The Evolution of an Office

by Kaitlyn Dunnett

The discussion of writing off the grid following my last blog here (September 6) got me thinking about the very basic tools of the trade: pen or pencil; ink; typewriter; word processor. I use those tools, for the most part, in my office. We moved into this house at about the same time I buckled down to serious writing back in 1976, so I’ve always had a separate room for my work space. And although I’ve never written an entire book in longhand first, my writing career does predate the concept of a personal computer by about a decade. This, for those of you who have never seen one, is a manual typewriter. I wish I had a picture that showed the keys, but the important thing to notice here is that it does not require electricity. On this machine, I wrote my first books . . . using carbon paper to make a copy. Trust me when I say that if you have just typed 400 pages this way and then discover a mistake in Chapter One that can’t be fixed without retyping the entire manuscript, the temptation is very great to ignore the error and hope nobody notices.

One very big reason why I write better books today than I did at the beginning is that it is no longer a huge hassle to make small changes. Nowadays, printing 400 pages takes no time at all. If I find something I don’t like on page three in the fifth revision, I’m going to fix it, even if it means making more small changes throughout the manuscript. Writing a novel will never be easy, but there’s a lot less straightforward secretarial work involved than there used to be.

I never had an electric typewriter. I skipped right from the manual to my first computer. It was a Tandy 1000, a step up from what was then popularly known as the “Trash 80.” I loved it. It had a simple word processing program that did everything I needed it to. The screen was in two-tone green that was easy on the eyes. I don’t have a picture of me with my Tandy, but here’s one of my husband. At the time, as you can see by the uniform, he was working for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.

I had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into upgrading. Email was an alien concept far longer than it should have been. I can’t even remember, now, how I survived without being able to go online, but obviously I did. And through several more computers and computer desks, and reconfigurations of my office, my workspace slowly evolved into what it is today.

I designed the piece of furniture my current printer sits on. We don’t have a name for it, but my husband, now retired from his job as a probation officer and pursuing a career as a professional woodworker, is the one who built it. He also built the pieces holding the monitor and keyboard. And, come to think of it, he made the lamp and the little clock on the shelf next to the monitor. Readers may have noticed that a major character in my Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mysteries, and Liss’s love interest, is also a woodworker.

As I expect my current computer to die on me before much longer, since it has already refused to accept the Windows Explorer upgrade most websites now want me to install, I imagine my office is not yet through evolving. Stay tuned.

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