Russell Banks' Real-Time Notes on Adjusting to the Word Processor

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
March 19 2013 12:10 PM

Russell Banks' Real-Time Notes on Adjusting to the Word Processor

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

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.

Russell Banks notes

Russell Banks’ notes about his early experiences writing on a word processor. Image courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

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.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Dear Prudence
Oct. 21 2014 9:18 AM Oh, Boy Prudie counsels a letter writer whose sister dresses her 4-year-old son in pink tutus.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:25 AM The Brilliant Fake Novels of Listen Up Philip
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 9:39 AM The International-Student Revolving Door Foreign students shouldn’t have to prove they’ll go home after graduating to get a visa.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.