by Rita Aero and Barbara Elman
Rita Aero is co-author and designer of several books produced with word processors, including The Love Exam, written with an Epson QX10 and VALDOCS. Barbara Elman is the founder and editor of WP News, a newsletter for authors interested in word processing.
is for Adding and Deleting Text: the first difference you'll appreciate between your old typewriter and your sleek new word processor. Most of a writer's time is spent rewriting-adding or deleting words from existing sentences and paragraphs. You can easily delete words and send them to computer heaven or insert spice to your zesty romance novel with a few more passionate punches.
is for Block Move, Copy and Delete: the second thing you'll appreciate about word processing. Before you can move a paragraph from page 8 to page 24, you have to mark off the beginning and ending of the section, thus creating a "block" (not to be confused with Writer's Block). Then you can play around with this block, moving it to new plateaus, before you get tired of it and decide to delete it permanently.
is for Changing Your Mind: the writer's dream come true, thanks to the features described in A and B. Before you joined the computer age, you dreaded the editor's pencil or that unbidden new stroke of inspiration-like changing your main character's name throughout a novel or film script. Now you welcome the chance to change your mind and make your pages as perfect as possible.
is for Documentation: the incomprehensible manual that comes with your word processing program. It seems to dare you to decipher its detailed directions, and you'll be forced to figure it out through trial and error anyway. Somewhere at the nadir of Silicon Valley, technical writers sit composing these voluminous works. Someday, hopefully, they'll be translated into English.
is for Editing, Electronic: when you add A plus B plus C you get E-a formerly excruciating task involving retyping your entire work to make your boss or editor happy. While your typewriter lets you fill your page with words, your word processor also lets you shuffle those words like a deck of cards without endless retyping. A perfect copy every time! And no more grumbling when an editor asks for a rewrite.
is for Files: the electronic version of your filing cabinet. The best advice we can give is "keep them short!"-a chapter or scene at the most. Many a writer has used the "F" word in frustration trying to get from page 2 to page 32. Most word processing programs insist you scroll through the interim text in your file, ever so slowly, whether you want to or not. Phooey!
is for GIGO: a computer hacker's term meaning "Garbage In, Garbage Out." This also applies to the writer's craftan electronic typing tool will not turn dull prose into sparkling wit, even if you change your name to Shakespeare. Your word processor will make the art of writing more fun, but no computer can write creatively without a human pushing its buttons.
is for Hard Copy: the satisfying end product of your hard work. No matter how much you play with your words on-screen, the real acid test is the way they look on paper. It's the only way to catch the inevitable typo that you just can't see until the ink hits the page (see P for Printer). Since even a portable computer is too heavy to mail, hard copy is still the most common means of getting your message across.
is for Integrated Software: the kind where you can type in text, then switch into calculating mode to figure out a bit of bookkeeping, then search through a data base for some fact, all without having to change program disks. Since humans, even writers, can't live by words alone, such capability can be awfully usefulprovided your computer has sufficient internal memory to handle this kind of software.
is for Justification: making the right-hand margin line up just like the left. (It's also a term for what you do to rationalize how much money you've spent on your new electronic toy.) If you can't see on-screen how the text will be arranged on paper, you may find some unpleasant gaps between words, requiring further adjustment on the machine. Eventually you may give up and turn it off altogether, like most professional writers.
is for Keyboard: the key to effective contact with your word processor. Unfortunately, most manufacturers have chosen to use keyboards unfit for writers and typists. Some new keyboad layouts are designed with writers in mind: like HASCI (Human Applications Standard Computer Interface, with dedicated function keys) and the Dvorak (an arrangement of letters that yields dramatically increased comfort and speed).
is for Letter-Quality Printing: making your page (which has been massaged, edited, reedited, rewritten and redecorated on your fancy electronic marvel) look just like it came out of your old-fashioned typewriter. Book and magazine publishers, film producers and corporate executives especially prefer Selectric-looking hard copy.
is for Mail, Electronic: the fast and fun way to get your words through space and time. By plugging your computer into the telephone lines with an M for Modem, you can collaborate long distance. Arthur C. Clarke, for example, sent the entire text of his recent book 2010 through trans-Atlantic phone lines from his home in Sri Lanka to his New York publisher.
is for Nightmare, Electronic: that dreaded moment when your words disappear from the screen and wing their way to computer heaven. This has been known to happen on every brand of computer using every type of software. (The authors of this piece lived through an Electronic Nightmare shortly after we wrote this the first time; when the Nightmare strikes, the only thing to do is curse the #"&%! machine and start over.)
is for OCR: the Optical Character Reader, which can read your already typewritten pages onto computer disk for future editing. The bad news is that these machines are expensive-they average $30,000. The good news is that one day they will appear in every library next to the coin-operated computers and Xerox machines to electronically transfer your notes and research materials to your word processor for pennies a page.
is for Printer: the two most common types are dot matrix and daisy wheel. Dot matrix printers form letters from
a grid of tiny dots, placed very close together. Many people still prefer the daisy wheel, which produces Letter-Quality text (see L). Dot matrix printers are cheap, fast, portable and versatile; daisy wheels are large and expensive, but yield handsome hard copy. The best choice is to have one of each.
is for Quirks: what no word processing program is without. Each program has a unique and sometimes incomprehensible way of doing things, many of which you will never learn to love. Get to know your program's quirks early in the game, and don't expect them to be the same from program to program. For example, WordStar uses code letters for common functions that have no relation to the procedure they perform.
is for RETURN: don't touch that button! The most pleasurable feature to adapt to when using your first word processor is automatic word-wrap. Instead of hitting the RETURN key at the end of each line, you just keep typing and let your fingers do the talking. The program will put your words within the proper margins. RETURN is only used to indicate the end of a paragraph or to skip a line.
is for Save: do it often. This is one of the best habits you can form in adapting to processing your words on computer. With most programs, the words you compose exist as electronic impulses only in the computer's memory. Saving them to disk stores them permanently in case trouble strikes. Saving every few pages is cheap insurance against the Nightmare, Electronic (see N).
is for Typewriter: don't throw it away. When you sit there holding an envelope, wondering how you're going to address it without going through the whole procedure of starting up your word processor, the typewriter will be a welcome friend. Also, those quick notes to your public are zipped out more easily on the typewriter than on the computer, where you must compose, store, then print to get your thoughts on paper.
is for User-Defined Keys: keys on the keyboard that have no specific word processing function until you give them one. These keys just sit there until you use a special program to custom-design word processing procedures or margin changes, or even to program frequently used text into each key. This is especially useful for screenwriters and novelists who use special formats or foreign names with odd spellings.
is for Video Display Screen: the way your computer shows you what it's thinking. Most screens show a half-page of typed text at a time, and scroll up and down while you edit. They come in several colors and flavors: vanilla, licorice, butterscotch and mint. Among Americans mint is the most popular with its cool, green, eye-soothing tint; in Europe butterscotch is the favorite with its handsome amber tones.
is for Windows: a fancy feature of some new word processing programs. Windows allow you to view portions of several files at a time on-screen and move text between them. When you're moving words from chapter to chapter or report to report, this is a great timesaving device. But before you buy a program just to have windowing capabilities, be sure this costly feature is compatible with your working style.
is for Xerox: the word processor's friend. Even though your computer printer will gladly produce 340 copies of your 430-page report, it could have a coronary at the end. If you use a slow daisy wheel printer (one page every few minutes), this might take over two hundred days to print nonstop. A special benefit for dot matrix users is that xeroxing makes the dots fill in nicely to look more like letter-quality hard copy.
is for Your Writing Style: will it change when you switch to a word processor? Rumor has it that you think, type and revise faster, and that you make fewer errors because you're not worried about retyping the whole page to fix them. Some writers claim their final copy reads better because they're willing to spend more time polishing via computer. Most writers agree: there's no going back to composing on the typewriter.
is for Zealot: what every computerized writer becomes for the first six months. You'll show off your word processor to all your friends and talk about the differences between this machine and that, eagerly defending yours. Eventually you'll settle into treating your word processor as what it really is: a fancy, expensive, wonderful and sometimes terrible tool-one that may change your work while it's changing the world around you.
|ON WORD PROCESSING
For over two and a half years I've been writing my novels using the WordStar word processing program. The hardware is immaterial. I am a very picky kind of writer insofar as word choice is concerned. My theory is to work like hell to make things look as if they were done very swiftly and easily. And I like to turn in very clean manuscripts.
When you're trying to produce the "effortless" manuscript, finding exactly the right word for each situation is crucial. I used to sit staring at the damned sheet of paper, knowing there was a precise word available if only I could think of it. Sometimes-often-I would settle for the almost right word. (Sam Clemens said the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.) Then, during one of the endless rereadings, I would dredge up the word I'd been looking for, but because there was already another one in the sentence, almost as descriptive, I would tend to leave the weaker word in rather than mark up the page or retype.
Now I merely leave a blank, just big enough so it catches the eye. And when I reread, sooner or later I can come up with the word I was reaching for and fit it into the blank-with no clue that I hesitated for even a moment.
The second best part of word processing is the ability to tone down the purple prose, or delete the Gee Mom parts of it.
The third best aspect is the revision-on-demand advantage. When Knopf asked for a detailed revision of One More Sunday, I was able to provide in eight days of intense effort, eight twelve-hour days, what would have taken me six weeks the way I used to work. And I believe the revision (those changes that I agreed with) is better than the original version.
JOHN D. MaCDONALD, author of Condominium and the Travis McGee series of detective novels
|THE McWILLIAMS II WORD PROCESSOR
• Prints characters from every known language.
• Graphics are fully supported.
• Gives off no appreciable degree of radiation.
• Uses no energy.
• Memory is not lost during a power failure.
• Infinitely variable margins.
• Types sizes from 1 to 945,257,256,256 points.
• Easy to learn.
• Not likely to be stolen.
• No moving parts.
• Silent operation.
• Occasional maintenance keeps it in top condition.
• Five-year unconditional warranty.
McWilliams II Schematic
PETER A. McWILLIAMS, author of The Personal Computer Guide; the complete McWilliams II Word Processor Instruction Manual is available from Prelude Press, Box 69773, Los Angeles, Ca. 90069
|WHY I GAVE UP WORD PROCESSING
The moment of epiphany is ever fresh in my mind. I was in Sacramento in May 1982, hobnobbing with aides of then Governor Jerry Brown (who was, as all well know, quite high on technology), when one of his advisers told me about the Osborne I.
All of a sudden, it became glaringly evident. I must own a computer. It was the only way I could successfully write my first book. By the time I returned home to New Jersey, I had no doubt that my life as a writer would improve dramatically.
Make no mistake about it. My productivity did increase, tremendously. I can no longer imagine writing without a computer. But, perhaps because my hopes were so high, the disappointments I experienced were intense. In brief, reality intruded.
The first disappointment was a discovery of self. I am incapable of writing on a keyboard. This fact was brought home hard when I sat down at my Osborne to begin composing my opus. One hundred feverish pages later, I handed the product to my next-door neighbor, also a working scribe and a politically astute critic.
"This stinks," he said.
Indeed it did. I rambled. I disconnected. I spewed garbage.
I realized that computers cannot change a writer's working temperament. I have never been able to write stylized prose at a keyboard. I still cannot. And so I finally sat down to write my book the only way I knew how: with blue medium-point Paper Mate ballpoints on yellow lined legal pads.
The second disappointment was a limitation of the Osborne. After writing my chapters, I would keyboard in the product. The Osborne I's disk format is capable of storing only about thirty double-spaced pages of text. I was inundated with disks. No problem ... until I started rewriting and reorganizing the text. Massive revisions were needed on my book. Parts of chapter two had to be soldered onto chapter ten; I was forced to graft a sentence at the end of one very long section to the beginning of the section, which was, inconveniently, located on another disk.
Now, don't get me wrong. I think the CP/M operating system is a wonderful invention. But copying files with the "pip" command is a plain old pain in the butt, especially when manipulating WordStar files. I'd have to hit CTRL-KB and CTRL-KK and CTRL-Kw and name the file on which to write the marked block and pip the file onto the new disk and CTRL-D and enter the name of the file to edit and CTRL-KR to read the file I'd just pipped into the proper section of the file I'd just opened and ... well, it was exhausting.
I just gave up. I finally figured it was easier to cut and paste sections by hand, using my yellow lined legal pads and my Bostitch stapler. The ultimate ignominy was hiring a typist to type the final manuscript copy of my book. She's a wonderful woman, who's thinking of buying a computer.
RANDALL ROTHENBERG, author of The Neo-Liberals: Creating the New American Politics
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