Good Writers Should Know Their Tools: an Interview with Gabe Goldberg

by Paul Lagasse

Sometimes, it seems that writers today need to be masters of technology. It’s not enough just to be good at writing; we’re also expected to know how to do formatting and layout, graphic design, audiovisual production, and online marketing. Do writers really need to be techies in order to do their jobs?

“Writers don’t need to be a techie anymore than I need to know how to build or repair a car,” says Gabe Goldberg, a technology communicator and consultant who has has contributed extensively to consumer publications, co-authored three McGraw-Hill technology books, and written hundreds of computer press and website articles. “But when I buy a car, it’s up to me to be an informed consumer because I’m going to live with that car for many years.”

Technologies for Knowledge Workers
Gabe Goldberg

4:15-5:00 in the Business of Writing Track

Technology advances faster than the eye or mind can follow, but what tools and practices do 21st century professionals (from tech novices to experts) really require to survive and prosper in their careers? This presentation provides important but easy-to-forget tips and resources for online, mobile, and computing productivity/safety, aiming at essentially everyone: employees, freelance workers, work-at-homers, retirees. It covers procedures, opportunities, and suggestions from session participants.

Find out more about Gabe Goldberg on the Maryland Writers’ Conference’s Speakers, Panelists, and Agents page.

Gabe says that many of the questions that people ask when shopping for a car can be applied to their search for the right hardware and software. Will this help me do what I need to do better? Does it have the features that I need? Am I paying for things that I don’t need or won’t use? “The universal tool set includes the ability to evaluate your other tools and learn to use them effectively,” he says. Gabe will be helping writers ask and answer these questions for themselves at the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference, “Feed Your Writing Habit,” on Saturday, April 26 at the Conference Center at the Maritimg Institute (CCMIT) in Linthicum Heights.

Gabe says there are two common misconceptions about technology that writers and other knowledge workers (people who locate, consume, produce, structure, and distribute information) have. The first is that whatever tool they’re using right now is the tool that they *should* be using. The second is that technology is inherently reliable and infallible.

“As technology changes, you may be missing opportunities to save time and use technology as a force multiplier,” he explains. “You need to stop thinking about what you need to get done and focus instead on what you need to be able to do that.” At the same time, says Gabe, people also need to take precautions to ensure their work and their personal information is safeguarded, because no matter how much you eventually come to rely on that technology, it can–and at some point probably will–fail.

Gabe speaks frequently about technology to diverse audiences, from senior citizens and baby boomers to techies, while avoiding jargon and “technobabble.” In his experience, there are several reasons that writers develop an aversion to technologies that could otherwise help them. “Sometimes it’s because the skill doesn’t come to them naturally,” says Gabe. “Other times, it’s because they weren’t raised immersed in the technology–so they’re recent arrivals, called digital immigrants. It doesn’t fit their self image. They see themselves as creative intellectuals and see the tools as removing them from what they need to be concerned with.”

To this latter problem in particular, Gabe offers some practical advice. “The antidote is to recognize that, with discipline, you can keep problems small.” This helps avoid slipping into a spiral of procrastination and avoidance. “You’re going to have to do it sooner or later,” Gabe reasons. “It’s not going to be better later, and you’re going to feel better if you don’t have the obsolete or problematic thing sneering at you from across the room for a long time.”

To get going, Gabe says, you have to “allocate some mental bandwidth” to focus on the tools that you are using now and on the tools you need. He encourages people to read product reviews, visit tech centers, and join user groups. “Try some blank-paper thinking,” he suggests. “Ask yourself, ‘OK if I was starting from scratch, what would I be using?'”

Finally, says Gabe, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective about technology. When you’re having trouble getting a piece of hardware or software to work while others around you are using it without problems, don’t feel embarrassed, frustrated, or inhibited. Instead, try to remind yourself that those people had to learn how to use it, too.

“Look, you weren’t born knowing how to drive a car, or dance, or sew,” Gabe says. “You’ve spent your life learning how to learn. This is just one more thing to learn.”

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Here are some of Gabe Goldberg’s publications that may be of interest:

Articles on Freelancing

Technical Works

Consumer Interest

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