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ATPM 17.12
December 2011


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Reflecting on the Green Screen Experience

As a historian who works a lot with the publishing process, from the days before printing was invented through the 18th century, and as a user of computers from the days of the blinking white (then green) cursor to WYSIWYG systems, I found your reflections fascinating. It’s really only in the last quarter century that any writer, except those who engraved their own handwriting like William Blake, could expect that their manuscript/typescript output would look like the published version. That little book by Robin Williams, The Mac is not a Typewriter, summed up the shift.

And yet there’s a return to products like WriteRoom, or Scrivener, that take a step back from WYSIWYG. For that matter, I think the best word processor ever produced for the Mac was Microsoft Word 4, because it combined a reasonable view of the words one wrote without the page layout elements (margins, etc.) that mar otherwise useful programs like Mellel or Pages.

My workflow now involves keeping a bibliography in Bookends, taking notes in DEVONthink Pro Office, and drafting in Scrivener. For lectures, I go straight from Scrivener to PDF. For publications, when I’ve decided that the argument is good, I export to RTF or Word for submission, revision, and copyediting.

But even there, I know that what I submit will look very different from what appears in print. That’s because publishing professionals will take it on from there. Usually the results please me; sometimes not. But in either case, what my WYSIWYG word processor produced is not at all like the finished product.

And I still remember moving from the typewriter, the white-out and correcting tape, and needing to literally cut and paste to rearrange material, to the possibility of rearranging vast swathes of text, or putting them in a holding tank if I wanted to try out my piece without them but keep the option of putting them back. That was the really liberating part of the whole business for me.

—Brian Ogilvie

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