Here is an article from Slate last week on the first book ever to be written on a word processor. In 1968.
The book's author, Len Deighton, explains, "Having been trained as an illustrator I saw no reason to work from start to finish. I reasoned that a painting is not started in the top left hand corner and finished in the bottom right corner: why should a book be put together in a straight line?" Which is a good argument. I'm not sure I'd have had the bravery/foresight/cash involved in knocking out a window of my home in order for a crane to install a 200-pound, $10,000 (1968 dollars, at that) typewriter in my home office, but the idea of processing words strikes me as remarkable even if you'd never heard of it before.
IBM evidently never considered that these machines would be used by individuals. I get that these things were huge and expensive, but processing words has always, always struck me as the ultimate killer app. It's not that I can't imagine writing a book longhand or on a typewriter -- I can, and I imagine it was torture. As both a reader and a writer I came of age in a time of flexible, malleable, negotiable text. Messing with text feels like my birthright. It's as hard for me to imagine writing novels without a computer as it was for IBM to imagine me writing them with one, but I'm pretty sure I'd have chosen a different career. I thought a lot a lot a lot a lot about writing and technology for and of and as Goodbye For Now. Technotext is my text. But processing words, well that's just something I take for granted.
I also like the note about how afraid he was of losing work to power outages. I am an anal backer-upper, so I totally get it, but anything electronic seems less worrisome than the alternative. I have long wondered how writers ever used to leave home in the days of hardcopy. What if your house caught on fire? Or the roof fell in? I have always had this backup plan: I would leave my hardcopy in the refrigerator. I mean dropbox is pretty awesome, but as a fallback, I'm not really doing anything with the meat drawer anyway.
"Why oh why must I live in a time before cloud storage? Perhaps I am being karmically punished for caring more about my desk than my cute little dog."
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About The Author
Laurie Frankel writes novels (reads novels, teaches other people to write novels, raises a small person who reads and would like someday to write novels) in Seattle, Washington where she lives on a nearly vertical hill from which she can watch three different bridges while she's staring out her windows between words. She's originally from Maryland and makes good soup.