Throwback Thursday: Writing With My First Computer
I bought my Wang 125-xl Personal Computer in 1982 when I was 34. I had recently published my first novel, The Third Power, which was written on an IBM Selectric typewriter with carbon paper so that I always had a second copy. Unfortunately, I was a terrible typist, and I made errors on every second line. Typing on a typewriter was bad enough—every error required that the page be retyped. Even the typewriters that had an erase and retype capacity were useless for any rewrites—they were only usable for spelling mistakes, of which there were many. But carbon paper made the process even more onerous because nothing could be corrected on the carbon copy. When I realized how easy a computing machine would make the writing process, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. There was also something called the Internet that was going to be available, and although neither I nor anyone else had an inkling of what it would become, the idea of having access to this web of intelligence was an additional incentive.
I made $7,000 from sales of The Third Power, and I thought my future as a novelist was in the bag. At the time a Wang personal computer cost $6,000, now close but I paid $3,000 because my brother-in-law was an employee of Wang, and I bought it through him. $3,000 was a tremendous amount of money at the time—a new electric typewriter by comparison cost about $150. But it seemed like a natural next step to put money into a computer.
There was no access to the Internet—there was very little to access, and there was very little Internet. But the typing was a delight. What had previously required retyping a page was now resolved with a backspace. The whole idea that something I typed was not cast in ink until I printed it made the writing process much more fluid, and far more enjoyable. The daily grind of changing paper in my typewriter after every 250 words, putting carbon between two sheets of paper and inserting them into the machine, was gone.
I wrote two more novels on that machine, neither of which ever saw the light of day. My writing career dissolved into smoke, and with the advent of two children, making a living became a necessity. I went into the world of finance and investments, and the Wang, which by 1986 was obsolete, was lovingly wrapped in a packing blanket and carefully stored in the basement.
My children are grown, and I am now close to retirement. I’ve had a successful career in the investment world, and in 2012 I self-published (something else that was not available in the 1980s) another novel, Bloodlines. Yet another is in the works. The ancient packing blanket in which the old Wang has been entombed for 30 years has moved from one basement to another. At one time I thought it would become valuable because it was the computer on which I wrote my second novel. Just think, what would Hemingway’s typewriter be worth today? Then I thought it would eventually be valuable as an artifact, a rare antique example of the early computer age. Perhaps I would be able to sell it and retire on the proceeds. But that, too, has become a pipe dream.
One never knows what opportunities life will provide, or which steps along the path will be rewards—or dead ends. I don’t regret buying my first computer, and I remember the delight I took in unboxing it, setting it up, and becoming a part of the new technology. As I look at it today, the Wang screen is tiny and antiquated, but I will never forget the euphoria I felt at learning how easy it was to write over my own words, to change them without effort, to adjust and edit and rewrite electronically. That machine was an integral part of my young adulthood, and the opportunity to put it on display in a computer museum provides a great deal of satisfaction. I can only wonder what my grandchildren will do with the computers we think are state of the art in 2016.