My Writing “Tech” From 2011 to 1979
When many of us discuss technology today, it’s most likely to be a conversation about our cell phones or cars. Aside from that kind of tech, YA Authors may discuss writing programs between themselves on occasion, or engage in the interminable argument about which is better: Microsoft or Apple. Now I have nothing new to offer on the subjects I listed, but I have a long history of writing using various bits and pieces of technology and proto-technology. Here’s a brief account from the present to the past.
I am still using my Dell Dimension 9100 which I bought in the middle of the 2000’s. I revised my “Earthbow” (http://bit.ly/b9vDW1 ) manuscript on it, and I’ve now started revising “The Gryphon & the Basilisk” on it. Nowadays, I save to flash drives, and I save often. I don’t want to lose years of work if this computer crashes terminally. (I probably have a dozen flash drives on a long bead chain.) This Dell has already had both its hard drive and motherboard replaced, and it still runs WORD 2003 on the old XL platform. Yes, it’s positively ancient by today’s standards but I’m terrified of switching software platforms or even updating WORD. And of course I'm terrified of a permanent crash.
Somewhere along the line, I’ve fallen behind the curve in tech—not just computer tech but also sound systems, phones, Bluetooth (whatever that is) and so on. Proof? I bought my second laptop (“Piglet” because it’s so tiny) over two years ago, and its Windows Vista OS –still- has me buffaloed. I’ve even had the Geek Squad people come out to instruct me on how it works. It did little good. Occasionally, I’ll cried piteously for someone to give me all-day training on VISTA and on the laptop’s newer version of WORD--preferably at Panero’s where I could stuff my instructor full of luscious food and coffee--but, so far, no one has taken me up on this.
As I said, the desktop is beginning to show signs of its age, even with the hardware face-lift it got about three years ago. I’d buy a replacement in a snap, but I am wary of new software like Windows 7 (or whatever the latest is) and WORD 2010(?). I don’t want to have –two- computers in this house, without knowing how to use either. This does not lend itself to writing output.
I bought my first Dell desktop in about 2003, but I continued to use the humongously clunky and heavy screen from the previous computer since that was still working and I didn’t really have the cash for a new monitor too. I used this 1st Dell for revising my “Seabird” (http://bit.ly/bKBQ7x ) manuscript amongst other things (like computer graphics). I also scanned in many, many typewritten pages of other book manuscripts which had been hand-written beginning in 1979, then typed up a while after that.
The Dell and I worked together happily for a few years—until it gave out abruptly. Virtually anything manuscript-related that I had keyed in was on disc, so I lost nothing that was writing-related. I did lose some other files on the hard drive, including some of my graphic art.
I was okay for the moment because I’d bought my first laptop the previous year, technically for audio file creation. I used it for writing instead when the Dell went down, until I got a replacement desk top. This early laptop was dubbed “The Elephant”. I don’t know how much it weighed but it was bunches. When a good writer friend has her computer die on her about two years ago, I gave her “The Elephant”.
Back then, I was still working at the university library. On a Saturday afternoon, a co-worker and I drove up to the Gateway store, where I picked out the first full-fledged desktop computer of my own. I had a lot of uses planned for this one, but writing and revising my novels were kind of side issues during this period. (This was during my 1990’s writing hiatus, brought on by heavy duties in a new position at work. I did write some short stories around then, but that was because I was taking writing courses.) Anything I wrote was saved to diskette—if I thought about it.
One of my main activities with this computer was keying in my “Analyses” of Babylon 5 (http://www.slackfox.net/ ), a splendid SF show that few people watched. While I had WORD and Word Perfect software on this computer and knew how to use them from work, I didn’t have a way of creating the analyses as WORD files and then sending them by e-mail to the people interested in them. This was in the days of message boards, before the actual internet. Plain library staff were not permitted to have web pages, even once they became fairly common, so I couldn’t store my analyses on one, and point people to my page.
The only way I had to distribute these show analyses was via the B5 message board, using the –very- clunky university e-mail software, the only email software available to me. (Maybe some of you older folks will remember most U.S. university email addresses ending in “…mvs.edu”.) The email was so clunky that it didn’t have cut-and-paste, and the only way I could figure out how to correct an error was to back up to it, deleting everything between where I had stopped keying in and where the error was, and trying again.
I did key in a bit of writing stuff on the Gateway, using floppy discs for storage. And I imported many files—also on floppies--from my old word processor. I still have these floppies and I’m very glad I do or I might have lost sections of my manuscripts. (When I bought it, I made sure that my Dell Dimension had a floppy disc drive.)
(Between 1985 and 1990?)
One day I took myself up to a predecessor of Best Buy--I’ve forgotten its name--and nervously bought a Smith-Corona word processor. It was supposed to be portable, but that was largely a Fig Newton of the amalgamation.
The word processor had a small green screen recessed directly above the keyboard in which you could see perhaps the previous paragraph that you had written. I used to use it on a TV tray while sitting in one of my wing-back chairs. This made the keyboard a bit too high, so I sat on a thick pillow. The Smith-Corona was a wonder to work with at that time. I especially enjoyed the flexibility it gave me for formatting. Naturally, I saved files on floppy discs. So far as I can remember, I wrote my first draft of “The Gryphon & the Basilisk” plus a few short stories on the word processor. I used this for years, even after buying the Gateway, because writing was such a snap on it. Eventually I gave it to someone who helped me move.
I bought a Commodore 64, with every intention of using it to transcribe the longhand and typed drafts of “Seabird” and “Earthbow” which I had begun writing in 1979. It didn’t work out, though I tried very hard. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Commodore’s built-in word processor assumed that the user was going to be using a Commodore monitor. I was trying to use the computer with a JC Penney’s television. (Yes, Penney’s sold TV’s in those days.) Because the software didn’t know how to communicate with the television, all I could see on the screen were a couple of dozen huge letters at a time.
Eventually, I taught my mom how to play Frogger on the Commodore. I think it was the only computer game she ever played.
My boyfriend at the time bought me a Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter. I originally used it to type up class assignments for myself, and eventually branched out into typing up papers for fellow students. Beginning in 1980 or so, I began typing up chapters of “Seabird” etc on this typewriter.
Many of these early “Seabird” chapters (and typed chapters of later books) would later be poorly scanned into the first Dell computer, causing me no end of headaches down the road when I tried to decipher the scanned-in files. In fact, just a few months ago, I finished deciphering chapters of “The Gryphon & the Basilisk” manuscript from these scanned files, which were originally typed on the Smith-Corona. Oh, what a mess that was, but it beat keying them into WORD from handwritten sheets. Which brings us to:
I wrote my very first drafts of “Seabird” and “Earthbow” in 9x5 spiral-bound notebooks—later to be revised and copied (in tiny writing) unto notebook paper which had 50 lines per side. Sometimes I transcribed a few hastily-written sentences off of the index cards I kept hidden in my pockets while I was at work.
I had something that was once considered to be a computer before the Commodore. Maybe a Tandy? It had like zero kb of RAM, and was definitely not up to running writing software. I think I got it used from someone.
It only had one program so far as I remember, and we played it on the family TV. It was some kind of aircraft landing game. You started at such and so many feet away from the landing strip and then had to control your speed, altitude, angle of descent, etc. as you came in for a landing. My family and I used to play it as a group, with a cacophony of suggestions from everyone on what to do next to whoever was at the controls.
We crashed a lot. :-)
Sherry Thompson, author of "Seabird" and "Earthbow".