On this sheet of paper, the novelist Russell Banks, who was working on an early version of the book that would become Affliction (1989), made some free-form observations—the beginning of what he called a “running journal”—about his reactions to his new word processor. Writing and learning to word process, he wrote, were “inextricably linked” at that point in his life, so he would “indulge [him]self in observations like these from time to time, just to work out how to use the thing to do the thing.”
Banks was dubious about his relationship with the technology, saying that the “simple mechanics of the task” were problematic. The experience was “an unfamiliar mixture of speed and slowdown.” But his biggest issue with the new way of writing was the immateriality of the process: “Since there is no object, no product on paper emerging as I go, there seems to be no activity.”
While Banks was reserved about the usefulness of the processor for his writing, he thought that it would make a great tool for keeping a running diary: “One would never have to regard the text as such but could keep making entries almost as if on a tape recorder.” The bottom half of the page contains some free-associative brainstorming on the characters and setting of Affliction (then called Dead of Winter) that show how this approach might work.
You can read about the first novel ever written on a word processor—Bomber, by Len Deighton, which was published in 1970—in this recent Slate Book Review piece by Matthew Kirschenbaum.
Thanks to Matthew Kirschenbaum and to Jennifer Tisdale at the Harry Ransom Center.
TODAY IN SLATE
Smash and Grab
Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.
The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team
The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad
Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band
Can it be again?
Forget Oculus Rift
This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.