There’s Not Much To Be Nostalgic About In Today’s Word Processors

In what I’ll characterize as Old Geezer Writer Week at ZDNet, they interview a herd of technology journalists about their first word processors (you never forget your first).

It gets moldy fast; a few started their careers on typewriters [raises hand], but many found their way to WordStar or Xywrite early on, often graduating to WordPerfect (my favorite) before finally moving on to one of today’s choices (MS Word, LibreOffice, Google Docs). More than a few pine a little for the keyboard editing commands of those early editors.

(Oddly Digressive: I believe Stephen King might have been the first truly high-profile writer to use a word processor; he bought a dedicated “Wang” word processor, a company which surely wouldn’t have folded had they bought off on my “Stephen King’s Wang Never Goes Down” ad campaign.)

The Promiscuous Writer

When I started writing professionally I owned one of the first Macs. It was a 128K model, more a proof of concept than useful computer, but my earliest projects were written on an electric typewriter; I couldn’t afford the Mac printer and I wrote everything longhand anyway, so I was basically transcribing.

I eventually had one-night stands with all the Mac word processors, but got tired of the crashes and in the early 90s switched to the PC (all my clients had), where — despite my forbidden love of WordPerfect — I was forced to use MS Word by Microsoft’s proprietary file format.

I still carry a grudge against Microsoft and have grown allergic to proprietary file formats, which is why I write 95% of my work in text editors (Komodo Edit, Sublime Text 2, Emacs).

They’re fast and powerful and keep my hands on the keyboard instead of the mouse, and if I live long enough to write another “Geezer Word Processor” post twenty years from now, the file containing this column will still be readable.

Komodo Edit

GWD (Getting Words Down), text editor style.

May You Write In Interesting Times

We live in interesting times; the majority of writers still use document processors, which heap all sorts of unneeded, memo-making rubbish atop words often destined for online use.

Simply put, our world has changed, yet our tools really haven’t.

Some look back at the early word processors with a smirk, but I could make a cogent argument that character-based editors like WordStar and WordPerfect are actually better text processors for writers than MS Word and LibreOffice; they’re keyboard oriented, less tied to format, and offer more online/digital friendly file formats.

I look at the nifty function-specific features offered by screenwriting software, the organizational strength of Scrivener (Mac & Windoze software for novelists and screenwriters), and have to wonder when general writers and copywriters will finally see something truly built for use in the digital age.

That way, we won’t all gaze backwards 20 years from now and realize we’re still using the same crappy document processors.

Most of the copywriters I know still write in MS Word, but hope springs eternal in my breast; has anyone seen the light and moved on?

Keep writing, Tom Chandler
p.s. — This post was written in Komodo Edit (free) using the Markdown text markup language, which makes me feel just a little smug and superior.