Down (48K) Memory Lane

If I had to name the one thing that made it possible for me to be a published writer, as opposed to just another scribbler with a stack of notebooks in a desk drawer, I would have to say it was the personal computer/printer/word processing software combination.  Because in order to become published, you first have to submit stuff to publishers, and if you’re going to submit stuff to publishers you have to put it into a format that publishers will read, which back in those days meant a typed manuscript.

And I am not just a bad typist, I am a truly dreadful typist.  By which I mean, it used to take me 30 minutes of work to produce a single page of double-spaced typescript, and we’re talking about a page so positively leprous with white-out that if I shook it, the dried liquid would fall down onto the tabletop in flakes.    Preparing even a short story for submission, under those conditions, was a herculean task, and as for a novel . . . not even.  (I survived writing my Ph. D. dissertation thanks to my father, whose gift to me for completing the doctorate was the services of a professional academic typist to handle the final draft; and to my husband, whose idea of an anniversary present was an Icelandic Smith-Corona manual typewriter that could handle the special characters I needed to produce a finished draft fit to give to the typist in the first place.)

Then came the first affordable desktop computers, and it was like the sun coming up over a frozen tundra.  My husband/coauthor and I weren’t the very earliest of the early adopters, but as soon as Atari brought out the Atari 800, which was cheaper than the Apple IIe and had more memory (48 screaming K!) than the first IBM PC, we bought one, and a printer to go with it, and started writing in earnest.  We wrote our first published short story on that machine, and our first two published YA novels, and the earliest version of what would later become the first book in the space opera series we eventually sold to Tor Books several years later.

We loved that machine.  The word processor we used on it, PaperClip, was an amazing thing — it would let you have two files up in two separate windows, and it did it using the aforementioned 48K of RAM.  (I’ve never forgiven Electronic Arts for buying the company that made PaperClip, and then never releasing the AtariST version of the program.  It would have been awesome.)  We stayed Atari loyalists, upgrading our computers as the company made newer and better ones, pretty much until the bitter end, when the nearest Atari repair person to where we lived was an Apple dealer in Boston who used to sell Ataris, and who would sometimes be able to do repairs for you if you knew his secret identity.

And when we finally had to give in and switch to a computer that was actually still being made and supported, we went with a succession of Windows boxes . . . because we were never going to love another computer like we loved those first Ataris, and nobody ever expects you to love a Windows machine.

4 thoughts on “Down (48K) Memory Lane

  1. Oooooh yeah. The days of analog. Not, you will notice, referred to as the *good* old days of analog.

    The computer turned out to be the tool that I had been waiting for. And I was kept waiting a long time. And my place of employment fought the transition every step of the way. Particularly as it related to the Section that I was employed in.

    But then, I was in the graphics field, and it took longer for the software to mature, and the hardware to catch up to the demand that placed on it. Neither graphics-capable hardware or software come cheap. We didn’t enter the digital era until 1990, and it was still years before our Department would invest in enough computers to go around, or powerful enough computers to handle our files.

    I’d never go back to analog. Never.

  2. I can still remember the tactile joy of my fingers slipping to get caught under the keys of the truly elderly manual typewriter that I learned to type on . . . not. And carbon paper! Lord, I loathed carbon paper. I was a fast but inaccurate typist, and my first home computer was a miracle . . . of course, I also typed the first draft of my dissertation on the university mainframe, which–was also not a pleasant experience.

  3. I’m deeply grateful that I didn’t have to work with a mainframe at any point (unless you count late one night in the basement of the Moore School of Engineering at Penn, playing a game of Star Trek on ENIAC’s lineal descendant. Which was interesting, but nowhere near as much fun as D&D, which I was also getting introduced to at about that same time.)

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