How my Apple taught me to write

One of the original Apples. I wish I had a photo of the one I used. But heck, that was before digital cameras. COURTESY CONSUMER REPORTS.

The passing of Apple CEO Steve Jobs was sad news that we discussed around the dinner table … not in the morbid sense, but mainly because we found his life story  to be so inspiring. I had just been reading about Jobs in Thomas Friedman’s new book, “That Used To Be Us.” He was a great role model for the kind of innovative thinking and entrepreneurship America needs in the 21st century. I suppose you don’t have to invent the next iPod, but any sort of business or artistic endeavor can benefit from his brand of fearlessness.

But what I really wanted to talk about was Apple computers as tools for writing. You see, it always comes back to writing, doesn’t it 😉

Back a long, long time ago I used to type my final short story manuscripts on an electric typewriter. The problem, of course, was that the smallest change to a word or a simple rearranging of a sentence meant laboriously retyping the entire manuscript. Hello Whiteout! There were all sort of tricks, though, where I might squeeze an extra line or two onto the retyped page to avoid retyping the whole story … or maybe cutting a line or two to make the page “fit” into the rest of the story.

The result was that a typed story had a finality to it, almost like being carved in stone. At least it felt that way to a teenaged writer!

When I started college in 1985, I brought that electric typewriter along with me. I can’t remember typing any papers on it, but I did use it to bang out my first article for The Elm as I sat in my dorm room in Kent Hall.

But that was probably the last time I ever really used a typewriter. Washington College had a partnership with Apple to introduce Macintosh computers to campus. There were two set up in the Lit House and from then on, everything I wrote was on an Apple.

It was incredibly liberating. I could move paragraphs around, delete sentences, add in a few words. Then print it all out on a dot matrix printer. The result didn’t look as “serious” as a typewritten sheet, but neither did the words feel engraved in stone.  Writing was now a maleable process. It made me less afraid to tinker or rewrite what I’d written.

If you’ve worked on a MacBook or MacAir, those old Apple computers seem a world away. They were cubes with clunky keyboards and no built-in memory. No color screen. You needed to bring your own start-up disk with MacWrite on it, and then have another disk handy to actually store your words. These computers were tools, and when you sat down in front of one, you wrote.

No video, no music, no Internet. That was all a decade away. Just you and the words and maybe a cup of coffee or a cigarette if you were so inclined.

These original Apples were very expensive. I saved up and bought one after I graduated and got my first job as a newspaper reporter. For what I paid for this very basic computer, today I could have a really, really top-of-the-line machine … or a nice down payment on an Acura. But it was worth every penny. It was on my first Apple, liberated from having to write English papers or from waiting for someone else to be done with it, that I really learned to write.

Maybe there were other PCs around, but it was really my Apple that made being a writer possible for me.

It may come as no surprise that I’m writing this today on a MacBook. It’s a beautiful machine, but if I had to give it up for one of those old 1985 Apples I wouldn’t fret too much. Sure, I’d miss all the bells and whistles. But I’d feel right at home as a writer.

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