I love software for writers.

My computer is full of such programs.  I’ve tried outliners, storyboards and character designers.  So how do I actually write?  I do first drafts longhand in spiral bound notebooks, the 70-page kind Walmart sells for a dime apiece during their back-to-school sale every fall.  Then I type my work into Word, and keep notes and charts in Excel.

I ran across a link to a new software program the other day (“Novel Writing Made Easy,” said the headline, undoubtedly written by someone who’s never actually tried to write a novel), and that sent my mind wandering back through the word processing programs I have known and loved over the years.  There have been quite a few of them, mostly forgotten now.

I bought my first computer in 1984, for business.  My late husband and I had an archeological/historical consulting firm, and I was getting tired of the repetitious typing involved in numerous survey reports.  I had a very expensive, and very temperamental, IBM memory typewriter, but that wasn’t helping much.  So we invested in a computer, such as it was in those days–very little memory, one 5.25 inch floppy drive, a tiny gold-on-black monitor and a daisy wheel printer.

It came with a lot of software, and a whole bookshelf of software manuals.  I’m pretty sure that first word processor was Perfect Writer (part of a set with Perfect Calc and Perfect Filer), and it was far from perfect.  This was years before WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) was even a dream, and we needed those inch-thick software manuals just to figure out how to produce a business letter.  The software was expensive, too, but it came with my computer (which cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000!).

Next I used a word processor from Brown Bag software.  That one came on a sample floppy disk in a computer magazine, and the full version cost about thirty bucks.  I think that was the program I started writing fiction with, and the one that taught me to start a new file for each chapter.  Had to–the computer ran on MS-DOS 1.25 (maybe 2.0 by that time) and a file would only hold fifteen or twenty pages.  I wrote like that for years.

From Brown Bag I graduated to Electric Pencil.  That one cost fifty bucks, came with a fat ring-binder manual, and involved even more complicated formatting codes, but it would do more, and I wrote a lot of reports with it.

Sprint was another step up, in both capability and price ($129 or so–I think I bought it for my birthday).  It added a wonderful new feature, automatic spell correction, and by now I had a computer with a color monitor, so the text on the screen was blue on white, I think, or maybe white on blue.  It still didn’t look much like the printed page, and it still came with a big fat manual.  At least the computer had a hard drive.

I really liked Sprint, so naturally it never made it beyond version 1.2 or so, and I had to switch to a new program called Ami, which turned into Ami Pro when Lotus bought it.  If I liked Sprint, I loved Ami Pro.  Finally, a WYSIWYG word processor!  Files could be as long as I needed, no more trying to match the page numbers aross single-chapter files.  Pictures, text boxes, spell check, macros, you name it.  I could make Ami Pro sing and dance.  I edited, laid out and printed two years’ worth of newsletters with that program.

Then Lotus decided they needed an office suite to compete in the business market, and ruined Ami Pro in the process.  Despite various friends who loved Word Perfect (I think WordStar had faded away by the late 90s), I figured the only word processor too big to fail just because I loved it was Word, so for a hundred bucks I bought a Microsoft Home package that included Word 95, and I’ve stayed with it ever since.

The last big jump was to Word 2007, when I bought a new computer running Windows 7 last year.  That took a bit of getting used to, but on the whole I like the new design.

I still have to do all the writing myself, though.  Haven’t found that magic program that Makes Novel Writing Easy.  Maybe if I follow that link . . .?

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