by Lisa Norman
Two students came into one of my "build your own website" classes. One was geeky and he'd dragged along his friend who described himself as impossibly tech challenged. One of the first things my non-geek student said was, "The internet just doesn't make sense to me. I know that it works for other people, but it doesn't work for me. I just don't get it."
The geeky friend said, "I've heard that you can teach anyone, so I brought him to you."
Non-geek just shook his head and said, "I know it won't work."
After the first lesson, non-geek came to me, frustrated. "There are no buttons! You've made it sound easy. I should just push the buttons. But when I get there, there aren't any buttons!" I asked to meet on Zoom and to look at the student's screen.
And he was right. There were no buttons on his screen.
Why? He’d chosen to use an old browser. It was familiar, and therefore the only one he would use. Problem: it didn’t work with the modern internet. I updated the browser on remote and suddenly, the internet made sense.
Of the two students, guess who finished their website first?
The world of technology is constantly changing. The internet has just undergone a huge speed boost. Websites are using more graphic elements because pictures and even videos can now be downloaded faster. If your computer can’t handle the speed or the size of the files, it’ll lag and cause you problems. Understand: I detest our modern throwaway culture. I still use a Bluetooth keyboard that I bought before smartphones. I love my keyboard, and it still works with modern tech.
But the computer that it worked with now lives in a box on a shelf, an antique, something I save to show my grandkids what I used before cellphones.
Upgrading our software (programs) and hardware (machines) is an important part of our writing life. Don’t underestimate the destructive nature of hardware and software malfunctions on the life of a creative.
When I work with people online, I often see them struggling to find a button or to hit it. I’ve started asking, “Are you using a trackpad?” You’d be surprised how often my students who are struggling to handle an assignment are using a trackpad. I can reach through Zoom and magically hit a button – not because I’m just that awesome – but because I’m using a mouse.
You can get an inexpensive Bluetooth mouse these days. If trying to hit a button or select text is just a painful agony, try working with a mouse and see if that doesn’t just make life easier. And as a bonus comment: if your mouse makes your wrist hurt, consider getting a pad to put under your wrist.
My daughter is a digital artist. She wears special braces on her wrists to keep them from hurting when she is drawing. She’s helping to remind me that we need to pay attention to how our joints feel while working.
Movers use back braces to help them lift heavy loads. Writers need padded wrist rests!
Real estate is important! No, not the physical kind, but the virtual kind on your screen! If the button you are looking for is off the screen, how are you going to know it is over there? I’ve learned to look for the little gray lines (scroll bars) on the bottom and sides of the screen when working on student computers. They’re there to give you a hint that there’s more off the screen, but often they’re hidden until you hover over them. Many times, I find the button they can’t find off the screen. I know where to look because I’ve seen it before. They’ve never seen that button. Of course, they couldn’t find it!
I see people struggling with software programs and saying that they just can’t use ____ because it doesn’t make sense. I’ve seen writers unable to handle basic tasks because they are too “hard.” If I share my screen with them, they can see the button and suddenly things aren’t as hard.
Learn to zoom in and out on your screen. If you have a tiny screen, you may need to zoom out to see even basic functions. Software programs often remove options based on the width of your screen! What if replacing a monitor made marketing easy?
We’ve all learned the value of sitting in a comfy chair as writers. We’re working on keeping our butts in the chair and our fingers on the keyboard, right? But when was the last time you considered the keyboard? Do your fingers fit well on the keys of your main writing machine? Now I understand that our portable machines will lack a bit of comfort, but the machine you work on most: Is it helping you become a more productive writer?
Or is it slowly eroding the muscles in your wrists and triggering arthritis in your fingers?
How do you feel after a long writing session? If you work in a flow state, where you lose track of time and become totally immersed in your writing, is pain pulling you out of your productivity?
My chiropractor had me mount my screens on swing arms to get them at the perfect height. After a recent car accident, one of my screens is practically impossible to use. My head just doesn’t want to turn that way.
Ergonomics applies to every part of your writing experience. Anything that you will be doing for a long period of time will take a toll on your body. Be aware of how you feel after a writing session. If something hurts, look into options. Many solutions are inexpensive.
A geek will notice that there is always more than one software program to do a thing. A geek will research and choose the best based on their technology (machine), cost, and needs. You want to pick software not because someone else recommended it, but because it works best for your process. If your software doesn’t work the way you do, consider a change.
Geeks notice that keys have resistance and clicks. Geeks will customize their keyboards for just the right amount of click and pressure required. You can, too. Fancy keyboards aren’t just for gamers. Anyone who uses a keyboard as their main interface with their art might want to take a moment and check out the options! Keycaps, for example, are replacement keys for certain keyboards that can customize how the keys feel, giving you a more satisfying touch experience.
A geek knows that there are legions of mice in the universe. They know that a wired mouse will perform differently than a wireless mouse. They know that some scroll wheels work great for scrolling 50 pages at a time while others will make your fingers tired scrolling a few pages.
The first time I heard a gamer talk about their computer as a “rig” it got me thinking. These gamers are athletes, and for them, their machine is the most important part of their sport.
What about writers?
If our computer is the center point of our productivity then why are so many writers struggling with keyboards that don’t fit their fingers, trackpads that don’t allow for fine coordination, and screens that don’t show a normal page width?
Shouldn’t our computers be as important to us as they are to gamers?
When was the last time you looked at your writing rig? Is there one piece of your tech (hardware or software) that helps make you more productive? Share it with us in the comments!
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Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.
Top image by Deleyna via Midjourney.
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