The Mechanics of Writing in the Olden Days

AJ Wood
10 min readSep 2, 2019

How the computer changed the way we write

Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

Back in the manual typewriter days, the practice of writing was considerably different than it is now. Today, you sit down at your desk (that much has remained the same), place your hands on something called a keyboard, and watch your thoughts magically appear on a screen in front of you. When you’ve got a few pages of rough draft stored in something called memory and you’re ready to edit, you hit the backspace or delete key, type in new words, and you’re good to go. When you want to move a block of text from one page to another you highlight it, hit control x or c, move that blinking line to the spot you think it should go instead, and hit control v. Simple!

I must admit I like to write this way. It’s much better than the way Hemingway and Steinbeck did it. It’s cleaner for one thing, easier on the environment. There’s no requirement to keep a large trash can handy. The only time paper is involved is when we want to send hard copies to a traditional editor.

But I fear the younger crowd, those who were born anytime after TV shows like All in the Family and MASH were in full swing, tends to take this ease for granted.

Just a side-note here

The above paragraphs were written in a language that was totally foreign when I was a kid.

Here are a few examples of the questions I asked when home computers made their first appearance in mainstream life:

Before the invention of the PC, the exclusive definition of memory was a function of the brain. What other definition could there possibly be?

What do you mean by highlight the text? Used as a noun, a highlight was something noteworthy. If you wanted to use it as a verb, you would say something like, “I want to highlight the importance of this.” Highlighter pens weren’t even invented until I was three years old.

What are hard copies? I’m at a total loss with this one. I know of carbon copies, where you place a sheet of carbon paper between two sheets of regular paper, in order to make two copies of the same letter. Are these two letters now called hard copies? Why?

What is a traditional publisher? Is that a publishing house that…

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AJ Wood

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