Marsha Canham's Blog

February 21, 2012

From Dinosaur to Troglodyte.

Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 4:29 pm

Years ago, when I first started writing, I used an ancient underwood typewriter with the round keys and the ink ribbons that I rewound by hand and reused several times until the words became so faint on the page I had to break down and buy a new ribbon. There were no easy corrections either. White-out was my friend, but also the reason why I wrote everything in longhand first then typed it out. I used to scoff heartily at the series Knots Landing, when Val decided to become a writer and dressed every day in her cute little velour jumpsuit, hair and makeup perfect, rolled a sheet of paper in her typewriter and plunked out Chapter One then just started typing. A few weeks later she submitted the manuscript, hair and makeup still perfect, had a *phone call* back from the editor saying the book was accepted, and a few weeks later had a book tour scheduled for her NYTimes bestseller!

Meanwhile, there I was still whacking out a key at a time, going through gallons of white-out and the only natty thing I had was a thick file of rejection slips.

Fast forward to the age of electronic typewriters. I thought they were the next best thing to sliced bread! The first one I had came with a three inch screen over the keyboard with enough memory to erase four whole lines of print before it showed up on the page!!!  Nirvana! Heaven! I was chuffed as hell to be in the modern age, but it still took ink cartridges and they had to be purchased by the case because there was no way to conserve (okay, be cheap) and rewind the ribbons. And if revisions were needed…and I’ve always needed bazillions of revisions…whole pages, scenes, sections, chapters had to be retyped. I did cheat when it came to making minor corrections and white-out was still my friend, but I learned to print with black ballpoint over the white out so it almost looked like it had been typed. Those were the days when you took the finished mss and had it xeroxed for $$, or gave it to a friend who snuck into their xerox room at work and ran it off a chapter at a time.

The next great leap forward into the electronic age came with typewriters that could save *gasp* TWO pages at a time in memory. The screen above the keyboard was still only about four inches big, but you could scroll and correct and cut and paste.  Nirvana! Valhalla! Heaven! I turned out three books on that machine, during which time personal home computers came onto the scene.

AUGH. That was too much. Too many changes for this dinosaur. We had gone to a friend’s house for dinner and he scoffed at my fear of the cyber world and took me into his computer room and showed me all the wondrous things he could do with a PC. Back then 500MB’s of RAM was the delux super geek machine, and I had no idea what a ram was other than a male goat. He flicked some keys and pages showed up on the screen and I felt like a caveman being shown fire for the first time. And then, wonder of wonders, it crashed.  Screen went blank. He cursed and swore and said: this never happens.  And I thought yeah, fool. I could just see me writing out a chapter and having it crash and burn and get lost in cyberspace forever. Nope. Not for me. I resolved to slog on with my nifty electronic whiz-machine for another two books. Friends all around me were getting computers, telling me how easy they were to operate and use for writing. Surfing took on a whole new meaning, along with the ram thing, and okay, I ventured into another computer room and watched another friend surf the web without even going near water!  Oddly enough, that wasn’t what caught my dino eyeball. It was the little square disk that she slipped into the slot and hit *copy*. Hmmmm. “Copy” stored what she had written on the floppy disk (even though I saw nothing floppy about it). I started to see the possibilities.

Even though I swore I would never succumb to the world of computers, I woke up one morning and went into my office and there, all gleaming and new, was the beast I had purchased the previous day. Top of line. 500 GOATS. Came with a free AOL disk to connect to the internet, which I couldn’t use because I hadn’t called the phone company to set up a line. All I wanted was the capability to write and store and correct and copy and paste without having to put a new sheet in the typewriter or brush on white-out.

Eventually, of course, the internet connection came, and with it another whole new world. I could email! I could surf the web! I could only open one window at a time, view one site at a time and it took forever to load the page, but man did I think I was hot stuff! I still didn’t trust the thing and I made sure I copied everything onto a floppy at the end of the day, because of course the one day I forgot to do that was the one day the thing crashed and I lost a full chapter of revisions I was working on.

I won’t bore anyone with the progression through the various upgrades to new machines that held 800RAM and 1000RAM, then woo hoo Gigabytes. Or the various Windows editions that called for huge adjustments each time a new machine came into the house. Frankly, I never wanted to change Windows XP. Loved it.  Never wanted to lose WordPerfect either and kept loading the old floppies onto new machines until I finally bought a new puter that came with Vista and had no slot for floppies. Bummer.  Bigger bummer to have to learn how to use Word and to be honest, I still get frustrated as hell trying to change the format on some things.

The next HUGE leap in this troglodyte’s computer development was a laptop.  I truly hated the things. Still do. About the time I progressed from MB’s to GB’s I discovered ergonomic keyboards, which pretty much relegated standard keyboards to the trash bin. Laptops, however, come with those cramped little keyboards and now the infernally stupid touchpads…both of which I have ignored in favor of connecting an external mouse as well as a useable keyboard. Means lugging around a lot of equipment when I travel, but the alternative is cursing and swearing and hitting the wrong keys all the time.

Over the years I’ve also become somewhat knowledgeable about how the beasts operate. I can fix most problems when they come up, and I’m fondly known as the puter geek down here in Florida–which is particularly funny if I think about it too hard because at home I wail on the phone to my adopted son-in-law, who can diagnose and fix anything to do with puters in about five seconds.

I would be wailing now…which is the whole point of this vent…except I’m in Florida and he’s packing for a vacation to Punta Cana. I’ve had *issues* with my laptop that require either a) hurling it out the window at velociraptor speed or b) throwing it on the floor and stomping on it until the pieces are good only for lining the bottom of flower pots.

Seriously. Some days we trogs look back fondly on simpler times. Rip a page out of the typewriter, feed a new page in…all was well.




  1. Marsha, I can REALLY relate! LOL. I started writing CAROLINE in 1975 – first on notebook paper, then on a manual typewriter with my own vat of white-out. I upgraded to one of those Smith-Corona typewriters with the clunky cartridge that came in and out with correcting ribbon in it – my own version of NIRVANA! I got a computer in 1983 but whenever I became overwhelmed with it (or had a glitch), I returned to my IBM Selectric with a bit of relief. When the computer loses your blood,sweat, & tears, it seems like a miracle to be able to type the words and have them appear on a PAGE that nothing can happen to. Of course, those were the days when you had to submit a hard copy of the manuscript (God, how I remember those rushed trips to Fed Ex – and the huge shipping bills!) So much has changed.

    It’s nice that we troglodytes can emerge from our caves and chuckle together about the good old days… 🙂

    Comment by Cynthia Wright — February 21, 2012 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

  2. Marsha…not to seem the advocate, but the next “leap in troglodyte computer development” you should experience is a Mac. ALL of my friends who complained to me for years about their PC problems and computer crashes, viruses, etc. etc., have “come over” to the bright side and are now like reformed smokers preaching the word according to Mac. I HIGHLY recommend you try it. No manuals to read, no computer gurus to hire, no nonsense. It’s all intuitive. And the Apple store is there to hold your hand if you like dealing with real people. It is so civilized, you’ll never go back to the dark side of PCs again.

    Comment by Regan — February 21, 2012 @ 5:29 pm | Reply

    • Regan, I will admit I like the iPad. WHo knows, a Mac may lie in my future after this one is ground to dust in the floorboards. *snort*

      Comment by marshacanham — February 21, 2012 @ 7:51 pm | Reply

      • We’ll be waiting for you with balloons and champagne!

        Comment by Regan — February 21, 2012 @ 8:07 pm

  3. I’m also a Mac user who never lost a single word due to crashes, etc. When I was inspired to begin writing in 1980, I wore out my husband’s college portable typewriter and then my own. It lost the P key and it was impossible to write passionate stories with no letter p. If you’ve never read Stephen King’s MISERY, it’s wonderful for showing how the trapped writer writes when he keeps losing keys. The story he was writing was left out of the movie and it was the best part.
    I hit Nirvana with a Brother electric that had it’s own correcting tape. Then I bought an Apple IIe and kept going. The computer age makes it so much easier to polish our work without having to go through the drudgery of retyping an entire page.

    Comment by Phoebe Conn — February 21, 2012 @ 7:19 pm | Reply

    • Phoebe, I only ever watched that movie ONCE and it creeped me out. No way I’m reading the book too. LOL I remember spilling tea on a keyboard all my m’s came out as mn That was cute too. NOT.

      Comment by marshacanham — February 21, 2012 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

  4. I remember the computer “evolution” among our Intrepid friends on the ‘net. You usually led the way in upgrading to a new ‘puter. We were impressed when the first one (you) acquired one with memory greater than….what was it….264 mb? Then when the 1st one acquired one with something called gigabytes, we were all giddy with enthusiasm. Now we’re looking at terabytes? And my kids are telling me that the ‘puter as we know it…with keyboards, etc., is a dying breed, and that soon we’ll be talking into some piece of techno-gadgetry. I have to say that, while I’m not an author, I do love writing. That’s WRITING, not TALKING. I’m, frankly, not at my best when trying to talk creatively. Give me the peace and quiet of my keyboard, thankyouverymuch! Loved the blog, tho, and the trip down memory lane!

    Comment by SurferGirl — February 21, 2012 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

    • *double snort* I tried dictating thoughts into a little recording dufus…once. I can’t talk and think, or think and talk at the same time (which usually gets my mouth into trouble) so yes, I think I’ll hold onto my keyboard with both white-knuckled fists.

      Comment by marshacanham — February 21, 2012 @ 7:54 pm | Reply

  5. Go Mac and get yourself the Time Capsule which automatically backs up your data from your laptop (or desktop, depending on which mac you get) and you won’t have to worry.

    Speaking of technology – it kinda takes the romance & excitement out of the stories to think Isabeau Spence Dante could’ve used GPS……..

    Some things are more exciting the old fashioned way!

    Comment by Karen — February 21, 2012 @ 10:56 pm | Reply

  6. Same story. I learned to type on my brother’s Underwood; graduated to an ibm selectric (no memory) but it had type balls which provided all the fonts you wanted to buy, and had a re-inkable cloth ribbon; to an appleIIE in 1987 and an dot matix printer with a whole box of re-inkable cloth ribbons.

    Comment by Free Kindle Reads — February 27, 2012 @ 5:33 am | Reply

    • Ohhh…I remember those ball types. They were too expensive for me at the time but a friend of mine had one and it inspired me to buy some slide-in font disks for my Brother electronic, giving me italics for the first time. Woo hoo LOL

      Comment by marshacanham — February 27, 2012 @ 1:00 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: