Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
This piece in the Paris Review reminds me that I was a pretty early adopter of the personal word processor. Yes, in the 1980s …
I remember how annoying it was to type and retype my stories, even when I had access to an IBM Selectric at work. And if there wasn’t a photocopier handy you had to resort to carbon paper, which — don’t get me started on carbon paper.
Then, in 1983 I got a job in an office that had something of a word processor on its now medieval-seeming computer system. I used it to write my very first attempt at a novel. This was not easy because I had to insert HTML-like codes for paragraph breaks and spacing, and it was hard to format simple things like margins. Still, it was easier than typing and retyping … and retyping again.
I read an interview somewhere in there with the late great Stanley Elkin (cited in the Paris Review piece and shown above with his ‘puter), in which he said something along the lines of, “If you’re a writer, you need to run right out and buy yourself a word processor. It will change everything.”
I followed his sage advice. I ran right out and got myself an Apple IIe and a dot-matrix printer. And reams of paper with perforated edging strips.
If you’ve never seen an Apple IIe, let me just say it seems now like something that would hinder writing rather than help. Its disk drive took floppies. One slot was for the software (mine was called PFS Write) and one was for your files. Storage on a floppy was probably close to 0 in today’s terms.
But, damn it, that machine helped me get my novel out of my head. (I’d given up on the work system when a co-worker found my manuscript and ran around going, “Oh my God, look what’s on the word processor! It’s a sex scene!”) Slowly — very slowly — but surely, I pecked away at the strange little keyboard, watching my words flow across that strange little screen in that strange green-on-black type, and one day the book was finished. Without a leaf of carbon paper. Sure, it took up about eight floppies, but it was all there, and it looked spectacular when I printed it out.
The hardest part, in retrospect, was taking all those perforated strips off the four hundred pages.
Anyway, children. Grandchildren. Appreciate your word processor. Adore your find and replace. Don’t yearn for the past, even though we had better music.
The world has improved since my youth … at least for writers.