February 16 – 22: “Could you write or revise your novel if word processors were not available?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5For some authors, computers and word processing programs are a necessity. For others, a pad and pencil will do. This week we ask ITW Members Ryan Quinn, Brian Pinkerton, Lisa Von Biela, Rebecca Cantrell, Jeffrey B. Burton, J. H. Bográn, Merry Jones and Jean Heller: “Could you write or revise your novel if word processors were not available – or do you?”


Blood Infernal by James Rollins and Rebecca CantrellNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell has published nine novels in over ten different languages. Her novels have won the ITW Thriller, the Macavity, and the Bruce Alexander awards. They have been nominated for the GoodReads Choice award, the Barry, the RT Reviewers Choice, and the APPY award. She and her husband and son live in Berlin. Find Rebecca on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

Bender by Brian PinkertonBrian Pinkerton takes everyday, ordinary people and puts them through a living hell. His cruelties include Bender (Crossroad Press), Killer’s Diary (Samhain Publishing), Rough Cut (Bad Moon Books), How I Started the Apocalypse (Severed Press), Vengeance (Leisure Books) and Abducted (Leisure Books). Select titles have also been released as audio books and in foreign languages. Brian received his B.A. from the University of Iowa and Master’s Degree from Northwestern University.


Blockbuster coverLisa von Biela worked in Information Technology for 25 years, then dropped out to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 2009. She now practices law in Seattle, Washington. Lisa began writing short, dark fiction just after the turn of the century. Her first publication appeared in The Edge in 2002. She went on to publish a number of short works in various small press venues, including Gothic.net, Twilight Times, Dark Animus, AfterburnSF, and more. She is the author of the novels The Genesis Code and The Janus Legacy, as well as the novella Ash and Bone.

End of Secrets by Ryan QuinnA native of Alaska, Ryan Quinn was an NCAA champion and an all-American skier while at the University of Utah. He worked for five years in New York’s book-publishing industry before moving to Los Angeles, where he writes and trains for marathons. Quinn’s first novel, The Fall, was a finalist in the 2013 International Book Awards. For more, please visit his website.


In The Woods by Merry JonesMerry Jones is the author of the Harper Jennings thrillers (SUMMER SESSION, BEHIND THE WALLS, WINTER BREAK, OUTSIDE EDEN, IN THE WOODS), the Elle Harrison novels (THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE, ELECTIVE PROCEDURES), the Zoe Hayes mysteries (THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, THE DEADLY NEIGHBORS, THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS), as well as several humor books (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and non-fiction books (including BIRTHMOTHERS: Women who relinquished babies for adoption tell their stories.) She has also written articles for various magazines (including GLAMOUR) and short stories (including Bliss, published in the anthology LIAR LIAR).

TheLynchpinCoverJeffrey B. Burton’s mystery/thriller, The Lynchpin, comes out February 24, 2015. His mystery/thriller, The Chessman (a serial killer is in hot pursuit of his own copycat), came out in 2012. Jeff is an active member of International Thriller Writers (ITW), the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the Horror Writers Association (HWA), and the International Association of Crime Writers – North American Branch. You can find him on his website, Facebook, and Amazon.


hellerMost of Jean Heller’s career was as an investigative and projects reporter and editor in New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Petersburg Florida. Her career as a novelist began in the 1990s with the publication of the thrillers, “Maximum Impact” and “Handyman” by St. Martin’s Press. Then life intervened and postponed her new book, “The Someday File,” to publication in late 2014. Jean has won the Worth Bingham Prize, the Polk Award, and is an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.


TreasureHunt_Ebook_2J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild, Crime Writer’s Fiction and the International Thriller Writers. He lives in Honduras with his family and a “lucky” dog.


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  1. I guess I’d have to, if such things weren’t available. What a horrid thought! But it might take me from now until Doomsday to get anything done. I can type extremely quickly–if I’m “seeing” the action and really cooking, I can type fast enough to keep up.

    I handwrite fast, too. But no one can read it, not even me. And then my hand will cramp, to make matters worse. When I took the Bar exam, there was a massive heat wave and some power outages. I was scared to death there’d be a power outage where the test was being administered and I’d have to hand write my answers. Thankfully that didn’t happen. I’m sure even if I got down good answers, no one would have been able to read them anyway and I would have failed for sure!

    Given the quality of my handwriting, I should have been a doctor. So instead, I fake being a doctor with the novels I write. Ha!

  2. I’m the opposite – I’d rather not type! I handwrite my first two drafts. For me, creativity flows out of a pen, not a keyboard. As a child, I grew up with pads of paper around the house, and I loved to scribble stories and epic-length cartoons. There’s something liberating and intimate about a blank sheet of paper and a pen.

    I find writing on a computer to be too distracting. I want to check my emails and visit web sites. It looks too “finished” once I start typing, and I get caught up in trying to make each sentence perfect before I advance to the next. It’s too linear. On paper, it’s more freeform. I like to throw things on the canvas and shape them. I’m weird that way. Plus I’m an incurably bad typist.

    1. If I write a scene by hand, it will likely need less editing than if I’d initially written it in Word, although I do a lot of editing as I bring the handwritten scene into Word. Is your third draft when you enter your handwritten manuscript into the word processor?

  3. Before I wrote on the computer, I was frustrated that my thoughts moved way faster than I could either type or write longhand. Computers allow me to write faster, decreasing the distance between the two and thus reducing the frustration. I suppose I’d have written even without the computer, but I don’t know that I’d have finished as much–The process would been more tedious and have taken longer.

    As to editing, it’s SO much easier on the computer. Cutting pasting replacing adding altering–They happen with the push of a few buttons. The effect of computers is that my energy goes into thinking, not into the mechanics of getting the changes onto paper.

  4. One of the first things I bought with my babysitting money was an electric typewriter, and that was what I used to type my first short stories. I loved the hum of it, the ding at the end of the line, and the lovely thump it made when you turned the wheel to insert the paper. I transitioned to computers as quickly as I could, so I guess I’ve spent pretty much all my career typing.

    That said, whenever I’m stuck I pull out a notebook and start handwriting. It’s a different experience for my, slower and more sensory, and that’s often enough to help me work through whatever block I had and reconnect with the story.

    So: Since I’ve written novels every which way, I know I’d still be writing them even if word processors weren’t available!

  5. I was part of the last generation that used typewriters in college. PCs became widespread about eight minutes after I graduated. I had to type papers using a black ribbon, but, god forbid I made a typo, I had to pop in a white ribbon, backspace over the typo and then type over the error in white. Of course you never caught all the typos until you’d finished typing the page, and then you’d reach for the Wite-Out correction fluid (more fresh hell). I spent more time wrestling with the damned typewriter than putting thought into the term paper. It was madness! Madness, I say! Profanity used typing an assignment would rival a Scorsese movie.

    Sure, I’d like to pretend I could write a novel without using a word processor, but who am I kidding? By chapter four, I’d go bat guano and take hostages.

    1. LOL, I typed my master’s thesis. I remember those days. And in fact, early in my IT career, I was specifically tasked with bringing word processors in. It was a glorious time!

      1. Hi Lisa – I went to the U of M as well (Go Gophers!), but for Journalism. The profs there were like John Houseman in “The Paper Chase” when it came to what they would accept: “If you so much as have one typo or the bibliography formatted incorrectly, your paper will not receive credit and you’ll have to make a living sweeping asbestos.”

        1. Hi Jeffrey,

          Harsh! I attended law school there after many years of being done with school. As in, no computers when *I* went to college/grad school. For law school exams, we had special software and typed on our laptops. Furiously, mind you, because they would deliberately make it so it was super time-crunched to try to answer everything. Ah, good times!

    2. I also have nightmarish memories of electric typewriters, ribbon cartridges and Liquid Paper. I would never, ever want to return to that. My bridge from handwriting to the modern age is actually voice recognition software. After two handwritten drafts, I read the entire book into my PC using Dragon Dictation and it does a very good (not flawless) job of processing it without having to type. At that stage, the main creative part has concluded and it enters the editing and proofreading stage, where I succumb to technology.

      1. That sounds like a fun process! I might give that a try for a short story or two, see if I like it and then maybe scale up. I like the idea of being completely offline for most of the process. Fewer distractions and an organic connection to the work. Hmmm…

        1. Jeffrey, absolutely! That has been a surprising side benefit. Reading the manuscript out loud helps me identify clunky writing and overworked sentences.

  6. Could I write novels without a word processor? Of course. Writers did it for centuries, and they did it for the same reason we do it now—because the drive to tell stories is unstoppable. I suspect that if I was trapped in a room with only napkins, the backs of junk-mail envelopes, a quill pen, and a puddle of ink, it would only be a matter of time before a novel emerged.

    But do I choose to do it that way? Hell no. It would take forever. I wouldn’t be able to “Replace All” when I realized that a character’s name was a combination of the names of two exes. And when I finally delivered the thing to my editor, he’d be more like to take a match to it than to try to make sense of my handwriting.

    When I write, which I do on a computer, I typically revise a sentence several times before I even get to the period for the first time. And then that sentence might be revised a half dozen times again before a reader ever sees it. That, not to mention the revising and rearranging of whole paragraphs and even chapters, would be immeasurably more time consuming and disorganized without the aid of a word processor.

    I count the word processor among the most underrated innovations in the history of the publishing industry. Luckily for us alive and writing now, software innovations like Scrivener foreshadow a future where the writer has even more tools to get the story in his head more swiftly and capably to the book or e-book in the hands of a reader.

      1. Ha! Well, the namesake had been inadvertent, and once I realized it I had to change the name altogether to avoid souring the character’s association in my mind. But in the future perhaps I’ll intentionally name doomed characters after real people on purpose. Could be therapeutic.

  7. I’d do it…due more to lack of options than choice.

    My generation has witnessed the evolution of the word processor. The very first one I used was Word Star where I had to type about seven keys to make the accent on José to show up. I recall how Word Perfect captured the world and stayed on top for many years, but although I used it, I had more access to M.S. Word.
    Before that, I used to do all my school works on a baby blue Smith Corona.

    On the other hand, with the advent of the internet and the intrusion of computers on almost every aspect of our daily life, I’ve discovered that my writing flows better if I hand write, at least for first drafts or new scenes. Why? Probably because by the time I can concentrate on writing I am tired of watching a monitor or typing emails.

    1. I never used Word Star. Never even heard of it until this exchange. But I was wedded for years to Word Perfect until MS Word simply overtook it I mourned having to make that switch, but I got used to it eventually.

      Jose, I still don’t know how to make the accent over your name on a Mac where English is the chosen language. And during the writing of THE SOMEDAY FILE, I was wondering if it’s possible to open a second ID on my Mac and choose Spanish as the language of choice. Maybe I can find time to research that later this week.

  8. I remember vividly sitting in the loft of our townhome in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, gazing out a window at the Teton Range and thinking, “I can’t go on this way.”

    “This way” encompassed my pathetic attempts to write my first novel on my typewriter. I could not abide typos, so every time I made one, I tore the paper from the machine and started again. That was in 1988. Had I continued that way, I would still be trying to write Chapter One.

    So I invested, despite my husband’s skepticism, in a little box called a Mac Plus, black & white because color wasn’t yet available yet, and who needs color, really, when putting black words on white paper? I recall having an extended conversation with the salesman as to whether I needed a 20MB or a 40MB external hard drive. When he learned I was writing a book, he said, “Dear, a 20MB hard drive is plenty. You could put WAR AND PEACE on it ten times over. You’ll never need anything larger than that.” So I bought the 20MB drive, which was approximately eighteen inches long, twelve inches wide and three or four inches high. It weighed most of ten pounds.

    That’s particularly funny today when I contemplate my 2GB thumb drive that weighs an ounce and is barely two inches long.

    And that pretty much answers this week’s question for me. If word processors were not available, I would either be writing in longhand on yellow legal pads or not at all.

    It was for my peace of mind that God created Steve Jobs.

  9. This discussion has become a good reminder of the diverse processes authors use to write. There is no right way to write a novel. There’s not even a wrong way, I guess, so long as the end product moves a reader or two. What works for one author–or most–may not be what’s best for another. I bet none of use the exact same process from conception to final draft. The only thing we all have in common is that it gets done one word at a time. This author, though, is grateful to have a word processor to capture those words.

  10. I remember writing before computers as painful–even an electric typewriter took lots of finger power compared to the keyboards we have now. And each edit, with white out or erasure marks on “erasable” paper? Tedious and frustrating. The story kept getting stuck because edits were so inconvenient–an insert required retyping everything. So I did my first drafts in longhand. With arrows and cross-outs and carats and margins full of phrases. Man. Like some of the writers above, I did my Masters thesis that way. I still can see the piles of 3×5 cards and section pages covering my floor. On a computer NONE of that would have been necessary.

    So would I write if we didn’t have computers? I guess I would. I did. But the process wasn’t pretty.

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