[Tuesday Edit: A few years back, my very good friend Stephen Leigh posted about his new love affair with Scrivener. I remember loving the post and thinking it was very clever — it compared his new use of Scrivener to a relationship. Here is the post: http://www.farrellworlds.com/loveaffair.html As you can see, the post is very similar to this one. Or, I should say, mine is very similar to his. I didn’t remember it that way, but I absolutely did read it at the time, and so it is quite possible that the idea insinuated itself into my head and manifested itself in this post. I am deeply sorry for this, and I apologize, especially to Steve. It was not something I did intentionally, but I did it nevertheless. Quite frankly, I’m mortified. I will be more careful in the future.]
So I have to ask you a personal question: What word processing program do you use? If you don’t want to tell me, that’s okay. I understand. But maybe if I tell you my story, you’ll be willing to share yours…
I don’t mean to brag, but I’m curious about word processors because I’ve used so many. When I was writing my Ph.D. dissertation and my first couple of novels, I used Word Perfect. And I loved it. I mean really loved it. Maybe because it was my first, you know? Everything I knew about writing on a personal computer, I learned from her. Looking back now, I don’t know if she was really the perfect match for me. It seemed that way at the time, but perhaps I was just blinded by the excitement, the newness of the technology. Up until then, all my writing had been so . . . so unsophisticated. I mean, when I was in high school I had a Smith Corona Coronamatic, and I thought that I was so mature. I held onto her when I went to college, for a while at least. I probably should have started fresh when I left home, but I was afraid. There was something so safe in using the electric typewriter. But then in my Junior year I was introduced to the campus mainframe, and I was never the same. Suddenly, I didn’t have to use erasable paper or white out or correcto-type. I mean maybe I should have — that might have been safer. But I was young; I felt invincible. Safe didn’t matter anymore. I’d entered my first adult relationship with a computer.
Or so I thought. Because then, in graduate school, I met Leading Edge — my first PC. She had that eighties look — dark screen, amber lettering, big dual floppy drives, and a hard drive, too. She came with Word Perfect preloaded, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was a whirlwind encounter — heady, almost dizzying in its intensity. And then it was over. Turns out she was more fragile than she let on at first, and soon we were through. I couldn’t believe she gave out on me so soon. After that, there was a series of computers — none of them lasted long. They’re a blur now. Computing for me had become casual, almost meaningless. But through it all, there was word perfect. 3.1, 4.0, 4.1, 5.0, 7.1. I was so caught up in other aspects of the technology that I barely noticed Word Perfect. She was just always there for me, and I guess I sort of took her for granted.
And eventually she was gone. By the time I realized that I truly loved her and wanted to use no other word processing program, it was too late. I couldn’t find her anymore. I tried to use old versions of her with a new Windows machine, but by now there were compatibility problems. I guess nothing lasts forever. Without intending to, I fell into Microsoft Word. It wasn’t a choice really. Word Perfect was gone, and after a while I couldn’t go on searching for ways to get her back. And Word was charming in a way. Worldly, sleek, popular. She seemed to know what I needed before I did. And for a while I liked that. But only for a while. Soon it began to get stifling. Yes, there were times when I wanted my numerical lists formatted a certain way. But I didn’t want it that way every time, and no matter what I did she didn’t seem to understand this. After a while I began to realize that she wasn’t as smart as she had seemed at first. Her thesaurus was too limited, her approach to grammatical corrections too unimaginative. She remained popular, but I had to admit to myself that I needed more than she could offer.
Oddly, that break-up was the hardest of all. Not because I loved Word. I never did. I can admit that now. But because everyone else seemed to think that we should be together. The pressure to make it work was unbelievable.
Now though, I’m with a new program. And I think that this time it’s for keeps. She’s unconventional — most people don’t know about her at all. And she only works with Macs. But for me, that’s part of the attraction. Because she works with my iMac seamlessly. No compatibility problems here. I have to say that she reminds me a lot of Word Perfect — and she’s all right with that. Her name is Nisus Writer Pro v. 1.4.1. She isn’t as sleek and flashy as Word. But what we have is really comfortable. Her interface is intuitive, her menus are full without being overwhelming. She accommodates my every need and yet I sense that there’s so much more to her than I’ve discovered in the time we’ve had together. I like that a lot. There’s this sense of lingering mystery, a feeling that so much more lies beneath the surface, even though I already feel that I know her so well. Yes, she’s quirky in certain ways. For instance, her default file format is .rtf. But that just means that she gets along with everyone — .rtf is pretty universal. And there are things she does that annoy me. She still needs to learn that when you’re writing dialogue, a question mark or exclamation point at the end of the quote doesn’t necessarily mean that the sentence is over. But I’m sure that’s a bug that will be fixed in new versions. And hey, I’m no picnic either….
I started thinking about all this stuff the other day, because I was working on an old computer, and I ran into Word. There was nothing I could do. There was something that I had to write and it’s a Windows machine, so I couldn’t use Nisus — and she understands that. She’s been totally cool about this. It was over quickly enough. But I was reminded once more of everything I had come to hate about Word. How pushy she is, how rigid — it’s “my way or the highway” with her. I think all that popularity has gone to her head. It made me so glad to be with Nisus. No, she’s not perfect. But she works with me, not against me. And what more can you want from a word processing software?
So, what about you? Who are you with now? And is the relationship working for you?David B. Coe