Authoring in the Modern Age (Or … How the fu*k did books get written before?)

Authoring in the Modern Age

I often imagine writers in the pre-internet, pre-social media, even pre-electricity age, and I am filled with sympathy. I simply cannot understand how anyone got anything done before computers came along. As the sun set and the quill ran dry, there was no option but to go to bed and get a really good night’s sleep. Up with the sun and seated at the salmonella-saturated wood kitchen table, writing out their stories by hand. Sad! No technological advancements to help those poor authors be productive.How in the world did Jane Austen build her platform? How did Louisa May Alcott manage to scribble all those words by hand? And how did the Bronte’s keep their homes stocked with enough candles, legal pads, and WhiteOut to get whole books written?? I can only imagine how much more productive these women would have been if only they’d had access to my laptop.

With non-stop connectivity, my productive, efficient days go something like this:

I wake up in the morning, often realizing that I forgot to plug my phone in overnight, leaving it to languish at 2% under my pillow. That’s okay! I plug in and stay in bed while I do a quick check of the day’s headlines. I discover that while I was tossing and turning in my “sleep,” Trump said something rude and racist to the leader of a small Island nation. As I’m reading, I feel my stomach twist in a knot and my heart start to race. Maybe I need breakfast. Some comforting scrambled eggs and some warm coffee will get me ready for a day of writing my light, comedic novel.

After eating, I tweet, asking if anyone else out there has a stabby, nervous stomachache. Maybe something’s going around. One person likes my Tweet, one person follows me, and a writer I’ve never met IRL responds with the new, green puke-face emoji. Score!

I sit down, open my Scrivener file and quickly check my email. The ACLU is very upset about what Trump just did. Wait, is this the same thing from before? Or is this something new? I check the news and discover that, in fact, there’s something new, this time regarding threats to the free press. Bad! I grumble, feel my left leg cramp up and a nerve pinch in my neck. I get up to eat a cookie, running my fingers through my hair. Maybe I should shower. In any case, I’m thinking about that new thing that Trump just did, when I notice that clumps of my hair are actually falling out and are now tangled around my fingers. This will make typing difficult.

It’s now 10am, and I’ve eaten three scrambled eggs, hummus on Triscuits, and a package of Oreos. I sit on the floor to do sit-ups and turn on the news to find out what the reaction is to the new thing Trump just did. But no one’s talking about that anymore; instead, they’re talking about a different event: A Trump Tweet that has caused one country to threaten bombing another country and has led that country to threaten bombing the U.S.. Well, that’s unfortunate. For no apparent reason, I feel hot and sweaty, and yet simultaneously cold and prickly. I get up to wrap myself in a plush, fleece blanket and have some popcorn. I turn off the TV and sit at my desk, leaving a trail of hair falling out behind me. I lay my fingers on the keyboard and notice a rash going up my forearms. What in the world am I allergic to, I wonder. Cookies? Sit-ups?

I Google: Hair falling out, rash on arms, leg cramps, shooting neck pain. There are enough links to click on to last me a lifetime, although according to one of the sites, that won’t be very long.

One article points to stress. What stress?? I am alone in my apartment with everything I could possibly need to be accomplished and productive. Silly internet.

I post on FB: “Tuning out for a while, friends. I just need a break to work on my fun, zany novel about life, love, and friendship. Know you understand!” I add a kissy face emoji. You cannot even imagine the outpouring of support I receive!! For hours I get messages of understanding, encouragement, and motivation. Someone posts a comment that says, “No shit you need a break! Have you seen this???” and she posts a link to a breaking news article, discussing a new thing that Trump said, and new thing that Trump did, and a new Tweet that Trump tweeted, this time insulting an ice skater, a Catholic priest, and North Korea. Oh, man. Time for a glass of wine!

HuffPo sends an alert: Iran is pissy, China is grumpy, and Finland is flat-out furious. I breathe deeply, choking on a popcorn kernel, and get back to work on my light-hearted, humorous novel. But for some reason I’m having trouble focussing. Weird! Also I can’t help but notice that my fingernails are all chipping, and there’s a twitch under my left eye and my right hand has some kind of strange tremor, mostly in my pinky which is mottled and scaly. I take a Xanax.

Fire trucks wail, the weather channel beeps a tornado warning (in Manhattan?!), and Trump, the news blares, has given Barron the nuclear codes. Spicer says not to worry, Barron won’t use them and “anyone who thinks he will is very unpatriotic and hates freedom. He’s a kid, for god’s sake. Kids are off limits, everyone knows that.” I decide on principle not to retweet anything about Barron, and I take Pepto Bismol. This has got to be a flu. What else could it possibly be?

I put the nuclear codes out of my mind and pivot back to my buoyantly charming and witty novel. Wait, now there’s a news alert: Kellyanne claims that Spicer used an alternative fact earlier: it wasn’t Barron who got the nuclear codes. It was Bannon. Bummer! Suddenly, and with a loud thud, the power goes out. I get up and flick the light switch off and on repeatedly, waiting for the electricity to come back on. I notice I’ve lost it all, Wifi and phone service, too. WTF? How will I get any work done??

I get out the candles and matches, and on my desk, I find an old legal pad and a dull pencil. It’s so quiet in my apartment. I channel Jane Austen and try to get some actual writing done.

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Amy Poeppel grew up in Dallas, Texas and left the south to attend Wellesley College. Since then, she has worked as an actor, a high school English teacher, and most recently as the Assistant Director of Admissions at a school in New York City. Her three fabulous boys are all off in Boston attending school, and she and her husband now split their time between New York and Frankfurt, Germany. A theatrical version of SMALL ADMISSIONS was workshopped at the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit. She later expanded it into her first novel.

This article has 5 Comments

  1. There’s also the way computers make it so easy to write and rewrite and polish and rewrite the same damn sentence, so at the end of a day’s work you can easily end up with one good sentence.

    Which you can then dislike the next morning and easily delete.

    With a typewriter, goldarn it, you typed a sentence and then, even if it wasn’t perfect, you went on to write another one. 🙂

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