The Effect of Technology on the Quality of a First Draft

There's something inherently interesting about being on both sides of an important technological change. The change from writing on a sheet of paper with pencil or pen to using a sophisticated word processor which is one part of a powerful, portable computer is one I've happily witnessed. 

I want to start by acknowledging that writing is hard work, no two ways about it. From start to finish, it's hard. It's work, and like other forms of work, how one goes about it has changed as the tools available to do the work have changed. I've been writing for nearly 40 years in one form or another. I took my first shot at writing creatively in the mid-1970s, and I came back to it about 15 years later. By that time, word-processing was generally available as a writing tool. I used that tool during Law School for academic writing, but I hand-wrote creative pieces as I had 15 years earlier.  

Gradually, I switched to word-processing for all of my writing, and I have reflected a number of times on how that switch has influenced my creative writing process. Simply stated, my editing process is entirely different now, When I wrote out pieces by hand, I'd do some mild editing as I went. I'd rethink a word, cross out a phrase, move a sentence or paragraph around, and eliminate entire sections that proved unsatisfactory in some manner or other. The result was visually messy, but creatively satisfying. And the result was a rough first draft and nothing more.

The switch to word processing has meant more instant editing, more thorough revisions the first time around, more scrutiny resulting now in significanlty more technical and substantive changes as I produce the first version of a piece of work. Honestly, at least as far as my own work is concerned, word processing means a far more developed level of work on the first go around than writing something out by hand. The ease of making minor and major changes with a word processor has resulted in bringing a more critical eye to my first effort than I ever brought to a first stab at a hand-written piece. Additionally, the research tool available via the powerful computer driving the word processor means many thorny issues can be resolved instantly rather than, as in the past, having to put down pad and pen and head to a library.

I'm not claiming that a first draft produced on a word processor is good enough to go to print. I am, however, convinced that such first drafts are much farther along towards a final product than anything I ever produced by hand was. And, as a result of all of the above, I don't seem to suffer from the angst that so many have over the quality of their first drafts.