The Download with An Old-Fashioned Novelist

Allegra Goodman

Allegra Goodman is a novelist who lives in Cambridge, MA. She is married to David Karger, a professor at MIT. She is a mother of four. She uses a computer to write, but she prints out the draft, and edits by hand. Then, she types in all the “30,000 changes.”

What wakes you up?
I am a morning person and I wake up without an alarm clock.

How do you get your news?
I get my news from “The New York Times” paper edition—but I don’t have time to read it in the morning, so I read it in the afternoon. I have not caught up to the 24-hour news cycle.

Do you use any apps for reading books?
I have a dumb phone, so I don’t use any apps. My favorite app for reading is a physical book.

What is the device you write on?
I write on Surface, which I bought purely for portability. I use it like a typewriter for drafting fiction. I print out drafts and edit by hand with purple ink.

How do you avoid the distractions of the web as you write a novel?

I stay connected to the Internet while working because I like looking things up.
However, while writing I do not read or respond to messages. In my line of work, few messages require an immediate response. I figure if it’s urgent, there’s always the phone.

At the end of the day I zip through all my messages at once and answer the important ones. I’ve discovered that most emails are no longer relevant by the end of the day, or they are part of long conversational threads that have resolved themselves hours before.

Your husband is a CSAIL prof; you are the mother of four children. How do you communicate with them?

I am, indeed, surrounded by plugged-in people. However, I communicate with family via phone.

What keeps you organized?

I use a month-at-a-glance paper calendar where I write due dates like “SEND
NEW DRAFT OF NOVEL.” I like the big picture.
I also carry a small spiral notebook where I write my to do list in pen.
Drop off. Revise chapter 3. Eat lunch. Pick up. Drive to ballet . . .
I like to cross off items in black ink and then I like to rip out the page and throw it away. Deleting or checking boxes onscreen is just not as satisfying!

What is your favorite tech tool?
I have a terrible sense of direction. I can’t do without my GPS – I have a standalone device in my car.
I also depend on my MP3 player, which I use in my car.
I do a lot of driving with my kids, and audio books keep us going.
Over the years we have listened to everything from “Little House in the Big Woods” to “Democracy in America.”

Do you have a social media presence?
I do have an author page on Facebook, and it’s a great tool for communicating with my readers. I can answer questions or post news about my work. I also have a website.

Do you shop online? Where do you buy books?

I shop online and in stores.
For books, I shop in store, whenever possible, at the Harvard Bookstore and
Porter Square Books. Nothing can replace browsing for books in person.
You never know what you’ll find on the shelf or on the new book table.
I collect books the way some people collect shoes. But books are way cheaper!

Is it hard to be a non-techie in one of the “techiest” places in the world?
Techies at MIT and elsewhere actually appreciate my choices more than most, because they understand the virtue of unplugging. People try different strategies to stay afloat in the deluge of information. My own choice is to use cheaper, slower technology. These days a flip phone = daily meditation practice. A physical book = vacation.

What is a piece of technology you’d want to have in the near future?
I think it’s time for an 18-hour computer battery. Charge it up when you go to bed and then wake up in the morning and you’re good to go.

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