NaNo Novelty

Tabasco Sauce and NaNoCaffeine

During the past few days, I’ve spent time fiddling with Literature and Latte’s “Scrivener” software for Windows, Beta 1.0. The program feels stable, so I plan to use it as I write my NaNoWriMo novel. Much more than a word processor, Scrivener offers a writer free choice as to how to organize a project. Index card approach. Vanilla outline. Straight text. Chunked into the shape of scenes, chapters, concepts, any way you might like to approach the fun.

For my NaNoWriMo project, I’ll create a new section for each day, thirty days, thirty sections.

Why try new software now? Why not trust the tried and true? Because the “newness factor” lends itself toward both inspiration and motivation.

I bought my first computer in the early 1980s. At that time, I was part of a critique group whose members met one evening per week, inside a dark-shadowed house that sat beside a reed-choked bay, a bay that after sunset treated us to feathers of fog laced with the pungent scent of sulfur. Hard-boiled eggs anyone?

I was busy that year with sliding daisy wheels into a word processing machine that owned a narrow window that in turn revealed two lines’ worth of dim green text as I typed. Tap, tap, tap, then a one-button push and last an obedient and noisy clack, clack, clack as my manuscript printed.

Tales of horror, that’s what I penned in those days. If you were alive and reading cheap paperback books during Ronnie Reagan’s reign, then you’ll recall the fact that Stephen King was, well, king. Dean Koontz stayed close on Stevie’s tail as they headed toward the finish line. Shirley Jackson rose from the dead for a brief comeback performance. Across the pond, Ramsey Campbell reminded us that gore was an international affair. And Anthony V. Toscano clacked his minor tales into small-press magazines, elegantly formatted and pressed to foolscap rags in the blurred purple shades that only a mimeograph mother could love.

My career was lagging as I entered the dusty living room for a fateful critique session on a cold November night. Our host’s wife served me a limp cupcake, and I stared at the twelve-inch monitor that twitched and twittered a parade of orange letters.

“It’s just a tool,” said our leader. I think his name was Don. He worked days at a hospital for the criminally insane, and spent his spare time penning a mean expose of the institution that fed his bank account.

There may have been six of us sitting round the circle that night, and maybe a platter piled high with malformed cupcakes on the coffee table. One of us, I’m almost certain, went on to authorial greatness.

But all I could manage that evening was to puzzle out a jumbled series of mathematical calculations that led to my purchase of one of them there computers the very next day.

One megabyte hard drive. Two hundred-fifty-six kilobytes of RAM. Microsoft Word on fifteen floppy disks. Aldus PageMaker on fifteen more. Oh, and on my way out the shop’s door, I asked the proprietor, “What’s that?”

“A modem, 300 baud.”

“I’ll take one of those, too.”

Back at home, sitting at the same desk where this minute I sit before a monster machine and her brood of baby peripherals, I sucked down several quarts of coffee, stayed up the entire night, yelled yippee when my $3500 laser printer shot out her maiden manuscript, hooked my mind up to CompuServe for a mere twelve bucks an hour — no World Wide Web had yet come to fruition — and decided that the horror genre was no longer my limp cup of cake.

Over the course of the following year’s worth of days and weeks and months, I became an overnight literary sensation to rival Rilke and surpass Saul Bellow.

Novelty led to novel after novel. Fascination led to fame.

And although the price has come down since 1982, I haven’t changed a bit. I’m still inspired by innovation. I’ve yet to yell my last yack yack. My clacker has yet to clack her last clack.

So look out world, cause here I come. NaNoWriMo, I’m still young. Well, sorta.



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