Having been born in the 80s, before computers were a mainstay in every home, I grew up with the typewriter. My dad bought us one for school: a heavy, 4-kilo typewriter with a carrying case that weighed nearly as much as the device it held. It definitely wasn’t compact, nor was it built to be lugged around. It was heavy. But the feeling of tactile feedback, of fingers getting stuck in between keys, and the clacking sounds the typewriter makes each time a letter is typed out—those, I believed, were the sound and feel of writing.
So when I finally got a hold of a computer, I thought that writing with it would be much more exciting. After all, it had features not available on a typewriter: unlimited undo options and revision possibilities to name a few. But surprisingly enough, once I tried it out for myself, I didn't find it as exciting or revolutionary as I thought I would. The blank page on a lit screen didn't inspire me at all. There was no excitement in typing with a slow computer via Basic. As much as it was convenient (and compared to its predecessor, it really was) I found writing with computers actually unappealing. Until my senior year in high school (1998), I continued to write with a typewriter—even working on my 50-page thesis with it.
When I got into college, the need for computers became more apparent to me. As a budding artist, I needed to learn Photoshop to be able to advance in my craft. And that meant also meant having to write with a computer, as well. Or perhaps, more specifically, Microsoft Word.
It was the only tool being used in school; our professor only entertained papers, essays, and homework that were saved as .doc files. Again, it did feel liberating at times, being able to undo a mistake with ease, not having to spend for wasted paper and typewriter ribbons, and even choose from a wide selection of fonts to showcase my work with. So roll with times I went, writing with my 15-inch screen, staring at a blank document, pouring out the words character after character.
After some time, I began to realize that I hated MS Word. It was tedious; not only did it used to take around three minutes just to open a blank sheet of paper, it even interrupted my actual writing by making me worry about which font to use, screaming out my errors with red lines, and having Clippy pop up every five minutes. At around the same time I decided that MS Word was just not the tool for writing, I found my zen with WordPad.
Sometime after, I eventually switched from a PC to a Mac. Now this meant I had to switch from WordPad to something else, too—and I was glad I found TextEdit to fill the void. I found a new friend in TextEdit; it fulfilled my needs just right. My only gripe with it, I found when I became an art director for an ad agency; most of the copywriters at work use MS Word, and opening a .doc file on TextEdit just isn’t done. There are times when some words disappear or formatting goes awry, and I end up missing necessary details. So MS Office, the computer tool I started writing with, is now of no use to me save to open the .doc files I need. Actually, if you ask me to write a document right now, I'd rather fire up my Adobe Illustrator (or what used to be Macromedia Freehand), then save it as a PDF file.
It is actually surprising for a designer like me to be particular with my writing apps. On my Mac, I have TextEdit, Pages, NValt, Mou, iAWriter, Evernote, Marked, Day One, Ommwriter and Ulysses. On my iPhone and iPad, I have iAWriter, Writing Kit, Textastic, Nebulous Note, Simplenote, Evernote, Drafts, Daedalus Touch, and Editorial. What's even more surprising is that I use all of them—and none of them have earned the grumble I had for MS Word. ^1
Thinking about my experience with MS Word and its inconvenience, I realized that app shouldn't get in the way of writing. Instead, they should help us focus and turn our inspiration into writing, not bog us down with font selection, formatting, style, and pagination. I understand that there are people who are comfortable working with MS Word; it remains to be their main tool for paperwork, legal documents, letterheads, etc. What I don't get is how writers are able to settle with that for creative writing. There just are so many tools out there that can serve you well so you don’t have to put up with MS Word’s bloated features.
MS Word is an app created for the print world. Where letter-sized paper still matters and printing is the default output of your work. But think about it: we may now live in the digital age, but it feels like we’re still stuck with antiquated tools. It feels like MS Word wants us to stay stuck with its old ways, when, really, all we should be doing is moving forward with our writing.
Writers have to take control of their writing now. In fact, with the many alternatives out there, they are more than able to. Pick one app or tool and forget about the world. Start writing. No need to get stuck with MS Word.
The idea for this post was written first on Simplenote on my iPhone, 1st Draft was written on Daedalus Touch on the iPhone/iPad, 2nd draft on Editorial for iPad and final output/markdown on Ulysses III.
^1:By the time I publish this, I added two more writing apps on my iPad (Terminology & Phraseology).
Links to apps