybe chiefly because of, these new forms of communication.

I suppose that even in the recent past, had a literary agent resided any place other than New York, then that agent's stature would've been somewhat diminished?

It's good to see that that's no longer quite the case - spread these agents out all over the damned country, I say. For one thing, they'll have a greater understanding of what's happening in that region of the country, and will presumably have a deeper relationship with the writers of that area in consequence? Correct?

And, yes, I wholeheartedly agree. We must all learn how to communicate via these new electronic forms without breaches of etiquette or impropriety.

I wish you Godspeed, sir.

M Younger.

Amy Cochran said...

I agree for the most part. Computer skills in any industry are vital. Companies are always moving forward and many have recently started boasting that they are "paperless."

However, there is something to be said for writting with a quill. I actually use a quill and ink for all handwritten correspondance; be it a thank you card or a note. Even with all the technological advances, legible handwritting is always a must. How would you feel if you recieved a thank you card with a handwritten message in blackfont, chancery, copperplate or any of the other fonts? How would you feel if it was just scrawled on the page? There will always be call for paper and a pen.

Steph Damore said...

Sweet, I'm glad I've got one aspect of the publishing world mastered. I'm awesome at Word and track changes!

And it's because of this 21st century tool kit that I also have a blog and website. To me it's part of the writing package. Plus, writing blogs is fun - even if I'm only entertaining myself =)

Ink said...

M. Younger,

What happened to "Nevertheless, alright, I won't do it again." Short term memory loss, perhaps? Read Sybil a few too many times?

Steph Damore said...

Marilyn - wow, I just read your post (2:48). That's amazing, I haven't accomplished nearly as much as you online. Suddenly my blog is just well, hmm, a blog. Go you!

mrmurph said...

Twenty years ago, my major professor insisted that I write my master's thesis on computer. I had my heart set on using my trusty electric typewriter, but he was the boss. I did it his way, and was dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.
While I still like to compose my rough drafts longhand, my electric typewriter lies collecting dust somewhere in a closet.
It's hard to imagine life without a word processor (though I still hate how Hotmail changes the formatting when you cut and paste a Word document).

T. Anne said...

Amen! But me thinks you're preaching to the choir.

I do believe most people rise to the occasion. Something tells me if the Bard ever did get his hands on a laptop, he'd be prolific in Word within the hour.

Anonymous said...


Presumably mostly everyone here, by now, knows that Tim-bo and and M. Younger, are the same person - the above two posts written by those two writers, therefore, should be viewed with... um, a sense of jocularity.

And those individuals who didn't know this obviously weren't hurt by it.

Now, if in the near future we start hearing from some person named... let's say... Shelly MacDougall... and yeah, I just made that up... then, yes, you would have made a strong point.

But don't you worry, my good fellow, we won't be hearing from her.

I promise!

M. Younger

Steph Damore said...

Ink - my sentiments exactly. Not trying to gang up, just what I was thinking.

Tim-bo/M.Younger - I find your comments very interesting and enjoyable to read. I only wish you didn't have a split personality. I don't quite understand the need for it. Do explain if you wish.

Ink said...

I'll believe it when I see it.

And only a very small number of Nathan's readers probably followed that thread through the weekend. Still wondering what the point of it is. Except I have the feeling there is none. I was kind of hoping ol' tim-bo had died of a spliff overdose. Here's hoping.

Marla Warren said...

mrmurph wrote:

"It's hard to imagine life without a word processor (though I still hate how Hotmail changes the formatting when you cut and paste a Word document)."

You might try gmail as it preserves Word formatting.

mrmurph said...

Thank you, Marla!

Anonymous said...
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Leigh KC said...

Good point. When I was 13 in Grade 9 (a long time ago when the Earth was ... never mind) a compulsory subject at my all girls' school was Secretarial Studies. Since I wanted to be a lawyer, not a secretary, I was indignant about being forced into Ms Bridgman's class. However, what I learned then is now my most envied accomplishment (only) since I can touch-type 90 words per minute with 99% accuracy (thanks to auto-correct). Who would have thought?


Ink said...

M. Younger,

Well, I was really kind of hoping that Tim-bo's sentiments weren't actually yours. C'est la vie. And I'll take your word on the rest.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marilyn Peake said...

Steph -

Thanks so much! I've yet to start my own blog, though, because of the time commitment involved. I checked yours out today. It looks good. You go, girl!

KC said...

Might I recommend that an agent make clear on the company website, or in the submissions info, which format of a document will be accepted? A few do, but I just sent off a query created in Word 2007 to an agency that doesn't state this and now realize that, if the agency hasn't kept up with the latest Word program, my excellent query might not be readable, or worse, might be gibbberish. I can only hope they'll request that I resubmit in another format if that's the case.

CindaChima said...

I know not what others may think, but, as for me, if there were no computers, there would be no books. Not authored by me, anyway.

ryan field said...

A valid post.

Anonymous said...

And yet, CindaChima, the books on my shelf that I value the most were all written with pen and paper, with the exception of a few that were typed on a typewriter.

You should try writing with pen and paper if you haven't done so recently -a kind of magic can sometimes happen when a writer steps away from the keyboard, which is something that Stephen King recently discovered.

M. Younger

Donna said...

Thanks for the post Nathan. Although I have found my way here, and have a "basic knowledge" of word processing, there is still a lot I have to learn. The things people tell me my Microsoft Works word processing can do! And I still don't have a Website or blog, and the reason probably is because I'm just afraid of learning the process. It seems mind boggling to me, and rediculously complicated. (Every time I have to run a virus scan I have to call my son in to start it. He has learned to just do it and not ask me why I don't just learn how to do it myself.)

In fact, I find I still do my best writing with a pencil (not even ink pen) and a tablet of lined paper. I think differently with the archaic devices. I'm not saying I would give up my computer for anything - and I'm savvy enough about this business I'd never submit the hand written version to an agent or editor - but, I don't agree that the word processing programs and all the different electronic ways to write down your ideas is the only way to go. After spending all day on a computer at work, I like to get away from glowing screens once in a while while I think.

So, it may look like Nathan is "preaching to the choir" about becoming computer literate, but not all people (and by that maybe I'm only speaking for myself here) who have managed to find their way onto a blog have mastered the ability to get there by themselves. This has been a much tougher learning process for me than writing the novel. Writing comes naturally; manipulating the web and interacting with it's natural born experts has not been as easy.

But thanks Nathan, for reminding me how far I have to go in becoming a published author. And thanks also, for assuring me agents have some patience in getting computer-phobic writers into the modern world of publishing.

Donna said...

Guess I'm on a roll tonight.

Yes, Nathan, I think it would be a good idea to pass out this type of flier out on the streets of SF, because you never know; the next great American Novelist might be bumming around homeless, writing his epic on pads with free pens from the shelter, church or library, and doesn't know that its a g-mail account he needs, not a PO Box.

Well, theres my soap box. I'm finished now. Thanks for "listening".

Karen said...

I work in a community college Learning Center and it amazes me how many students these days get through high school without knowing how to attach a document to an email, the different between an email address and a web address, and even how to double space a document.

But I guarantee that anyone wanting to learn can take a basic computer class at any community college (in California it's now about $30 for a 1 unit class). It may take some time and cost a bit more in your area, but you'll learn the basics within a few weeks. And the staff will most definitely be willing to help you as much as we can.

Stephanie Faris said...

I keep hearing J.K. Rowling still doesn't use a computer and writes all her novels longhand. But basically, there are very few occupations on this planet in which at least some basic PC skills aren't required. It's part of the world we live in today.

Kristi said...

Leigh KC - you are so right. Typing was the best class I took in high school - followed closely by speed writing. I don't know how I would have made it through grad school without them.

Nathan's right as usual, and I can totally relate to Marilyn. As "computer-savvy" has never been in the top ten list of adjectives used by others to describe me, I've had to teach myself how to blog, social network, etc. in the last year. My critique group uses the track changes format which is helpful and my Macbook can save files as Word, so there are no issues there.

I will say that before finding this blog, I was unaware of how to even post a comment without it being "Anonymous" so to those who are new to this blog, it is an amazing resource for newbie writers. Trust me - if I could learn to blog, anyone can.

Anonymous said...

How do you learn to use "track changes" on microsoft word (for macs)?

Also, is there a directory of what editing shorthand means?


Steph Damore said...

Marilyn - Thanks! I just started it, but it's been fun so far.

Longhand vs. computer? 90% of my writing is done on the computer. Occasionally, I'll jot bits of scenes and dialogue down when I'm in the car, but that's about it.

Last weekend I was up north sitting by the river writing on my laptop - no joke. My husband was trout fishing and I hung out on the bank typing away. Maybe I'll try a pen and paper next time... hiking with a laptop can be a pain.

Anonymous said...


Do you have a laptop you can see outside? I am looking for one and have yet to figure out which is the best kind. I love to sit out on my deck, but I can't see any of the three laptops I have, and they are all different brands.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Nathan.

I'd suggest directing anyone who is computer-phobic to the local library. These days, librarians spend more time answering computer questions than anything else, so they'll have the answers. There are even basic classes available, from how to set up an email account to how to customize a Myspace page. If... anyone actually uses Myspace these days. ;)

One thing I wish they included in computer classes, however, is how to prevent things like carpal tunnel and eyestrain. So many writers rely on their hands and eyes to work, and I've met so many who've had problems.

In fact, that'd made a great blog post. Hint, hint.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

fantastic post. I'm glad you said this.

Kristi said...

Anon re: track changes for Word on Macs. You can buy a Windows system and load it onto your Mac along with Microsoft Office (but I figured if I wanted to do that, I would've just bought another PC). You just click on Track Changes under Edit on your Pages in Mac and can then save the file as Word. I hope that answered your question, but if not, you can contact me through my blog. :)

Dara said...

Even if an author hasn't the money for Microsoft Office, there's always Google Docs. A local library will have computers for them to use and export the files as a Word file or a PDF.

If it's because they don't know how to use a computer, I know many local community centers will often have classes for a low fee that will help them learn. Or, they can ask a family member, as I'm certain they will be able to find someone that will help them.

A lot of times it boils down to being stubborn, unfortunately. My mom, who's not quite 50, has a complete aversion to computers, no matter how many times my sister and I have told her we'd teach her. She's afraid she'll make it explode or something :P

Joe said...

The idea that anyone intelligent enough to write a novel --- even a very poor one --- can't manage the basic computer tasks described by Nathan is awfully silly. Computers are not new technology, word processors have been around for at least two decades now.

I could grumble about how I don't want to know anything about refrigerators. But then I'd better get used to eating nothing at home but cereal and peanut-butter sandwiches. My willful ignorance doesn't obligate the local supermarket to deliver hot meals to my house every day.

Donna said...

I followed the weekend thread, but more to see if Nathan posted an answer to my question than to see what the latest jibes were.

Please don't rise to this obvious baiting. Your posts are one of the reasons I read this blog, and I really hate to see your good nature being so distracted by this thread. Let it go, and maybe the lack of attention will help the issue along to another audience.

Anonymous said...

I'm an unpublished novelist, so could somebody please explain the following sentence for me:

"Your editor will probably want to do your line edits by commenting and highlighting in a Word document."

I have no idea what a line edit is?

Is Mr. Bransford just saying that an editor will prefer, or rather demand, to edit your work electronically?

M. Younger

Jeff Abbott said...


You do not have to load Windows onto a Mac to use Microsoft Office. There is a Mac version of Office that is fully interoperable with the Windows version. Track Changes works in Word for Mac exactly as it does in Word for Windows.

For anon's original post on how to use Track Changes, you should consult the Help file in Word.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


In larger cities and towns, I'm sure classes may be available, but some of us live in small communities (You know, all back woodsy, and such). I spent hundreds of dollars to get satellite internet. It's slightly faster than dialup and very unpredictable. Our library doesn't offer anything but books. And I wish I knew a bit more about word docs. I am hoping that what I am doing already is saving it as a word doc, but I am not one hundred percent sure of the terminology. As for going to some family member or help, I’m afraid they all come to me. Online courses are completely vulnerable to our weather. I learn by trial and error, picking up stuff from others, and I’m far from new to computers. I have 4 outdated ones sitting in my basement, and five in my house that I still use (I know why 5? I do have a family). Unfortunately one of the queries I sent out came back with a jumbled reply, and I worried that that was how they received my email, and wasn’t sure if it was my problem or theirs (I was using my yahoo address). Alas, I’m hoping some noble agent will be so kind as to inform me, I’m screwing up if it’s me.

Anonymous said...
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Matilda McCloud said...

Anon 7:12

It's easy to use Track Changes on Word with a Mac...I have a pretty old version of Word, so it may not be exactly the same, but basically all you do is click Tools, then Track Changes, then when box pops up, Click highlight changes when editing. That way you will see right on the screen where the word deleted etc. Then the other person either clicks save or reject changes. This is handy when your son or daughter sends you his/her college paper to look over too!

For a blog, all you do is open a google account, click Blogger, pick a template, pick a title for your blog, and start typing. You can do a few fancy things here and there, add pictures, etc, but it's all self-explanatory once you set it up. It's fun...

Mira said...

Donna, I can assure you, having much contact with the varied homeless of S.F., that many of them could professor courses in computer training.

Well, I finished my paper, which I will now refer to as my masterpiece, and e-mailed it.

And can I say how lovely it was to e-mail it? I didn't have to buy an envelope, and then go out and buy another envelope that actually fit. Then I didn't have to go to the post office. Nope, just pushed a button, and there it went.

Presto-chango, it's there!

And that's not even getting into the loveliness of spell check, auto-format and a built in Thesarus.

Computers are lovely. Almost as lovely as my masterpiece. I am absolutely positive I'm going to get at least a C+ on my masterpiece, because I used the right font. Oh, and he asked for 5 references, and I included 12. That might rate me a B- at least.

And Jen C., your comment was funny, and Steph I'm going to check out your blog. On the computer!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, above,

Yeah, that's a really good point. I've received e-mail responses from agents in which my own text was improperly formatted - not by me but by the text-messaging-system.

And in such situations I've often wondered: did the agent receive my text looking like that?

It's been impossible to tell.

This wall of silence that's erected by the vast majority of agents makes communication pretty much a one-way street.

It would be nice if, under such circumstances, an agent would say something - but I fear that most would not.

(Also, sorry for messing you up like that, but are you sure that you're not me?)

M. Younger

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Scott said...

I'll gladly trade Word's Normal View for OpenOffice's master docs that don't blow up and destroy your files, their version tracking that doesn't threaten to annihilate your files, their templates that don't change when you don't expect them to, and several other features that make me prefer OpenOffice. And, thanks to my job, I got Word for the same price as OpenOffice.

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Nathan Bransford said...


I really don't want to turn off anonymous comments. Michael, it's time to move along, and everyone else please do not take the bait.

Anatole said...

I've grown up in the computer generation, and know my way around pretty well. Writing with a pen on paper is good, but when ideas start flowing, I want to get to a computer, because my words just come out faster that way.
That being said, I still have my troubles. Writing non-audio files to a CD? Tried it today, spent hours getting nowhere, and want to scream.
Nice computer. *pets moniter fondly hoping to goodness it doesn't explode*

Marla Warren said...

Anatole wrote:

"*pets moniter fondly hoping to goodness it doesn't explode*"

Anatole, have you tried approaching it on your knees bearing gifts?

Bane of Anubis said...

For any of those reading this who are unfamiliar with Word - here's the first rule:

Don't talk to the paper-clip... (though maybe it's not in Word 07 - fingers crossed)

Keren David said...

I agree completely about computer skills, and it's been fun to learn about blogging and twitter as part of becoming an author.
I did laugh though when - after all the on-screen work on the manuscript - I received a big fat envelope through the post with a print out of the pdf of my book to mark up with final corrections. As an editor in the newspaper business I haven't marked up hard copy for years.

Catherine Hughes said...

I am on the cusp of the generation who, in the main, are not especially computer literate. I was lucky in that our family business was computer-oriented and thus I grew up with them in the same way as my own children have. There will be people out there who are - or could be - exceptionally good writers but who struggle with computer literacy.

My seven-year-old son can navigate the web like a pro; knows how to google (probably without much finesse; no long tail just yet!) to get the Ben 10 or Spiderman games he wants to play and has a whale of a time playing with various educational sites in both the languages that he speaks. I am in awe of him. Obviously, his use of the web is supervised, which is why I am always amazed at just what he can do with it.

My sixteen-year-old knows as much as I do - has set up a couple of communities (one of them for teenage authors even though she is studying to become an aerospace engineer)- and is expected to produce her exam coursework on a computer and to have the ability and the facility to email it into her tutors from home. Measures are being introduced in the UK to make sure that even underprivileged kids have access to a computer at home.

In time - probably very quickly - this will cease to be a problem. Whilst it remains one, though, a modicum of understanding for those who simply did not have access to this sort of technology at a stage in their lives when learning it would have been easy, is surely to be encouraged?

In the meantime, it is heartening to read a blog post that doesn't make me feel like a hopelessly naive, under-informed newbie (which, of course, I am) because this is something I do have a good grasp of!

sylvia said...

On the other hand, I have yet to find an agent who will let me submit by PDF.

Bittersweet Fountain said...

@Catherine Hughes, it's nice to see I'm not alone. Like your daughter I am an aspiring author studying to be an aerospace engineer. I'm four months away from earning my bachelors degree (then it's on to grad school), and I'm just about to start the query process for my most recent manuscript (the first manuscript I've viewed as good enough to be read by others).

Nathan, it's funny when I first read this and saw the "importance of basic computer skills" my mind jumped to needing to know html and a real coding language like Java or C++. Then I saw you meant Word and I thought, "Really? Is it that hard to learn?" I guess people do still struggle with computers. It's just hard for my to get my mind around it. I mean my grandfather has taught coding for the past fifteen years. If my grandfather can understand it, it can't be that hard. But then again, I am an aerospace engineer. My basic computer class at college was Matlab. Microsoft Office knowledge is a given.

Thermocline said...

Word may not be the easiest program to use but Microsoft offers a bunch of free online tutorials (including how to use Track Changes)

Joe said...

Again, it's all a matter of degree. Learning a computer language, and being proficient in it, requires a great deal of time and effort. Merely using Word (or most other word-processors agents and publishers want to see) is a much easier task.

Age, by itself, is certainly no barrier. Among the eldest generation of my own family, the last vestiges of resistance to the digital age died years ago. About five minutes after I showed them how to e-mail pictures of their grandchildren, it crumbled like a sandcastle. Today they know how enough that I routinely go to THEM for advice on matters like that.

dianecurran said...

But then again...if you run a national Shakespeare Company and a publisher asks you to write your autobiography, then it's okay to write in pencil on A4 paper and submit manuscript that way.

True story. Wish I could find a link to confirm it, but I remember reading the article when the autobiography was released, and as I was once his PA, I knew well he couldn't type to save himself. And he still handwrites his personal correspondence.

Shakespeare worked with actors. He'd probably dictate to some pretty young starlet who can type.

Steph Damore said...

Anon 7:20 - My Gateway laptop screen works pretty well at blocking the sun glare. BUT I know what you're talking about. I've thought about getting a laptop visor like this one. For thirty bucks it might be worth it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all who responded to my questions on word's track changes.

Much appreciated!!

Any source for understanding editors' shorthand?

(I would like to become at least a little informed on that language when I receive an edited piece back. :-D )

Catherine Hughes said...

@ Bittersweet Fountain

Good luck with your studies. My daughter is a little way behind you. She is currently sitting four A Levels and a Baccalaureate. The she will go straight onto a Masters degree at a nearby prestigious University. The course gives her a Masters in Aerospace Engineering and her pilot's licence. She wants to design, build and fly spacecraft - and to write about it!

We are - as you can probably tell - very proud. She is gifted in a way I never was.

Andrew said...

What bothers me about this is not the problem of computer skills -- my day job is as a consultant for an IT company -- but that publishers are dictating what software I must use, and consequently, when I need to upgrade my computer.

All a writer really needs is a very basic computer with a very limited set of word processor features. It's unfortunate that publishers don't understand that .doc is not a document exchange format. But that battle was lost a good 10 years ago.

Open Office is the best solution for a writer, I think, although I haven't checked if it plays nicely with Word's Track Changes feature.

And Joe's right, word processors sure have been around for two decades ... I can remember doing essays on WordStar 3.3 running on an Osborne 1, in about 1985, back when you were dead in the water if your document grew to exceed 64 kb. When people talk about "the computer generation," I just laugh.

Nikki Duncan said...

Heh, I just saw a question online from someone wanting to know if agents preferred them to use typewriters. I didn't know people still used those.

BTW, I found your look-a-like at my local The UPS Store.

Kirk said...

This is a bit off-topic in a way, but addresses some of the points others have already made.

I severely dislike typing my first drafts into a computer. It feels sterile, it makes me want to excessively edit as I type, and it leads to too many distractions.

So I write my first drafts long-hand into a journal, then type them in later while doing a first editing pass. Yes, I still do some editing on the paper but you can only squeeze in so many words in the margins and in-between lines.

I can take my journal with me almost anywhere, it never runs out of battery, and I don't feel compelled to check my email or some blog every few minutes while I'm trying to develop a scene.

Oh, and I have a Masters degree in computer science and use a computer for other tasks for many hours of the day. Figure that one out.

Scott said...

On a somewhat related note, I've only just learned how to submit in MS format. I wonder how many partials and shorts stories I've sent were rejected because I sent them in a single-spaced Word document? At present I'm undertaking the daunting task of converting my entire 80k novel into MS format because an online publisher has asked for it.

Damn you, never-ending literary flapdoodle.

Nikki Duncan said...


I love editing and writing on paper. It's more personal and there are definitely less distractions as you can get away from the computer constantly popping up new emails, taunting you with the internet and what not.

I'm on the computer all the time for work and writing, but it's great to step away on occassion.

Ink said...


Could it be that your brain has developed the connection of the computer as a cue to "work" and to technical things, whereas the journal and a pen has become a cue to creativity and writing? I think the brain develops strong associations with things, and if you can individualize settings and tools to particular tasks, then your brain finds it easier to mentally cue in to the task at hand.

Which is why online stuff can often be distracting, I think, because the brain cues "web browsing" and "e-mail" as much as "writing" when in the presence of the computer. Someone around here mentioned (awhile back now, so I can't give credit where it's due) that it can be really good to have a writing computer without an online connection. No distractions, and the brain will cue writing whenever you're on it. Seemed like an interesting idea (for those who don't want to write longhand).

Lydia Sharp said...

I'm not against paper and ink (in fact, I have to print my stuff out to edit it properly), and I don't think you are either, but computers do make things easier if you know how to use them properly. And social networking on the internet is priceless, if you do it correctly...aka don't make an idiot out of yourself for the entire world to see.

I especially liked your comment about learning proper email tone. So true.

Mira said...

Well, I'm convinced that paper and pen access a different part of your brain, and that writing through your pen, rather than typing with fingers may as well. I create on paper (or just in my mind), and then move to the computer for editing.

There is absolutely no question in my mind that the computer is the best for editing. At least for me.

Bane of Anubis said...

If you've got bad handwriting (like I do), paper and ink aren't very good options :)

Kirk, I hear you on the excessive editing part, but I'd probably do that w/ pen & paper, too -- and then I'd look like some madman crossing out words left and right (b/c I can't use pencils - heck, I only used pencils on my Eng exams when explicitly required).

I think I'd be w/ Cinda on this one - w/o a computer, it would be very difficult for me to write (I know many have done things where we wish we could just hit "Ctrl+Z" and then realize the desired undoable event did not happen on a computer and we've got actually bend over and clean up the mess).

Kirk said...

My penmanship certainly isn't the best, but I'm able to read it and that's all that matters.

Well-- my wife likes to read it too. I think she's learned to interpret; she never asks me what a word is any more.

Jens Porup said...

re: OpenOffice

I've written five guidebooks for Lonely Planet in OpenOffice. I had no trouble working with editors in .doc format. (Although we don't use Track Changes.)

For those who miss Word's Normal View feature, get yourself an OpenOffice bug-reporting account and vote for the issue.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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Nathan Bransford said...

Anonymous comments have been disabled until further notice. I regret that I had to take this action because of one individual, but it is what it is. Apologies to everyone who is inconvenienced.

Marla Warren said...

No apologies necessary, Nathan, you are an excellent host.

As a former teacher I empathize with the challenge of enforcing a level of decorum.

(And I won't be offended if you delete this comment.)

Mira said...

You can delete this as well, but can I add my voice to Marla's? I have always been extremely impressed with your skill at managing this blog.

I completely support you; I think you were left with few options.

Other Lisa said...

@anon (the not-deleted anon) asking about editing - google "editing marks" - I've found some great pages online that illustrate the marks and explain their meanings.

Anna C. Morrison said...

I remember writing poetry on a typewriter. I can't even imagine going backwards in time, technologically. I find it difficult to believe there are writers out there who do not know how to use e-mail or a word processing application. But like you said, no time like the present to learn!

Donna Hole said...

I followed your simple advice about creating a blog last night, you know, just to show that not just any - - person - - could do it. And guess what, I think I did it! You notice I have a blogger profile now :) And yes, I'm right proud of myself. Thanks for the advice.

But, I lost me!!! I THINK I created a blog, but now can't find it.

Anyway, I digress. . .
For people using the OpenOffice program:
I checked it out at the .org site but find it has really very little info on the features itself.

Would I use it instead of my Works program, or in conjunction? What makes it different than Works, beside the editing feature?

I've seen several demonstrations of Vista - its what my office uses now and thank God I don't really do any letter typing at work - and I didn't like it. My son has it on his computer and I still don't like it. I'm still using XP, but I probably bought the last computer on the market that still had it available. Is this OpenOffice program as different from Works as Vista is from XP?


Andrew said...

Donna, download OpenOffice and give it a shot.

You'll find it straightforward, and much better than Works. Works is useless, because it doesn't play nice with anything that people actually use.

OpenOffice can handle files from both Word and WordPerfect. It can also convert your document to pdf.

And it's free.

dan said...

Do we need a new word for the new-fangled kind of "reading" we do on screens?

by Danny Bloom

Are you reading this -- or -- are you screening this? How you answer
this question will determine whether you get to the bottom of this

Alex Beam, writing in the Boston Globe on June 19, fired the first
volley in this now-national
discussion. "Do we read differently on the computer screen from how we
read on the
printed page?" Beam asked rhetorically. His column was headlined by a
savvy Globe copyeditor: "I screen, you screen, we all screen."

The answer to Beam's question is, of course, yes. From most of the
research that has come in so
far from academics in
North America and Europe, the answer is clear, although not everyone's
in agreement with what it all means.

dan said...

Bill Hill, a former Microsoft typeface designer from Scotland who is
now based in the Seattle area, told me that one reason that "reading"
on screens is still a bit problematical is because "we are still
paying the price of an engineering shortcut taken sixteen years ago."

I asked Mr Hill to explain this to me, and he replied: '' Sixteen
years ago, when the programmers at the NSCA were creating Mosaic, the
first Web browser, they made an engineering decision based on
expediency. They took an easy option --for which we're all still
paying a huge price in terms of the readability of the Web."

The engineers asked themselves:"How do we display content?"

They said: "Pagination's hard. The easy way is to display it all in a
bottomless window, so the reader can scroll through it. Then it
doesn't matter how much content there is on a Web page."

But according to Mr Hill and most other Web readability experts,
scrolling is much less suited to the way humans read than paging
through content.

"The human visual system -- the eyes, the muscles which control them,
the optic nerve and the brain -- operates like a high-speed,
high-resolution scanning machine," Mr Hill told me. "When reading, it
scans four targets per second, taking only 25ms to move from one
target to the next, each target about 5-7 characters wide."

"Type, and layout, has evolved over the 5500 years since writing
systems first appeared," Mr Hill continued, "and especially since the
widespread adoption of Gutenberg's moveable metal type -- to optimize
for the way human vision works. Sure, you can learn to make do with
scrolling to read, if there's nothing better. And there's no choice on
the Web today.
And that's what we need to fix to make reading -- and design --
first-class citizens on the Web."

Mr Hill, who believes in the power of printed books and in a rosy
future for e-books as well, says fixing the Web's readability won't be
easy, but that it can be done.

"It'll mean re-educating the design community in a new paradigm," he
said. "But it'll be worth it."

So, Dear Reader, er, Dear Screener, if you have scrolled all the way
down to the bottom of this seemingly bottonless guest column, let me
ask you one more time (and your comments and feedback are very welcome
in the comments section below): Were you reading this commentary, or
were you screening it?


Danny Bloom, ("60 going on 100"), is the author of over a dozen books
in English, Japanese and Chinese. A freelancer writer and blogger
based in Taiwan, he does not own a computer and has never even seen a
Kindle or BlackBerry or an iPhone.

Katy said...

Quick question: if you are asked to email your manuscript to an agent, should you send it in PDF? It sounds basic, but I honestly don't know.

cheap computers said...

I think its very important nowadays to learn the basic skills of computer.

steven said...
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logitech speakers said...

I created my own blog with some very informative contents i implemented lot of things like emailing and links to other sites but i have a doubt on how can i implement manuscript in my blog?

Gretchen said...

Sadly, there are some people who I am convinced do not have what it takes to wrap their head around computers. These are smart, creative, educated, and capable people who are completely confounded by concepts such as a directory structure. I'd hate to see them pushed aside by the publishing world. It probably happens.

I've supported various software packages, operating systems, and hardware for more than 20+ years. Sometimes it's a matter of taking the time to learn a new skill, and sometimes it isn't.

Even I with all those years of experience behind me, I still occasionally do the most inconceivably stupid thing possible. I go and post a poorly constructed, punctuated, or thought through comment on a public blog contradicting the opinions of a well-known literary agent. (How stupid is that?)

Or even worse, I say over Wednesday dinner with my octogenarian parents...

"Sure Dad, you should get a computer. I'll help you with it."

Gretchen said...

Or post comments to a blog that's six months out of date. DOH!

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