Saturday, March 16, 2013

Janet Cannon, Speaker: Writers Need to Use Technology to their Advantage

Janet Cannon has been a technology instructor for Cape Girardeau public schools for the past eight years. She teaches fifth and sixth grade computer lab at Cape Middle School, adult computer application classes at the Career and Technology Center, and is one of the technology trainers for district personnel. She is the editor for the middle school newsletter, the Missouri Writers’ Guild newsletter, and in her spare time teaches origami, duct tape projects, and writes compositions for the instrumental and drumming ensemble at her school. Her publishing credits include a technical manual, several short stories, and quite a few pieces of Twitter fiction. Her masters is in English with an emphasis in technology integration, and she is proud of the fact that, “Do you want fries with that?” has never been part of her working vocabulary. She’s been happily married for 15 years, and her hobbies include cooking, running, needlework, and solving the Rubic's cube blindfolded.  

MWG: Hi Janet, welcome to the conference blog. You are going to be presenting about how technology can help us to become brilliant writers! (Smiles) So, how does technology play a part in your own writing?

Janet: Like most writers, I began my writing obsession with good ol' pencil and paper. I’d doodle, write a draft, revise, (rip into shreds), re-write, revise, revise, edit, edit, etc. There's nothing wrong with that. And I still do some drafting, re-writing, or outlining by hand. However, for me and a lot of digital natives--those who grew up using computers--typing and using digital media to express ourselves is a faster and more efficient way to get our point across. Each program I work with helps organize and visualize my projects in a way pencil and paper can't accomplish (for me). For example, with One Note, I can keep track of all of my contest submissions, character notes, and research information, just as if I had a three-ring binder of the same information, but it’s easier to manipulate than a physical binder of paper. As a visual learner and writer, I can find a picture that inspires me, add it to my document, then use that to help me fill in the details when my brain is tired. Technology also helps mitigate my (many, many) mistakes! After so many erasures and scratch-outs on paper, I get frustrated with the mess, especially when I erase through the paper and tear it! Digital formats always give you a blank slate, a clean past, so you can focus on the continent of your piece rather than how messy the draft is.

MWG: You are going to show writers how to use Word and PowerPoint to the fullest extent. Give us a little preview here.

Janet: Word is such a powerful tool. No matter what genre you're writing, Word has some technological magic you probably haven't seen. If you need to cite your sources, it has a built-in citation builder in pretty much any format you want. Do you want every document you open to have the same size font, the same spacing, the same tab settings, etc.? There's an option to set that. Do you know how to format headers and footers? Find and replace text? Resize your paper? Set uneven margins, manipulate your rulers, insert hyperlinks, insert cover pages or create an outline without having to type the Roman numerals or letters? Word can do that and a lot more. PowerPoint is universally used for presentations, but it is one of the most powerful storyboarding tools out there. Put one picture or idea per slide, then re-order them and add details until they are in perfect order. Bam! Your outline is ready to go. You can even add more details and create your synopsis. For those writing children’s books, it’s the perfect layout tool with your illustrations (and text if you’re using any). I'll even take questions from the audience on writing "problems" they have and see if I can come up with a software solution.

MWG: Oh my gosh, I love the idea of Power Point for picture books. I never thought of that. Brilliant! If time permits, you will show them about Publisher, too. For those of us who don't know much more than Word, can you tell us a little about Publisher? Who makes it and what writers need it?

 Janet: Publisher is also a Microsoft product. It's a desktop publishing program that's a lot easier to use than Adobe Photoshop and more powerful than a lot of "greeting card" software programs that are out there. You can create newsletters, business cards, greeting cards, banners, etc. AND books of any size. What makes Publisher different than Word is that the platform makes handling graphics much easier than in Word. If you want to self-publish a work containing photos or pictures and don't have the time or resources to learn Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, Publisher is a good alternative. I could spend an entire session on layout and design for self-publishing in Publisher, but I’ll leave that for another presentation. Maybe one of the Chapters will want to see that at one of their meetings.

MWG: It sounds like something I would be interested in seeing. We should set that up with Saturday Writers! So, who should come to your workshop at the conference?

 Janet: Anyone who wants to know how to use their computer more efficiently in their writing. Genre doesn't matter. Level of computer experience doesn't matter. I'm used to having all levels of experience in my classroom. There are no stupid questions; and even if you already know a lot, I guarantee I can teach you one thing you don't know. Come with questions. I love the challenge of trying to solve problems other people have with their writing/software issues.

MWG: Sounds awesome and very practical, too! Tell us a little about what you are currently working on!

Janet: "The novel." Isn't everyone? Strangely enough, though, right now I'm really hot in the Twitter fiction market (a story of 140 characters of text or less), which is crazy, because that's more of a poet's genre, and I'm NOT a poet. I had five or six published in December. It pays nothing. Literally. But at the end of the school day, that's about all my brain will produce. And as I writer, I want to write SOMETHING every day to keep the creative juices flowing. I also write short stories and flash fiction. Fantasy/urban fantasy/science fiction are my usual genres, but I don’t limit myself to wizards, werebeasts, and computers. I try to write in different genres to stretch my skills. I enter a lot of short story contests just to get some credits under my belt and on my cover letter. And after I publish my first novel, I’ve decided to scan all my rejection letters into the computer, print them on brightly-colored fabric, make a quilt and sit on it. Every night. And smile as I write volume two.

MWG: You will have to put the rejection quilt idea on Pinterest! Anything else you'd like to add?

Janet: We live in an age where you almost CAN’T be a successful writer without a computer. I may not have all the answers, but hopefully I can help with a few ideas that will improve your relationship with your computer, so it’s more of a partnership than a show-down at the O. K. Corral every time you boot it up. So come to my session and be prepared to enjoy learning. I’m not like those stodgy, old professors you’re used to! ;-)

MWG: See you soon, Janet! We're looking forward to a great conference and your workshop! 

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