Monday, December 26, 2011

“Don’t be a brute”

[“Don’t be a brute: handle your disks as you would handle LPs — by the edges.” Click for a larger view.]

The words above, in stately mauveine, come from a three-page guide that I made for students in a Spring 1987 writing class, an experiment in teaching writing with word-processing. I discovered this document in a folder underneath a folder underneath a — suffice it to say that the document is recently unearthed. I’m amused to realize that it’s the older disks in my analogy that would be familiar to at least some 2011 students.

In 1987, teaching writing with word-processing was a bit cutting edge. Now computer-assisted writing classes are everywhere. I remain unenthusiastic though, because writing is not word-processing. The work of inventing, developing, and arranging ideas is entirely different from the work of preparing a document. Word-processing makes it all too easy for the novice writer to conflate the two kinds of work, so that even the roughest draft (what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft”) looks like a finished product. I take great happiness in seeing my students discover the difference between writing (really writing) and word-processing, typically by (1) working out ideas on paper before typing and (2) revising on paper.

My favorite tools of writing: index cards, pocket notebooks, legal pads, TextWrangler, and WriteRoom. I consider a word-processing window a hostile workplace.

A related post
Beagle Bros disk-care warnings
Writing by hand

[The disks we used in 1987: 5¼" floppies.]

comments: 3

Elaine said...

I guess I predate your writing classes. My first word-processing program was VolksWriter, and I produced a first draft (meant to be a chapter) than in fact became the framework for a 250+ page book.

I believe you have omitted a stage of composition: receive print-out on dot-matrix paper; edit and rewrite; cut and tape new order; retype; print out and mail via USPS. This worked just fine (we thought) in 1991.

I have noticed that, the less I write by hand, the more I must edit in draft. I can type faster than I can think, I believe.

Elaine said...

I use WordPerfect. I took a class to learn WP 1.0, and now I'm on Version 11. I think it is infinitely superior to MSWord.

I notice that your two links indicate those programs are for Macintosh computers. I'm a PC, but our daughter has gone over to the Mac Side...and she writes a great deal in her work.

Michael Leddy said...

I remember the name Volkswriter, but that’s about it. I was an AppleWorks user for years. Before I switched to a Mac, I liked using the Windows program Notepad2.

Was there a name for that computer paper with the sprocket holes on each side?