Be a Luddite, Not a Lunkhead

I recently read a letter to the editor in a writers magazine in which an aspiring writer of advanced years bemoaned those publishers who accept only electronic submissions (via email or website).

“Surely I am not the only soul who still works with a typewriter,” the correspondent wrote. “Possibly it’s because I’m eighty-eight, but don’t accuse me of being completely out of touch.”

Well, no. Not exactly. It has little to do with age. After all, I just finished reading William Zinsser’s lovely memoir, Writing Places, published in his eighties, in which he describes the limits of his technological advancement while still maintaining a prolific output in the age of computers, blogs, websites, and ebooks.

One can be a Luddite without being a lunkhead.

Luddite is a term borrowed from early 19th-century English workmen who destroyed laborsaving machinery as a protest. Today the word is used to describe someone who is generally opposed or resistant to new technologies.

Lunkheads, on the other hand, are people who (by my definition) expect the rest of the world—including agents, editors, and publishers—to accommodate their lack of technological adaptation.

Luddites can be published but lunkheads usually can’t.

James Michener typed his tomes with two fingers on a manual typewriter. He edited his drafts by literally cutting-and-pasting (with a sharp utility knife and Elmer’s glue) drafts together. But (after the advent of computers in publishing) all was eventually submitted to his publishers in electronic form. (By the way, I consider James A. Michener’s Writer’s Handbook a treasure, which very helpfully depicts his processes for writing and rewriting).

Robert Ludlum didn’t even type and claimed not to know how to even turn on a computer. He wrote his books in longhand on yellow legal pads. But he had his secretary convert his handwritten manuscripts to computer before submitting them to a publisher.

We can’t all afford to employ secretaries, of course. But we can employ good sense in writing for publication. So go ahead and be a Luddite, if you like. Write longhand. With a fountain pen, if you like. Or write on a 1922 Smith-Corona. Or an IBM Selectric. Or rock-and-chisel. Or bamboo pen and homemade rice paper. Suit yourself in the writing process. But when it comes to submitting your work for publication, Jack, join the 21st century and do so according to the agent, editor, or publisher’s specifications—even according to their preferences, if they state them. Otherwise, you’re just a lunkhead.


11 Responses to Be a Luddite, Not a Lunkhead

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 20, 2020 at 3:41 am #

    Barb realized what she had gotten herself into when she caught me using her phone as a coaster.

    And ‘swipe right, swipe left’ if what hapens to unattended beer, depending on which hand’s free.

    I have had my bloody fill,
    of this century,
    and can state, now, with a will,
    that I shall be free.
    You can take your Android,
    you can take your Mac,
    and iPhone, yea, shall be employed
    somewhere behind your back.
    There’s no-one can reach me
    unless I want them to,
    and no-one shall teach me
    what I ought to do.
    I’ll carpe diem sieze the day
    and live the whole thing my own way.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 20, 2020 at 3:43 am #

      Sigh…”…is what happens…”

      Couldn’t find my utility knife and Elmers.

  2. Laura Selinsky May 20, 2020 at 6:04 am #

    Hi, I loved your article- it makes perfect sense to follow the submission rules of whoever you want to publish you. But I was a little concerned by the analogy to Luddites destroying “laborsaving devices.” That makes it sound like Luddites set fire to washing machines and laptops. The Luddites objected to the shift from cottage and home production, (that’s the kinds of production we call “artisanal” and “craft” now and pay extra for), to primitive factory production that put tens of thousands out of work and polluted the waterways of England during that era. And in that period, there was no social safety net, so the home weavers and other cottagers who were put out of business starved. Maybe the author who insists on mailing a manuscript will starve, but it’s a bit of a stretch.

  3. Monty Hobbs May 20, 2020 at 6:34 am #

    A good reminder, Steve, as I am not very tech savvy and sometimes find myself fighting against the current instead of grabbing hold of what is floating right past me as an answer to my tech problem.

  4. Lee Ann Mancini May 20, 2020 at 7:18 am #

    Thank you for this interesting article. I love learning new things. I am not very tech savvy but I am always willing to listen, learn, and grow!

  5. Kristen Joy Wilks May 20, 2020 at 7:20 am #

    Ha ha! My husband calls me a Luddite because I don’t have a cell phone and absolutely don’t want one. Why would I want to allow people to bother me at their convenience 24 hours a day? My 102-year-old grandfather (he was 99 at the time) hand wrote his memoir (it started as a single page for the photo album) on yellow legal pads and ended up writing over 1,000 pages though he only has a 3rd grade education! His niece typed it up and then I got his amazing childhood stories up on Amazon for him and now he can hold his story in his hands and share it with grandkids, greatgrandkids, and great greats! It is possible. So while I do get very grumpy when things change, nonetheless, I follow agent and editor submission guidelines. Some things are worth learning.

  6. Vicki D May 20, 2020 at 7:45 am #

    I saw that letter, too, and felt a lot of sympathy for the guy. I’d not call myself a Luddite, but lean a little that way. As for submitting manuscripts typed on a typewriter, is it sometimes acceptable to scan the typed copy and submit a pdf rather than have to retype the whole thing?

    • Bob Hostetler May 20, 2020 at 9:44 am #

      Vicki, I’d say it depends on if you expect the manuscript to be accepted for publication. Because, if it is, then the editor is going to want a digital copy. If YOU don’t retype it, someone else would eventually have to. That’s making an editor or publisher’s job harder, and I’ve always considered it a part of my job as an author to be making editors’ and publishers’ jobs easier.

      • Vicki D May 22, 2020 at 7:15 am #


  7. Roberta Sarver May 20, 2020 at 8:48 am #

    In this post you barked up the tree I was living in, not long ago. I’ve figured out a lot of tech things through trial and error and a few tutorials. It helps to have kids to explain things also. (If you can’t figure out technological things, ask a ten-year-old.)

    Sometimes I wish for the good old days when I won the award for fastest typist in the school–on a typewriter. But since it’s a requirement to join the technological age if a person wants published, is it okay to occasionally look back and sigh?

  8. Lois Keffer May 20, 2020 at 10:51 am #

    The Selectric. Oh, baby. Buy a whirring ball and you had a whole new font!
    Coleco Adam made me the first telecommuting editor at my publisher. Hot on its heels, the Atari with its improved word processor and its Battleship game that challenged: “Hello, Humaaan. Do you want to play a game?”
    Our dealer upped to Apple and so did we. Hubs built a proper computer desk of oak, using an oak toilet seat cover as the mouse prop for the Performa.
    When I accepted a position with a publisher across the country, here came the computer you could lift, now known as The Doorstop.
    And so it went. The first laptop, the Aquarium and the Sunflower—each with its share of oohs and ahs.
    I must admit to Ludditian attitudes with software updates. Where’s the format tool now? All your ribbons take up my editing space. Who asked you to put my toolbars together?
    Conclusion: Even early adopters have their stubborn points.

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!