I Honestly Don't Know How I Wrote that First Book!

all work no playI’m not talking about how hard it was to come up with the idea; that had been rolling around in my mind since I was twelve. I’m not talking about the challenge of structuring the story; I made it simple and told it in chronological order. I’m not talking about creating believable characters; I’d known them in my imagination for years and they were very real to me. I’m talking about the fact that I wrote that book, the first draft of which was over 700 pages, on a typewriter. How did I ever do that?

Imagine not being able to simply delete a typo. Not being able to move sentences and paragraphs around on a page.  Or change a character’s name. Or add a cool subplot that you think of around page 300 but which requires loads of foreshadowing. “Saving” in the dark ages meant putting your manuscript in the freezer, since that was the one place you could be pretty sure it wouldn’t burn if the house caught fire. “Copying” meant putting a sheet of carbon paper between your sheets of typing paper and/or standing over the Xerox machine at your local copy center for hours.  I know I’m really showing my age here. I finished my first book, Private Relations, in 1985, which is also when I bought my first dinosaur of a computer. I typed the whole book over again (onto a floppy drive) and thought I’d died and gone to heaven. 

Sometimes I wonder how my writing would be different now if I couldn’t do it on a computer. I wouldn’t be turning out a book every nine months or so, that much is certain. I love being able to rearrange my chapters on a whim, go back and add details as my research nets me new information, and audition new character names whenever I like. (I remember changing one character’s name in that first book. I had to be sure I picked another name with the same number of letters so that when I replaced her name with the new one, it wouldn’t change the pagination of the entire document.)

We twenty-first century writers are a lucky lot! I’m going to give my computer a big kiss now and say good night.


  1. Margo on April 7, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I remember those days Diane…I’m not a writer but I had my faithful IBM typewriter which I used for school work and my term papers in college…and I remember the ‘carbons’ used in order to have a copy…whew, I just gave MY computer a big kiss too. (-O:

  2. Margo on April 7, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Diane, that must have been quite a feat retyping PRIVATE RELATIONS onto your computer…I can’t imagine what it would have been like for you if computers had not come along when they did…all your novels would have been drafted on your typewriter and I bet we wouldn’t have seen nearly as many novels from you…a huge thank you for buying that 1st computer! (-O:

  3. Emilie Richards on April 7, 2010 at 10:15 am

    All true, Diane. But Sam never would have shown up on your typewriter, would he? There were compensations. I started on a computer since I have a family of mad techie men and my husband bought the original Radio Shack in the early eighties with a tape backup system. I remember losing an entire love scene in one of my early romances when lightning struck (I kid you not) right outside my study. Were I into symbolism, I’d have switched to inspirational fiction.

  4. Ann on April 7, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I bet a lot of your readers have never seen an old fashioned typewriter! I hated the carbon paper and having to erase each copy when a mistake was made.I worked for an insurance company and I bet they lost money while I was there. I used so many erasers and actually made holes in the copies when erasing mistakes. Those were the days!!! I LOVE my computer.

  5. Diane Chamberlain on April 7, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Ha, Emilie, you’re right. I would have missed that whole Sam adventure.
    Ann, I am a terrible typist too. I bought white-out by the gallon.

  6. Ingrid King on April 7, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    It’s pretty mind-boggling to realize how much technology has evolved in just our lifetime. I remember how exciting it was when the first IBM Selectrics came out – remember those? You could backspace and actually erase a typo without white-out?

  7. Ann on April 7, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Diane, white-out was like magic for me – the eraser/carbon paper was my undoing!!!

  8. brenda on April 11, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    How many times we had to type term papers because the teachers would not accept the erasers…good grief…I love the computer and tell my students how fortunate they are…on another note, I just had a fabulous spring break with the girls in Indy…the Tuesday I arrived, ironically I missed one of my favorite authors at Barnes…Harlan Coben-no kidding. I was there each day thereafter–several times…each time I went in, the salesman talked about Coben-actually raved about how he acted with customers. I told him there were few authors I would wait to see (yours truly of course) but Coben is one…oh well…had fun on my trip anyway…home and back to school tomorrow…can’t wait for your book, Diane.

  9. brenda on April 11, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    P.S. I was in the college prep classes in high school (although I did not graduate from college until I was in my 40’s…) thus I did not take classes like typing, etc. However, my dear sweet mother convinced me to take a year of typing…my arthritis was so so bad-that the teacher ordered an electric typewriter and let me use it…how nice he was…I will never forget him…

  10. Diane Chamberlain on April 11, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Good for that typing teacher! I’ve always been a terrible typist. Very fast, but inaccurate. So grateful for computers!

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