Monday, January 09, 2006

JC: Macbeth vs. The Mac

Special Charis Connection Encore . . .

If Shakespeare had written Macbeth on a Mac would it be as good?

Not long ago I read a quote from an author so famous I can’t remember his name. He said, “Until someone writes a great book on a word processor, I’m sticking to pen and paper.”

Which begs the question: Is it possible to write a truly great novel using a word processor? Or should we trade in our software for quill and pen? Possibly we need only go back as far as typewriters.

Playwright Neil Simon said that he knew his writing was inspired when he could feel electricity shooting out of his fingertips. He insisted he wasn’t speaking figuratively.


Again, the question: Would Neil Simon be Neil Simon if his electric fingers were short-circuited by plastic keyboard keys? I doubt we’ll ever know.

Technology, like time, only goes one way. Forward. Rest assured Bill Gates knows this. I doubt the computer software billionaire lies awake nights worrying that ballpoint pen manufacturers are going to put him out of business.

But that’s good, isn’t it? It would be hard to go back to typing templates and White Out. Harder still to go back to fountain pens or quills and inkwells.

I still have my old manual Olivetti portable typewriter, which is amazing considering the number of near-death encounters it had in the dark hours of my education. The Olivetti came close to typewriter eternity every time I made a fourth mistake on the last line of a page. (Only three were allowed. Four meant you had to retype the entire page.) Do previous research papers flash before a typewriter’s eyes just before it smashes against a wall?

So why do I keep the relic around? As a conversation piece. Nostalgic for the older crowd. A curiosity for a generation who has never seen a machine rise up on its tiptoes to print capital letters. Mostly I keep it around as a prayer reminder. Whenever I see it, I thank God for word processors.

What’s not to like about them? A stroke of a key and my mistakes disappear as though they never happened. That’s pure grace, isn’t it?

And a machine that saves a man from having to count the words of his book-size manuscript is a gift from heaven. It’s my belief that the software developer who wrote the programming for the WORD COUNT feature should be granted sainthood.

(I once heard someone complain that the word counting feature wasn’t accurate. Can you imagine that? What kind of person double-checks the word-counting ability of a computer? That’s not only sick, it’s sacrilegious!)

What’s next? Challenging the SPELL CHECKER? How many times has that little feature made every single one of us look good?

Instead of wishing for the good ol’ days of Cuneiform and stylus or looking a gift-machine in the A-drive, maybe we should spend that time thinking up new features for software developers.

Here are some I’d like to see—

A MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT button. Push this baby and the computer automatically takes out the verbiage.

A MEET THE DEADLINE button. Push this button the night before your deadline when you still have fifty pages to write. It will automatically reformat your manuscript to 14pt Courier with two inch margins and type “The End” after the last line.

A DELETE REVIEWER button. This handy little feature locates crotchety reviewers who couldn’t recognize quality fiction if it was printed on their foreheads and makes them mysteriously disappear.

A JAMES PATTERSON SUSPENSE button. Pushing this button starts a new chapter after every page and a half regardless if it’s in the middle of dialogue.

And how about a little program that’s initiated by pressing the ESCAPE + ! keys simultaneously. It’s for writers who have written yourself into a corner. Like breadcrumbs, a sequence of events appears automatically leading you back to the main story.

So let’s stop all this nonsense about looking backward. Be honest. Would you really choose Shakespeare over auto pagination?

Which raises one final question: What feature would you like to see added to future word processing programs? Your answer may qualify you for software sainthood.

Jack Cavanaugh lives and writes in California. Check out his latest releases on or . . . or at your favorite bookstore.


At 5:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL, Jack! I would love to see a CLICHE BUTTON--every time I wrote an "emerald eyed heroine" or about long curls that "tendril over her neck", they'd immediately be replaced with a phrase NOBODY has ever used before--a good phrase, BTW.

And I loved your "machine rising up on tiptoes to print a capital letter." So perfect!

Thanks for a great start to the day.


At 8:54 AM, Blogger James Scott Bell said...

I'd love a CASABLANCA PERFECT ENDING button, which simultaneously ties up all the story questions and puts in a final line that leaves readers breathless and amazed. As Mickey Spillne once said, "Your first chapter sells your book; your last chapter sells your NEXT book."

Get to work on the patent, Jack.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger michael snyder said...

LOST THOUGHT/WORD BUTTON: Pressing this button would retrieve that perfect word or phrase that slipped my mind while I was correcting the previous sentence.

CALGON BUTTON: This would serve as an emergency creativity booster.


At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great piece, Jack. Recently, I attended a wedding being held at the home of the bride's parents. In their living room was a turn of the century Underwood typewriter. I spent several minutes wondering how I could get it in my pocket.

How about a button that fixes a vanilla latte when you need it. Ctrl+Starbucks.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

How about a program (let's call it MIND TO PAPER PRO) that takes the images in my head and transcribes them with words on the page EXACTLY the way I see them?

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Domino said...

I'm with Angie: the "machine rising up on tiptoes" really got me.

I think my mom kept her manual typewriter around until every "e" started looking like an "o".

My keyboard needs a DEATH TO SELF (or death to selfish writing?) button. This would take care of those words, sentences or maybe paragraphs that I love the sound of but don't need.

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I also liked the word picture of the machine rising up...

I'd like a DoubleMint button, that would logically (of course) double the quantity of everything that I write.

I still love paper and pencil, that's how I do my plotting and notes.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that an SHUT-UP-AND-BREATHE type of button would be good.

The kind where one is freaking out, and a poor, fed-up family member clicks the button - and bingo, the manuscript can't be accessed for 12 hours (or any other amount - this could be decided by how zonko the writer is) and in those 12 hours the writer can either sit and worry about their poor unattended manuscript (caution - unattended manuscript - do not touch or mess with under threat of death), or they can do something else and let their brain get some much-needed rest.

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Illuminating Fiction said...

Instant CAFFINE SHOT button would suit me.

But if I mistakenly pushed the DELETE REVIEWER button - *zap* - I'd be history.

At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


That button works only on crotchety reviewers. No fear of you disappearing.


At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jack, I had a prof who kept returning my paper on "Heroes of the American Revolution" because I wrote "Heros." However, the spell checker approved it. I argued, knowing my spell checker wouldn't lie to me. But a trip to the dictionary explained. "Heroes" are of the people persuasion. "Heros" are of the sandwich persuasion. Lesson learned--I still use a dictionary for back-up. lol

At 12:19 AM, Blogger Angie Poole said...

The MOM? button, which quenches thirst , erases bad dreams, and buys posterboard for school projects after 10:00 p.m.

The COOK SUPPER button, which would just rock my world :-)

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Wandering Writer said...

I'm loving the COOK SUPPER button. Could we add DO LAUNDRY?


At 7:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jack, thanks so much for this post. When I am not using a pseudnym or making anonymous comments, I'm a both a software developer with Wycliffe Bible Translators. The team I am a part of is actively working on a word processor that a Bible Translator in any language can use, with any alphabet. It's part of a bigger project (, one that has taken years to develop. Thanks for nominating software developers for sainthood, even if tongue in cheek. It's incredibly encouraging.


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