Computer vs. Quill: Contrasting Writing Throughout the Ages

When modern authors want to write a book, they sit down in front of a computer screen and type. I personally type about fifteen hundred words per hour. Do the math and that means I could probably theoretically write a book in around sixty hours or less. Let’s say you write six hours a day (as a full-time writer might do). You could be done with one book in ten days. That is how quickly writing can be done on computers.

But things were not always like this. Even back in my mother’s time, they were just starting to develop computers and she wrote pretty much everything on a typewriter. And imagine a hundred years before that, Jane Austen, the Bronte Sisters, and most other brilliant authors were writing by hand. Several hundred years before that, there was no printing press and every copy of every book had to be hand-written.

Writing has changed a lot over the years, both in style, substance, and format. So, let’s go through some of the pros and cons of both types of writing.

Knowledge

Most everyone can agree that knowledge in the modern day is highly accessible, especially with the advanced web and library systems in first world countries. One of the benefits of being a writer in the modern age is that you can quickly find tons of information about history, grammar, writing aids, and research all through the screen of your laptop or iphone.

Saying that, all this is not necessarily a good thing. One benefit of living long ago was that those who wrote about different places or highly intellectual topics (like philosophy and politics) were very well-informed and intelligent individuals. That is to say, their theories and statements were not always right, but usually they at least were grounded in some experience and reality. In a sense, they used Logos (logic) instead of Eros (emotion).

Whereas, in the modern age, with information everywhere, anyone can put their opinion on the web. Anyone can write a book. The literacy rate is higher now in the world than ever before. That means that a lot of stupid people who have little knowledge in what they are writing about can distribute their written opinion. And, even more disturbing, people believe it.

On one hand, the knowledge we have now makes writing accessible to most anyone. Writing is no longer for the intellectual elite (a small minority). We are now able to hear stories and opinions from very different cultures, religions, and classes. Several hundred years ago, you would never pick up an autobiography about a struggling teen mom in 18th century America, but that is exactly what you find on bookshelves today. In this way, there is value to modern writing: to see into the lives of very different people.

Emphasis on Substance/Construct

In this section, I will contrast the history of the written word to that of art. In art, long ago there were strict rules about what made good art and what did not. The master artists (painters, sculptures, etc.) learned from those masters before them and demanded personal excellence in everything they created. Then, during the late 19th century, the Impressionists came around. They said art should not be about rules (that is, about the criterion to hold every artist to), and instead about the feelings and meanings.

Because of this, we have modern art. Now, modern art is liked by many people, but I think few people would disagree that modern art looks every different than the rest of art through history. You do not need to work hard to become an artist now-a-days. You need only to create something “profound” and market yourself correctly. Paint a canvas one shade of yellow—you are an amazing artist who must be put inside a museum. Honestly, I see more beautiful street art graffiti (which is illegal, by the way) than the ugly modern art currently sitting in art museums.

That is to say, not all modern art is bad. There are still incredible artists out there like Thomas Kinkade (who died just recently in 2012), Catherine Haverkamp, or Edward Little, among other great artists to give beauty hope. However, one can easily create anything ugly and call it art just by saying they are making a statement. A statement can be beautiful, such as Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of Medusa. If you want to know more about the issues with modern art, check out this video: Why is Modern Art so Bad?

You might be asking what any of this has to do with writing.

Well, what happened in art is also happening in writing. Writing has moved away from the works of art to merely the meaning or message. No longer are authors held to certain excellence of quality. Everything now is about meaning and feelings. Long gone are the in-depth character development and discussions of philosophy and theology. Instead, we are given text lingo and erotic romance (my favorite example is always going to be Fifty Shades of Grey).

I am not saying that there are not great writers out there in the modern age (just as artists). Instead, I am emphasizing what we as consumers expect from our literature. No more do we expect excellence. No more do we expect to learn meaningful messages in what we read. Because of this, modern writing as sky-rocketed down in its genuine quality, as has all types of writing (poetry, short stories, screenplays).

Writers no longer strive to be exceptional. No, they strive to make money and turn out books as quickly as possible. In this, traditional writing wins out for me every time.

Rewriting

Writing the first draft, of course, is just the beginning. Most writers rewrite at least ten or more times. In the modern age, this is very easy. You want to change anything, even the smallest thing, in Microsoft Word. It takes less than a minute.

Do that on a typewriter or even worse with a pen, and you have to rewrite the entire page (possibly book) again. It is tedious and takes so much longer.

However, in doing so perfection is often required. Writers are careful about every word they put down, knowing that if anything is wrong they have to write it all over again. It comes back to quality over quantity. Several millions of interesting books published in a year instead of billions of semi-okay books published in a year. Which is really better?

What kind of books do you prefer: modern or the classics? What is the biggest difference you see in the two? And, as always,

Best wishes on your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

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