Have you ever thought - I mean really thought – what it must have been like writing, years and years ago? First things first, you wouldn’t have had a computer. Try writing several short stories or a novel in longhand, by candlelight– the ink stains, the strained eyes, the writer’s elbow, bent over a desk, minus a back-friendly, especially designed chair. Even with a typewriter, imagine retyping or crossing out before the dawn of Tippex? Then you’d be faced with sending off your one and only precious copy – or, if the photocopier was invented, stumbling into town and handing your manuscript over, amidst your blushes, explaining to the man who knows everyone in the village that yes, you do fancy yourself as a writer.That’s the great thing about the computer, you see - the anonymity. No one else need know. You can print out your baby, post it and wait for the rejection slip without having told a soul. Previous to that, the best plan for discretion would have been a pseudonym.
Then there’s the matter of finding a publisher - literary agents weren’t always around. You would have had to count on maybe writing to a favourite author for advice, or blindly submitting to a publisher if you could get the address from your local bookseller. Even with Directory Enquiries, how would you know exactly which publishers and editors to target? Sure, The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook has been around for over one hundred years, but would Mr or Mrs Average who fancied a go, have known it existed?
As for research, for the book I am presently subbing, ‘Lunch Date with a Tomb Robber’, I have had to find out about everything from Egyptian underwear to the size of Tutankhamun’s…er…nose! Which I have been able to do at the touch of a button, at the tinkle of the keys on a board… Imagine the many treks to the library, the thumbing through mammoth book that would otherwise have been involved. And that’s if I’d had any free time, in an age before washing machines and convenience foods.
Talking of food, I come to the very important subject of writing sustenance. We’ve got Oreos or Doritos, we’ve got cookies or Kit-Kats, all washed down with a glass of Chardonnay or home-filtered Americano… How did authors used to write without coffee beans! Without chocolate! Without hydrogenated fat!
I reckon us writers from the Noughties are a pretty lucky bunch. All the information we need about writing, subbing and researching is available at our fingertips, in the comfort of our own home. More importantly, we have a support network from writing sites and blogs like this. I think for me that is the killer difference and without it I would have given up long ago.It’s no wonder there are more aspiring novelists out there than ever before. Like doctors and teachers, writers aren’t revered like they once were - everyone thinks they can become one and thousands of people have a go. I suppose that’s the downside to us writing on Easy Street - it makes for one heck of big slushpile! It makes for more competition. Indeed, some might say the good old days really were the best.