AARRRRG! or My 1st Writing Gig (for pay!)

August 3, 2011 § 6 Comments

I quote Charlie Brown at the onset of this post because there are days when no other expression fits! Such a day was that fateful Thursday in 1987 when I sat down at my husband’s computer to finish my first writing assignment – at least the first one I’d be paid to do!

But first, I must give you a bit of backstory – in a block – something I tell my editing clients NEVER  to do!

After Tom and I married in February 1986, I decided that it was time I did what I’d always wanted to do … write.

Mother suggested I “tryout” as a writer of children’s Bible study curriculum with the Baptist Sunday School Board of the SBC (now Lifeway®). Great! I’d been teaching children in Sunday School since I was 16, and I learned from Mom (a longtime writer of 1st-6th grade Bible studies). Why not give it a try?

The Osborne

The tryout unit of curriculum included writing a Bible study for the teacher, a Bible story for the students, and several games and directions for the “activity based learning” style the BSSB used for its children’s Sunday School literature. I typed the whole thing into Tom’s computer and printed out. Beautiful! I mailed it in.

The editors in the children’s department at the Board edited my materials and sent me their critique and the news that I had passed muster and my work would be added to the “possible writers” file from which I MIGHT be chosen for future work.

Wonderful. I wondered, though, how long I would have to wait for an assignment.

Not long, as it turned out. My mother’s editor called, inviting me to join her group of eleven other writers for the 1989-1990 curriculum year of Bible Discoverers (for 3rd & 4th Grade). I jumped at the chance and soon attended the writing workshop in Nashville. When I returned to Kansas City I began the project with enthusiasm.

The curriculum included the child’s Magazine (16 – 20 story/activity pages); Teacher’s Book(Bible study, lesson plans and teaching projects); Resource Kit (games, projects, activity helps); and Teaching Picture Pack (I had four pictures to design and describe to tell the artists what I wanted). My November 1989 Unit—Elijah—would be published in a quarterly of materials for September, October, November.

I researched. I read. I took notes. I wrote. I drew. I created activities … I must admit that I was good at inventing new games! I typed everything into Tom’s computer; I kept the character-count on the special manuscript paper the Board provided to 33 per column for the Teacher’s manual and 50 for the child’s mag.

I was so prepared! I loved it! This was great!

Finally, three days prior to the submission deadline, I sat down to make the final revisions in the files and print out the finished manuscript.

Did I mention that Tom’s computer was an early version of a portable, made by Osborne, and had no hard drive? That’s what I said – no hard drive! His computer operated with two floppies, one for the program and the other for the documents. (I’d had a desktop in Brasil with a hard drive, but sold it to another missionary because the CPU spoke only Portuguese!)

The Floppy Disk - 5.25"

I switched on the Osborne, inserted the program disk and waited for it to boot up. Then I inserted my manuscript disk and hit “enter”.

“Disk Empty” the screen read.


Breathe in … Breathe out.

Never fear. I was a good little computerist! I had made a backup! I inserted the backup disk and hit the enter key.

“Disk Empty”

I relentlessly followed this routine three more times. Nothing. My files were not on the disk.

I did a test. I took an old disk with unimportant (I hoped) information on it, and …

“Disk Empty”

The Osborne had eaten my disks – ALL OF THEM!

I cried. I ranted. I stomped around. I DIDN’T curse – Baptist preacher’s kids who are former missionaries don’t do that – but I wanted to.

I took the old version of the manuscript, with all of its penciled in corrections, additions, and deletions, and placed it not-so-gently on the table.

I pushed the Osborne to the other side of the table … resisting the temptation to chuck it through the brand new sparking windows of our in-renovations home … got out my old electric typewriter and started to work.

Tom arrived home to no supper and a rather heated guest bedroom/office.

“Why aren’t you using the computer?” he asked, innocently.

“It’s not working,” I muttered through clinched teeth.

“Maybe I can fix it—”


Slowly, he backed out of the room and closed the door.

Within twenty minutes, he was back, a tray of sandwiches, chips and soda in hand. He calmly and quietly put the tray on the card table next to my makeshift desk card table. Picking up my already retyped pages and taking pencil in hand, he began to proofread.

1st Writing Gig

Saturday night, after all mistakes had been corrected, and all drawings and games completed, I carefully boxed up the 200 plus pages of painstakingly types manuscript, and Tom drove me down to the main post office where I could still mail it by the deadline.

The first thing I did when I received my check was buy a new desktop computer. In fact, over the years, I have owned two desktops and am currently on my fourth laptop … the “N” has already rubbed off, as have half of the “M” and part of “D”. I’ve also discovered that the best way to backup files is on thumb-drives … I have four!

Note to all writers: marriages can survive almost anything … except one-sink bathrooms and joint computers!


§ 6 Responses to AARRRRG! or My 1st Writing Gig (for pay!)

  • Vanessa Russell says:

    I could feel your pain.

  • Donna Beard says:

    Mary Lois,
    I felt the table bounce when you ‘placed’ your manuscript on it.
    Where does the line form for floppy disk losses?

  • Jane Ellen Freeman says:

    Interesting read, Mary Lois. Hope to see you at FWA in October.

  • This post almost made me feel physically ill, especially since my computer lost everything over the weekend. Mercifully my husband has our systems set to automatically back up every night, providing for sweet dreams.

  • I wrote my first novel while living in the Keys, a place with erratic electrical service. My Smith Corona was as much conventional typewriter as it was computer. I could read four lines on its green screen. When the power blinked, it dumped. The book took me 12 years to write.

    Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  • I look back on this incident with laughter now – not so much during the three days it took to reproduce the manuscript. I must say, though, that since then I’ve missed the excitement and adrenaline rush of that race to the deadline!

    BTW, I had to retire the electric typwriter. The shift/line down feature never worked right after this!

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