“This Faithful Machine Remembers”

I heard a great Ian McEwan quote on The Writer’s Almanac this morning:

In the seventies I used to work in the bedroom of my flat at a little table. I worked in longhand with a fountain pen. I’d type out a draft, mark up the typescript, type it out again. Once I paid a professional to type a final draft, but I felt I was missing things I would have changed if I had done it myself. In the mid-eighties I was a grateful convert to computers. Word processing is more intimate, more like thinking itself. In retrospect, the typewriter seems a gross mechanical obstruction. I like the provisional nature of unprinted material held in the computer’s memory — like an unspoken thought. I like the way sentences or passages can be endlessly reworked, and the way this faithful machine remembers all your little jottings and messages to yourself. Until, of course, it sulks and crashes.

This is from a 2002 interview with The Paris Review (subscription required). Last year Matthew G. Kirschenbaum excerpted the quote in a blog post on the history of writers and word processors, which is a great read.

I was surprised the post doesn’t mention Douglas Adams, who famously owned the first Mac in Europe and continued writing on them up to his death.1 Luckily, Kirschenbaum wrote an entire book on writers and their machines, Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing. Added to the list.

My own writing workflow has been in flux for some time. I love writing on paper, but I have trouble holding on to those bits once they’re down. I’m trying my darnedest to wrangle all my thoughts and write more. Hearing how other writers work always fascinates and inspires me.

  1. You’re really going to want to click that link for an incredible story about a used Mac. ↩︎