A Nation of Writers

Downtown skyline

“Because of computers, we’re suddenly a nation of writers.” — Patricia T. O’Conner

Computers have done for writing what Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press did for reading. Just as the printing press made it cheaper and easier to print books and disseminate information throughout Europe, the computer has made it cheaper and easier for writers to produce their works and share them with the world.

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Architect Douglas Ellington’s S & W Cafeteria, built in 1929, is an Art Deco masterpiece. (iPhone 5s photo)

This is not to slight typewriters, which got me through college (except on the rare occasions when I had access to my dad’s Apple 2e). Typewriters made writing more efficient, but I remember all too well the downside of typewriters: carbon paper, whiteout, fading ribbons, and sticking keys. Aside from an occasional electronic failure, computers enable writers to not only write and revise speedily but also to publish their work immediately. Press one button, and your writing could be read by someone else within seconds.

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Photo taken with a Panasonic Lumix

As a WordPress blogger, I am invariably startled when I read a post via the Reader, go to “like” it, and then discover that the post was published less than five minutes before I read it. I have to fight a reluctance to comment on a post so recently released that I can sense the author’s lingering breath. Blogging as a subset of writing owes its existence to the omnipresence of computers: anyone who knows how to use a keyboard, connect to the internet, and set up a site can become the author of a blog. Computers are the great egalitarian factor in writing.

Without computers, would so many people be dedicated to writing a novel in the month of November? According to the NaNoWriMo site, in 2013 more than 300,000 participants set themselves the goal of writing a 50,000-word draft of a novel in November. Many writers use computers as tools in getting their novels or other works published, whether by a company or through self-publishing. But for countless writers who don’t entertain thoughts of official publication but who nonetheless have something to say, the computer offers a way to share writing with friends and relations, with acquaintances, and with strangers in different hemispheres gazing at their computers.

Before I had a computer, I wrote in notebooks. As time passed, I wrote more sporadically. It is entirely due to computers that I have experienced a renaissance in my own writing. In 2012, my daughter told me about 750words.com, a site for online writing that was free (at the time). I kept my writing private, and I printed my entries, because I felt that I needed a physical copy of the words I was pouring into virtual Neverland. Thanks to the site’s challenges and badges, I began writing for the first time in 20 years. Are my daily “750 words” worthy of sharing? No, but, after two years of writing privately, I started writing publicly on a blog.

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Built in 1926, Asheville City Hall was also designed by Ellington. (Photo taken with Panasonic Lumix)

I am amazed at how many of us are secretly writers — and grateful that the computer is no snob when it comes to who is a writer and who is not. Am I as careful when I write on a computer as I was with pen and paper? If not, I should exercise more caution: someone is far more likely to stumble onto the words that I type here than in any of the spiral-bound notebooks lurking in an upstairs cabinet. One of the pitfalls of writing on a computer is the very ease of writing — and of sharing. With one click, that hasty or erroneous post is out there. Another drawback to writing online is increased vulnerability to piracy of writing or images. The information divulged in a blog could also give clues to the writer’s financial identity. Writing with computers has its hazards.

But I am thankful for an invention that has streamlined the act of writing, increased the exchange of information, and facilitated the dialogue between writers and readers. O’Conner’s quote refers to a “nation of writers,” but blogging has shown me that a veritable global community of writers exists. Despite this international frenzy of writing, I suspect that the ratio of great writers to everyday, ordinary writers is much the same as it has always been: most of us are not Fitzgeralds or Austens, and maybe not even Samuel Pepys with his famous diary. Still we write, for writing lets us take what is inside our heads and share that with someone else. Writing with computers makes the sharing exponentially greater.

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Ellington’s S & W Cafeteria and Asheville City Hall are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Panasonic Lumix photo)

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Asheville City Hall (Panasonic Lumix photo)


O’Conner’s statement appears on page 1 of Writers INC (Wilmington, MA: Great Source, 2001). Patricia T. O’Conner co-authors the blog Grammarphobia.

Note: One way in which computers are not egalitarian is that it costs far more to buy a computer than it does to buy a pen and paper. Economic inequality is not the topic at hand, however.


writers-quote-wednesday (1)Thanks to Colleen at Silver Threading for hosting Writer’s Quote Wednesday (and for being patient with those of us who habitually miss posting on Wednesday). Since I’m also behind on Photo 101, I have used pictures from the Architecture assignment throughout this post. All photos were taken in November 2014 by Sandra Fleming. Text and photos copyrighted 2014 by Sandra Fleming.

Developing a Philosophy of Photography: Landmarks

Birds on a wire at the Basilica of St. Lawrence

As I work through Photography 101, I am starting to grasp something fundamental: what a photo says to the beholder may have little to do with the conditions under which the picture was taken. At the outset, I was puzzled when the example photo for the “Solitude” assignment showed a solitary woman walking through the Hagia Sophia. While the woman seemed to be alone in the photo, a photographer had obviously been present. If the woman was not alone, how could the picture represent “Solitude”?

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NC Arboretum (taken with iPhone 5s)

Taking an authentic approach, I decided to pursue the “Solitude” assignment by seeking solitude. To my surprise, when I reviewed my photos and compared them to the “Solitude” photos posted by other Photo 101 participants, my photos looked more like “Empty” than “Solitude.” Later, I noticed that a photo I had taken on a “Natural World” quest with my husband and son expressed the concept of “Solitude” better than all my pictures of empty paths, empty seats in an amphitheater, or landscapes devoid of people. This photo doesn’t show a person, but the one flaming branch in a mostly bare forest suggests separateness and isolation better than the photos I had taken while separate and isolated.

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Pack Square skyline: Vance Monument, County Courthouse, City Hall, and Jackson Building (taken with iPhone 5s)

I’m trying to learn that the image is the thing. What matters is not the emotion that I feel when I push a button on my camera but the emotion that the viewer feels upon seeing the picture. The picture might communicate an idea or mood that has nothing to do with the photographer’s mental makeup or agenda. There are times when the emotion that the photographer feels and the emotion that the photo conveys are the same: that seemed to be true of many “Bliss” pictures (although not necessarily mine). At other times, a photograph may be more illusion than reality. I am thinking of those false tuxedo shirts that seniors wear for graduation photos: it looks as if a young man is wearing a full suit of formal clothing when, in fact, he is wearing only a false front.

Monument honoring Zebulon B. Vance, a native son of Buncombe County who served as Governor and U.S. Senator

Monument honoring Zebulon B. Vance, a native son who served as Governor and U.S. Senator

It may take me a while to get my head around the disconnect between image and reality. Like most bloggers, I think of myself as someone who is honest with her readers. (I’m dodging the sticky truth that “honesty” in social media is inherently compromised, since I decide what parts of my life to share.) How honest are lovely images that were taken in a stressful moment?

Happily, a landmark is only a landmark, no matter what I’m feeling at the time that I photograph it. A landmark might be a natural wonder, as opposed to a man-made creation, but it carries less emotional baggage. Or does it? A landmark like the Lincoln Memorial may have strong historical connotations. In addition, the choice of perspective or background for the landmark may subtly influence the viewer. Ultimately, the photographer’s goal in taking the picture will determine whether she opts for straightforward documentation of a landmark’s features or decides to focus on a particular aspect of the landmark or setting. During my “Landmark” photo shoot, I learned this: whatever the photographer’s goal, telephone wires, street lamps, signs, traffic signals, cars, pedestrians, and trashcans will get in her way.

The iconic outline of City Hall, designed by Douglas Ellington, has been adopted by the City of Asheville in its official logo.

The Art Deco outline of City Hall, designed by Douglas Ellington, has been incorporated into the City of Asheville‘s official logo.

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Designed by Rafael Guastavino, the Basilica of St. Lawrence showcases what may be North America’s largest freestanding elliptical dome.


All photographs taken November 2014 by Sandra Fleming with Coolpix L320, unless otherwise specified in the caption. Text and photos are copyrighted by the author © 2014. Please do not use them without her permission.

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