Earle Gray* was editor of Oilweek magazine in Calgary for nearly 20 years. In the 1970s he was director of public affairs for Canadian Arctic Gas, a consortium of major oil and gas companies that planned and researched a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay and the Mackenzie River delta and Beaufort Sea in the Canadian Arctic. He is a former publisher, editorial consultant, speechwriter and has written for such publications as the Canadian Encyclopedia, Maclean’s, Financial Post, Toronto Star, Canadian Business, and others. He is the recipient of numerous business writing awards, a lifetime achievement award from the Petroleum History Society (Canada) and the Samuel T. Pees Keeper of the Flame Award from the Petroleum History Institute (United States). He is the author of eight published books.
Gray is a native of Medicine Hat, Alberta, but grew up on the West Coast and lived in Alberta and British Columbia for 41 years before moving to Ontario in 1972. He has deep family roots in the two Western provinces and in Ontario. His work as a journalist and author has taken him to every province and territory of Canada, from St. John’s to Tofino, from the 49th parallel to the northern tip of the Arctic Islands. Earle and his wife Joan live in Lindsay, Ontario.
*The full moniker is Alexander Earle Gray, son of Alexander Ronald Gray, from Edinburgh. The Scottish diminutive for Alexander is Sandy. I’d answer to that.
The Typewriter, The Mac, and Me
The first magazine piece I sold was pounded out on an old manual typewriter. That was 1948, I was a high school student, the article was on Indian basket making, and it ran as a feature article in the magazine section of the Vancouver Sun.
In the next quarter-century I earned my living pounding out words on a manual typewriter, most of them on old Underwood machines, like the one shown here. Newspaper items as a neophyte reporter. Hundreds of editorials, columns and articles as editor of Oilweek magazines. Speeches, in my job as a public affairs executive, and later a communications consultant. Three of my first eight books. All pounded out on manual typewriters. Millions of words, perhaps a billion letters—one letter at a time.
In the past quarter-century, I have worked on Macintosh computers. And I am wedded to my Mac. I look back in sheer amazement and wonder how I ever managed to do all that stuff on a typewriter. I can no more contemplate writing on a typewriter than travelling by horse and buggy. Not only does a computer facilitate writing, but with the Internet, it’s a fabulous aid to research (although original print documents remain the primary source material in writing history).
And yet! And yet, Shakespeare managed to produce possibly the greatest body of work in the English language, using a quill. I love my Mac. And yet! And yet, I still find myself sometimes wrestling to focus thoughts into a few clear words, using pen and paper pad.
In the final analysis, for a writer, a computer is simply a tool, like a quill, a pencil, or a pen. It must be as easy to use as a pen. If you have to focus on the technology, it’s more hindrance than help.
Stephen Leacock once said that writing is easy. You just put down on paper what is in your mind. But getting it into your mind—that’s the tough part.
What a computer does is make it easier to put down on paper what you develop in your mind.