From the fountain pen to the word processor, writers have always embraced technology to make their task less arduous. Mark Twain was an early enthusiast of the typewriter, and his “Life on the Mississippi” is believed to be the first typewritten literary manuscript. “The machine has several virtues,” he remarked of his Remington. “I believe it will print faster than I can write.”And I thought MS-Excel was only good for creating bug-sheets. Maybe that's why I am unable to write that sci-fi, fantasy masterpiece that I have been dreaming about for so many years.
Today, most novelists don’t venture beyond the word processor — and many still write longhand. But others are finding that sophisticated software is invaluable to the literary enterprise. While Dickens and George Eliot had only notebooks and their wits to keep their Victorian triple-deckers in order, novelists like Richard Powers, Vikram Chandra and Marisha Pessl have used everything from Excel spreadsheets to logistics programs like Microsoft Project to organize their imaginative universes.
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Vikram Chandra had similar results with Microsoft Project, which he used when writing “Sacred Games,” his sprawling new novel about the Mumbai criminal underworld. Employed more often by contractors managing personnel and supplies through complex building projects than by novelists structuring imaginative space, the program (which he says he first heard about from an Israeli crime novelist) helped Chandra keep track of the nearly three dozen characters across 900 pages — “not just people by themselves, but people in relation to time and place,” he wrote in an e-mail message. Since the novel uses flashbacks to cut between different plot lines — a narrative structure Chandra likens to a mandala, a series of concentric circles used as an Eastern meditation device — “it was really useful ... to be able to see the events arranged on a timeline.”
My skills don't go much beyond using notepad and MS-Word. That's why I stick to blogging.