T. C. Boyle, lover of a good writing machine and never a longhand writer, reflects on the technology of his craft


T. C. Boyle loves a good writing machine. He's never been a longhand writer, he reveals in our special package, How Genius Works, and switched from an Olivetti typewriter to a computer in the 1990s. Which makes his nostalgic reflection on what he lost in that change all the more interesting: "The sort of corrections you see here are now made moment to moment in the process of composition -- and, of course, evidence of those corrections now vanishes with a keystroke, lost in the synaptical fire of the brain/computer matrix," he writes.

As James Somers noted here on The Atlantic, one can actually capture all that synaptical fire, but more in letter than in spirit. A revision process that would have taken a month on a long novel has become a three- or four-day task. Gone are the slow days of puzzling out the meaning of a page like the one above, and with them, the little bonuses of the slog.

Still, there was a pleasant rhythm to those hard-typing times, during which I would neatly stack up 10 to 12 finished pages daily, the whole business accumulating in a very satisfying way before I headed off to stroll through the woods or quaff a drink or two at the local bar. It was restful. Contemplative. Deeply satisfying. And let me tell you--and this is no small consideration--back then, I had the strongest fingers in the world.

I contemplate the differences between writing tools -- Scrivener vs. Microsoft Word vs. this little Moveable Type box -- because I do notice a difference in what come out of them. Scrivener, a James Fallows favorite, makes it easy to break up your writing into tidy compartments that sit in a sidebar on the left side of your screen. In the first few months I tried it out. But I found it made my writing too choppy, as I refined each section without reference to the whole. There is something about the never-ending scroll of the Word document that I like, and not just because I bought into the Kerouac mythology. (OK, it is because I bought into the Kerouac mythology.)

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