Rhodri Marsden: Believe it or not, the author of Game of Thrones likes to keep it simple

 

I'm typing this on a blank screen. If we disregard the pigeon outside my window and the movement of my fingers on the keyboard, there are no other visual distractions. No menus, no toolbars, no bouncing alerts, no wavy lines to help with my speling (sic) or opportunities to change the way that the words look. It's got to be that way.

My capacity for distraction eclipses my capacity for knuckling down; thankfully, the software I use recognises this and I thank the developers for it, otherwise I'd be typing this at 8pm rather than 3pm. I'm barely using five per cent of the features of the software, and less than one per cent of the computer's processor power, but I have to forget about that unused capacity. It's like using an industrial-strength hydraulic plate compactor to crack a nut, but I have to pretend otherwise.

Some solidarity on this issue comes in the formidable shape of George R R Martin, writer of the novels that were adapted into the TV series Game Of Thrones. A few days ago, he explained on an American chat show that he does all his writing on a DOS-based PC running WordStar 4.1, a word processor that's more than 20 years old and that was probably deemed obsolete until he casually mentioned that it's the power behind a publishing phenomenon. Martin's gripe was the same as mine; if the technology you're using is more powerful than the technology you need to get the job done, the resulting gap inevitably gets filled with activities that have nothing to do with that job – making things look nice, reorganising filing systems and, worst of all, idly looking for videos of feats of strength on YouTube.

Phrases such as "feature creep" and "bloatware" are commonly used to describe the way applications become heftier, rapidly growing in size and eventually busting their zip. Whether it's software manufacturers desperately trying to satisfy the insatiable hunger of ever-larger processors, or simply trying to give their developers something to do every day, applications can become grotesque distortions of their earlier, simpler iterations.

I remember the horror that greeted the release of the monstrous version 6.0 of Microsoft Word in the mid 1990s; it was enough to prompt the company to offer customers a free downgrade back to the simpler, more straightforward version 5.1. Word processors don't need to be complicated, and yet... if you fancy a laugh, try opening all the toolbars in Microsoft Word at once and see if you have any room on the screen for a document. As Martin said in the interview, "I don't want any help". He just wants to write.

The audience laughed at Martin's revelation, and the reaction online was also one of condescending amusement, a kind of "no no, George, give it here... you should really have asked my advice before you started". It's perfectly possible that if Martin had said that he'd used quill and parchment, there would have been nods of admiration – but it really doesn't matter; creativity sometimes has only a tangential relationship to the tools that enable it, and they'd never have known what he'd been using if he hadn't told them.

Wordstar 4.1, on an computer with no internet access? Are you mad, George? Where's your backup strategy? Why don't you get a brand new Chromebook? Are you aware of its astonishing power? George is aware, of course. He knows that computers are great enablers. Problem is, they sometimes enable the wrong things.

twitter.com/rhodri

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high