Daily Archives: October 16, 2020

Do Your Tools Matter?


This is a stupid question. Ask any woodworker, plumber, electrician… anybody who does any sort of job that requires tools, and they will tell you without hesitation that the right tools make the difference between a job well done and a job that takes ages longer than it should and ends in frustration.

But writers aren’t woodworkers or plumbers or electricians (most of them, anyway), and tools aren’t part of the process for us the way they are for lots of other jobs. So do tools matter to us in the same way?

I’m the wrong person to answer this question, as I’m finicky and flighty and I love one thing then the next for a couple months at a time, proudly proclaiming this new thing to be “the best thing ever” before getting bored with it and moving on to some other new thing which itself becomes the new “best thing ever”. (Maybe what I really like isn’t each successive thing along the way … maybe what I like is just *new* stuff. Did not mean to psychoanalyze myself here today but, yikes, I may have done.)

Regular readers will know about my brief affair with fountain pens (current status: they are lovely but I am too clumsy to own them for long). For a while there I was on mechanical pencils, and while I still love a good clicky pencil, they are far from my first choice in writing implements. But pens are their own animal, and they have a tactile sense all their own.

What about keyboards?

They come in all shapes, sizes, and *feels*, and I am sure somebody in the industry could describe these things to me in a way that would make sense, but all I can tell you is what I’m noticing right now.

Our schools just updated our computers (you know, that whole work-remotely-because-the-world-or-at-least-America-is-on-fire thing), and while I don’t love the new laptop in general — it’s too flimsy for my taste, I feel like I’m gonna break it just moving it around the room (although therein lie points in its favor, because it’s *super* light and easy to move around, which is a plus for me) — I must count myself a fan of its keyboard.

I don’t know how to quantify it, but there’s a stiffness to the keys, a crispness to each keypress, that previous laptops I’ve used did not have. There’s a sense of certainty around every time you press a key, a sort of “yes, you definitely pressed that button, there’s no need to worry about whether you actually pressed it or not or whether the machine registered the pressing… that button was pressed and it’s gonna stay pressed”.

And the click. My goodness, the click! When you strike a key home, there’s this deep, satisfying click that you hear with your fingertips as well as with the ears. And it’s all the more resonant and satisfying when you type with gusto, letting your fingers crash down upon the buttons like so many tons of rocks in a mudslide, the way I do when I’m writing something I really enjoy.

It’s a silly thing, but the physiological reaction I have to using this keyboard is delightful. It makes me want to write more on this little machine that I otherwise don’t care much about.

For a while, back when I first had the thought of “I’m going to try to be a writer!”, I tried out several word processors. I didn’t love Word because I was a poor recently-graduated-from-college type and since I was also messing about with writing scenes at the time, Word was too clunky to use and gave me heartburn. So I tried out some other ones, writing a few pages in this one, transferring my files over and banging out some words in another one, tweaking settings, testing the way each one “felt”, trying to get it right. (I eventually landed on Scrivener, by the way, which is a lovely program, but we’ll get back to it.)

Some of the programs I enjoyed the most were these bare-bones plain-text editors like q10 and WriteMonkey. These are not robust programs by any stretch, not the sort of thing you want to put a novel together in… they’re essentially glorified versions of Notepad, designed for various purposes but generally with the aim of eliminating distractions and leaving you with only the blank page. I found them great for drafting and would probably still use them for this purpose if it wasn’t so heckin’ tedious to transfer files back and forth when you want to edit them or cram them into a larger project.

But the thing I miss the most about them is so small and silly it’s almost not worth mentioning, except for the fact that this is my personal site and if I want to wax romantic about silly little things then that’s what I’ll bloody well do. And that thing is: they had this option — you could toggle it on and off — to have the program give you aural feedback whenever you struck a key. They had typewriters in various models and other, more exotic clicks and boops and such, but the sounds were varied: striking the space bar was a little different from pressing a letter key, striking Enter gave a little “ding” as your cursor leapt back across the page … it was so strangely soothing and satisfying, a monotonous symphony of white noise as the words spilled out onto the page.

Scrivener does not have this feature, and I wish it did. And sure, you can get programs out there that will run in the background of your computer and make these noises for you… but I don’t want typewriter noises when I’m browsing the web, for goodness’ sake… don’t be ridiculous.

I only want them when I’m capital-w Writing.

This keyboard makes noise, though, which is loud enough to scratch that “typewriter sound” itch without being full-on noise to the point of annoyance when doing other things. It’s not quite that full-on typewriter sound, but it’s close. And it makes me want to write more.

So, do tools matter?

Flippin’ obviously.

For nostalgia’s sake I went and looked back at the WriteMonkey site and it looks like they’ve had a lot of updates since the time when I used it. Which may necessitate me going back and giving it a spin again, just to see what I’m missing out on.

Crap.


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