Monday, October 10, 2011

The sad death of Steve Jobs has been all over the papers this weekend, and as I sat down at my desk in Scotland to write this blog, which will appear thousands of miles away on your computer or your i-Pad or your i-Phone on Monday morning, it prompted me to look back in wonder at what has happened to the act of writing in my lifetime.

I didn't use a quill pen, exactly, but in every other way my childhood stories were written just the way William Shakespeare wrote his plays – though maybe it kind of worked better for him than for me. Then I was given a typewriter, and how excited I was that my stories now looked like the proper kind you found in a book. It was a little less thrilling when it came to writing real books that way, though. Anyone else remember the hassle of putting in the carbon paper to get a copy, and how often it went in the wrong way round and you didn't discover till you had typed the whole page, which now had a mirror-writing version on the back? Then there were the smears of ink that got on your hands and thence to your face, not to mention the joys of Tippex which never dried as quickly as you thought it would. When an editor wanted changes, you wept as you re-typed the whole thing, page after page.

The Amstrad heralded the dawn of a new age. I viewed mine with respectful terror, but threw out the Tippex with a whoop and a holler. Faster and faster the changes came, bringing the bliss of word count, spell check, cut and paste, headers and footers, attachments. No more bulky ms to be run off and posted at vast expense. No problem with editorial changes. Hours of harmless fun deciding a semicolon would be better than a comma there, deciding it wasn't after all and changing it back. And now, with a few clicks of the mouse, a book that can be launched without even the formality of putting it on to paper.

It's been a wonderful journey, and I'm grateful to have been along for the ride, if perhaps a little dizzy. But to be honest, when I'm starting out to write a scene, or when things get sticky, it's back to the old pen and paper. It worked for Will, after all.


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H. L. Banks said...

Those nasty carbons and quill pens. Loved your post.

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Aline Templeton said...

Thanks so much for the kind comments. I didn't mention the slates and sqeuaky slate-pencils we had in my primary school - we were a bit behind the times in Scotland!


Charlotte Hinger said...

Aline--when I'm stuck I always reach for pen and pencil. Not sure why. However, one of the most prolific (and best)mystery writers I know, Loren Estleman, still uses a 1939 manual typewriter.