Friday, January 28, 2005

My addiction to software

Yep, me, the most unscientific person you can imagine, is addicted to computers and software. It all started when I went taught myself to type the summer before going to university (I'd taken extra history classes rather than typing at high school). After my first year of using a typewriter for essays, I found myself frustrated, but unwilling to shell out to have others type my papers for me.

Then I found out about the university's mainframe system, to which I had access. The English Department encouraged students to use it and sold a manual for the word processing software to help with the transition. The programme, DMSProfs, I believe it was called, was available on any computer on campus. Unlike a regular word processor, it required codes - similar to .html coding, which were outlined in the above-mentioned manual. You could type your essay, print a rough copy on green-line paper for editing, make corrections, then send it to a laser printer for the final copy. That cost .10/page (far less than the $1.50 my roommates were paying others) and produced a clean, professional looking product.

I was in heaven. Yes, it meant many hours spent in the computer rooms on campus, but the ability to make changes so easily, rather than retyping an entire page or messing about with liquid paper, freed me from so much of the frustration that accompanied the essay crunch. Until late in my fourth year, I lived in the computer room in the basement of Mac-Corry (Queen's grads will understand this reference), surviving on coffee, surrounded by research books and madly typing
at all hours. Not always fun, but by this point I was proficient at using the codes and didn't really even think about it much any more, just concentrated on turning out decent work.

Then I started dating someone with a computer - IIRC a little Apple 2E. And learned how to use a WYSIWYG word processor. What a revelation! Though I still wasn't great at using a mouse, I loved the fact I didn't have to code everything (though it took me a while to break the habit). In case you're wondering, I married the owner of the Apple 2E .

My parents were amazed by my computer knowledge, had never imagined that I would take so readily to the technology. For a graduation gift, they gave me my first PC, a Zenith with a 20MB hard drive, one floppy drive and the monitor attached to the cpu. And a copy of WordPerfect 4.1. I still have it. It saw me through grad school, held my thesis and a very early version of my first historical romance ms.

WordPerfect became my programme of choice. And when I went to work for the Canadian Forces I convinced my boss to computerize the various forms we used. We met with resistance at first, but soon upper management saw the efficacy of forms that could be edited easily, rather than retyped several times as merchandise was added to and taken out of a database for store managers. This
introduced me to the wonders of spreadsheets (we used Lotus 1-2-3 - a programme I still miss) and added to my obsession with software.

Then my boss introduced me to the wonders of the internet by sending me a Prodigy kit. I learned how to create a website (html being so similar to that old coding) and once I had my own computer, began playing with software. Research software, family tree software, notepad alternatives, databases for my book collection - pretty much anything! Of course, I learned the hard way that downloading is not always safe and now have spyware detectors, anti-virus
software and a firewall!

Now, how does all this rambling relate to my writing? Well, in 2003 I learned about WriteWayPro and it changed my writing forever. I'm not kidding. The scene templates allow me to plan ahead, then go back and write while my subconscious works on those planned scenes. Now yes, I can do that scene planning on notecards or in a notebook, but I'd forget where I put them. Or one card would slip between the sofa cushions. With WWP, everything is in one place. So, you see, my addiction to software has paid off big time!

Now I'll stop rambling on and open my copy of WWP. Have an ms that needs to be edited and there's no time like the present.


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