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Loyal to Laptops?

June 19, 2008 | 6 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,
I was recently enjoying a re-read of Lake Wobegon, Summer 1956, when I took note of your photo on the back flap in which you are hunched over a laptop in deep thought. Two questions, then: 1. Are you REALLY in deep thought or merely posing as such with the intent of looking "authorly" and 2. Do you compose your novels on a laptop? I ask because as a flailing failing novelist, these trivialities are important to me. My fellow failures will understand...


They asked me to pose at the laptop and so I did and once I sat down I got engrossed in something I'd been working on. As for the novels, I wrote the first one on a Selectric typewriter and the second on an old CPT word-processing machine and then got a Toshiba laptop and I've been loyal to laptops ever since although a novel wants to get out of the computer and onto paper several times in the course of composition. The novel I'm working on now has been back and forth a couple of times: you print out a double-spaced typescript and revise it and type the revisions into the computer and a few months later you do it again. And then at the end, you get galleys from the printer and rewrite it there, and again if necessary. It's always good to see the work in a new format. It gives you fresh eyes.


GK says, "It's always good to see the work in a new format. It gives you fresh eyes." As a writer/editor for four decades, let me amplify that wisdom with a simple trick I use for everything I write, every trade & text book I develop, every report I edit: Set your document format for 10 points, single-space (not double), and set your RH margin to 3.5 inches. You are now looking at an easy-reading "book column" or "magazine column." You will spot far more errors & awkwardnesses, get an intuitive sense of length, enjoy less eyestrain, & find writing/editing easier & more natural. I use this format for all my reviewers as well, and they like it -- it simulates the real product. Try it -- you'll never return to the old godawful double-spaced draft!

what happened to "larry" my favorite sleazy,sweaty basement lizard, that should about describe him, character. he sure could brighten up any social event on a grand scale!
thanks. studer.

As a teacher of college writing, I too have wondered if all writers now collaborate with their muses over keyboards. I still have my writing students "journal" to explore their own experiences as fodder for upcoming writing assignments. The students have the option to word process their journals (which is infinitly easier to read), but many still elect to write longhand as it is more spontaneous, portable, and genuinely intimate. One can't always break out the laptop on a crowded bus to capture fleeting thoughts. I like GK's suggestion for writing, but English teachers need that double space to write copious comments. The technology of the laptop for final copy is priceless but at a more aesthetic cost.

The computer as the successor to the typewriter as word processor is one of the greatest innovatons to hit the publishing world since the advent of moveable type. My laptop is one of my best friends (right after my wife, my green recliner, and a good, cold pint of stout). And yet, I do very little composition on anything else besides my trusty 8 1/2 x 11 yellow legal pad. I just can't seem to function any other way - the tone of the paper, with its striking red left border and soothing faint blue lines, is like a kind of security blanket to me. I can't even use a pad of another color, like white, pale blue, or (the horror) - pink. Give me my canary pad, a good medium black pen, and some personal space, and I am in my element. All authors have their idiosyncracies, I expect, as goes part and parcel with being an artist, and that one is mine. I usually find myself doing the final edit while toiling over a hot keyboard, but, for me, it always starts with black on yellow, with all the accompanying scratching out, adding, switching, and grumbling. You know what I mean.

Thanks, and keep up the good work.

I think the NYC man at the window with binoculars was another novelist stalking you for the secrets of you typing tools.

I do all my writing on paper with a pencil (very portable), and a lot of my typing on an AlphaSmart Neo (lighter/sturdier than a laptop). In the end, they're just tools. It's what you observe and what you make of it that matters.

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