Thursday, February 27, 2014




I’ve been writing long enough to remember typing my first manuscripts on a manual typewriter. Progressing to an electric typewriter with a limited capacity for memory was an exciting day! Now I look back at that and shudder. Like most writers today I treasure my word processing program. Revising on a typewriter was difficult. Even a small change meant retyping the whole page. And cut and paste was quite literally done with scissors and glue.

In Page Fright,  Harry Bruce says that writers who turned to the word processor in its early days were like religious converts, their eyes gleaming with wonder. He quotes novelist Frank Conroy who said, “God looked down at the writers and said, ‘I haven’t done anything for these people for a long time, hundreds of years, so I’m going to make up for it.’ 

There were skeptics too. The American writer William Zinsser wondered why he should change from equipment that had served him well for decades. He said, “Why risk writing into a humming winking box that, owing to one slip of one finger, might destroy his entire masterpiece-in-progress?”  He changed his mind quickly though when he tried one. “Real sentences began to appear on the screen, one after another. Then I had a real paragraph. Then I started another paragraph. Soon I had a second paragraph! I was writing!”

He went on to say, “There’s no kind of tinkering that you can’t do – and undo – instantly. When you finish your revisions, the machine will paginate your entire article and the printer will type it while you go and have a beer.”

Leon Edel, American biographer, said, “I didn’t like the machine’s insolence. It tried to make me its slave.”

Tom Sharpe agreed. “That bloody cursor blinking at me on the word processor screen is awful. I mean it’s blink, blink, blink. Well, screw this bastard.”

Novelist Josephine Hart said, “The machines seem to have a mind of their own.”

Martin Amis said, “The little cursor, or whatever it’s called, that wobbles around the middle of the screen falsely gives you the impression that you’re thinking. Even when you’re not.”

Humorist P.J. O’Rourke said he refused “to have some pubescent twerp with his mom’s earring in his tongue, who combs his hair with Redi-Whip and has an Ani DiFranco tattoo on his shin, come show me how a computer works.”

I think any writer that uses a computer has at least one story of losing a day’s or even a work’s week. There is no more hideous feeling. We all know the cardinal rule – back up, back up, back up but somehow mistakes happen.  (I save my manuscript in two places and at the end of each day email it to myself as well. I figure my lap top and memory sticks could break down but I can always access my email.)

Journalist Robert Fulford has told a story of an “American novelist who switched on his computer one morning and discovered to his horror that the fifty thousand words he’d spent months writing had simply vanished. When he tried to recover them, happy faces invaded his screen. Enraged, he punched a wall and broke his knuckles.”

Would I go back to a manual typewriter? Never. But I try to stay on the good side of my computer!

Favourite Kid’s Book of the Week:

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm

The opening drew me in: “Everyone thinks children are as sweet as Necco Wafers but I’ve lived long enough to know the truth. Kids are rotten. The only difference between grown-ups and kids is that grown-ups go to jail for murder. Kids get away with it.”

Who could resist reading more?

Amazon: In Jennifer L. Holm's New York Times bestselling, Newbery Honor winning middle grade historical fiction novel, life isn't like the movies. But then again, 11-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She's smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it's 1935 and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle's mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida to live with relatives she's never met. Florida's like nothing Turtle's ever seen before though. It's hot and strange, full of rag tag boy cousins, family secrets, scams, and even buried pirate treasure! Before she knows what's happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she's spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways. Filled with adventure, humor and heart, Turtle in Paradise is an instant classic both boys and girls with love.

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