Category Archives: Writing Machines

A Return to the Still, Green Screens of My Youth

When I visited DarkCopy today, I found myself feeling nostalgic for green screens and line editors.

Of course, DarkCopy doesn’t duplicate the unique experience of writing with a line editor. It’s actually a pared down version of WriteRoom by Hog Bay Software.

Nearly every writing software package has a fullscreen mode these days. I use Scrivener from Literature and Latte. I also have a license for CopyWrite from Barsta Technologies. Both have excellent fullscreen modes (though I like the additional features in Scrivener such as fading the background rather than pure black).

But back in the day, you didn’t have a choice. Writing fullscreen was the only option.

“Once there was an age of baud rates, and green screens were king.”

In my first writing job, I answered customer service questions for an online information service. It was great practice really. We had to be clear because we were communicating technical instructions to non-technical people. We had to be concise because even back then people hated reading things on-screen.

Our system used a simple line editor connected to a VAX. If you wanted to change a line, you need to enter commands to get to the line and then you enter more commands to insert or delete text. We did not have line wrap. It’s difficult for people who have never used a line editor to conceive of the kind of focus you gain from feeling the acute pain of accidentally entering the wrong command, with a single keystroke mind you, and erasing a half hour’s work.

At home, I used WordPerfect for DOS, which in many ways I still consider one of the best writing programs ever. The purity of a single cursor flashing in the darkness. How that could still my heart and cause the words to flow!

[Cite: The cut-n-paste copy in my screenshot comes from Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.]

The Novel as Told Through Google Maps

Waxy turned me onto this very cool site where a novel is told using Google Maps as the background. It’s really incredible even if my description is lacking…

Charles Cumming’s The 21 Steps:

The 21 Steps is told by following the story as it unfolds across a map of the world. Follow the trail by clicking on the link at the bottom of each bubble.

[Via: Links]

Scrivener, the visual writer, and Scrivener link love

I’m working on a story right now that focuses on painting. Describing paintings in fiction reminds me of something Steve Martin said:

Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.

The Moon and SixpenceA great writer could pull this off, but since I’m not W. Somerset Maugham, I was pleased to find that I could use Scrivener to help me get over my urge to cram in endless visual detail.

How Scrivener can help the visual writer

I’ve written about Scrivener before in a general sense, focusing on the organization mostly. This seems to be the feature that most writers like. However, as I live with this program, I’ve found that it has helped me with a little problem of mine…

When I start a story, I usually have a particular image in mind. I see a character, fully formed. Or perhaps it’s a setting. It could also be something as simple as a single object, a flower perhaps. In my studio, I have dozens of pictures taped to the walls that symbolize story ideas. I also draw a bit, and so sometimes I doodle scenes and such.

You might wonder why I don’t just do the graphic novel thing. The problem there is that I like to write too much. The images are just markers, but I love them anyway. Sigh.

Since the pictures are half the fun for me, I’m loathe to cut them. This tends to lead to far too much description in my writing and not enough action. In technical terms, it makes for a boring story.

However, using Scrivener, I break up all of my scenes into separate documents. Each document has a nifty notes field that can hold images as well as text. So, I can paste in pictures that I find inspiring (or my own silly doodles) and have the images riding along next to the very text I need to trim up.

This lets me enjoy the continuous image of the story as I see it while ripping out purple prose in guilt-free chop sessions.

To give you a flavor of what this looks like, I created a quickie Scrivener project. I copied in text from the Wikipedia article on Angkor Wat and then I grabbed a number of interesting pics using Google Images.


Hope this helps!

Some Scrivener link love…

Here are a few links from others who have found love in the app that is Scrivener. 🙂

Writing a Novel in Scrivener by Charlie Stross (Yes, that Charlie Stross)

Scrivener – What Writers Do When They Should be Writing (a little Scrivener review of mine)

Scrivener: Powerful OS X app for writers (Merlin Mann’s review)

Arif and Ali’s – 6 secret-weapons that can help you write better and more regularly. (Scrivener is #6)

Scrivener Review by Justine Larbalestier (very thorough)

Scrivener fangirl (cute graphic)

NYTimes – Interface of One’s Own (nice review by Virginia Heffernan, cribbed from Inkygirl)

Why I Love Scrivener (Elisabeth Hendrickson is a tech type who uses Scrivener, she loves the fact that Scrivener interfaces with svn. Even if you don’t know what svn is, the article is still very good.)

Ode to Small Machines

A few weeks ago I had a little flood in my basement. The sump pump backed up and left about 3-4 inches of water all around. The overall damage wasn’t so bad, but I’d left my nascent collection of manual typewriters on the floor (in preparation for moving them to my studio) and thus they were ruined. Oh, I know they could have dried out and all, but the cases were truly destroyed by the water. It makes me sad to lose them, especially my 1932 Royal.

So here is a eulogy, a little ode I wrote a long time ago to that machine and small little writing machines in general…

Continue reading Ode to Small Machines