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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Writers and Word

The one thing that continually surprises me is how many writers are unfamiliar with computers--even the word processing software they use! Now granted, some of the things in Word that aren't accessed often are not easy to figure out, but we're talking simple stuff here like creating headers or getting word count. How can you spend hours on a computer every day writing and not know some of these things?

It's not only writers, I know that. I work with people who can't figure out how to do anything new on a computer unless you hold their hand through it. And my cousin, who has an MBA, emailed me to ask how to upload a photo to Facebook! What? Sigh.

Writers loops, though, can be even worse. There are people who can't figure out Blogger or WordPress. I'm not talking about something more complex like perhaps changing a theme or adding plug-ins. I mean they can't figure out how to schedule a post in advance. It's enough to make me weep. And knowing the smallest things about their websites? Forget about it!

It's not that I'm an expert. I'm not. There are things I don't know how to do because I've never had a need to learn them and other things I could be making better use of, but the basics of my programs? Those I know. And what I don't know, I make a point of learning.

One of the first things I did after selling was take a class on web design. I signed up for and finished HTML 1 and 2, CSS, and took a class on Paint Shop Pro so I could manage my graphics. I can't create my own graphics--a sad lack of artistic talent--but I can work with photos and do rudimentary images. I can update my site on my own, I can find things that are wrong and fix them, and if I have to, I can create new pages. Since I had my website redesigned by a professional, though, I let them make new pages because it saves me time.

A lot of the questions I see asked aren't only easy, but simply pulling down a few menus would show them how to do what they want to do. They don't pull down the menus and try things. I have a writer friend whose desktop computers are constantly being repaired and replaced because they die on her. (She's a self-confessed techno-dummy (her term, not mine.)) I've had one motherboard burn up and need to be replaced, but all my computers still run. They might be slow and old, but they work. I can only assume that it's how she uses them that causes all the issues because she's not buying inferior brands and the odds of always buying the lemon has to be low.

I think it's fear that holds a lot of people back on computers. They're afraid they'll mess something up and not be able to fix it. I'm nearly fearless. Which might not always be a good thing, but I always go with the supposition that if worse comes to worse, I can wipe the drive and reload everything. It's never reached that point. :-)

I think that statement just scared a few people. Hey, you should wipe your drive every year or two and reload. It'll get your machine running faster again, so in a worst-case scenario, it's only a short-term inconvenience. However, I will confess that I've only wiped my drive and reloaded once. It was just too much work to get all the files off and then put them back on again. In fact, some of the files never did make it back on that computer.

Anyway, writers, pull down menus and the help menu are your friends. Use them. Googling how to do something is another good alternative. There are even sites with free tutorials. Take advantage of them and get to know your software.

Shortly, I'll be putting my money where my mouth is. I'm going from Office 2003 to 2007 and it's drastically different. I have a pretty good idea that I'll end up frustrated and using the help menu frequently. So maybe y'all will be having the last laugh when it's all said and done.