In 1984. AtariWriter Makes it Easier to Be a Better Writer (And I Thought Atari Just Made Me Good at Video Games)

When sifting through some memorabilia, I found an article in a yellowed edition of an old magazine that really made me realize how far technology has come for writers. Consider this ad from  “Home” magazine by the Los Angeles Times from July 22, 1984.


The AtariWriter was a cartridge that you inserted into your console that used your TV as a monitor. It was connected through your ATARI Home Computer. Not only was this really high tech for 1984, but it also numbered your pages for you, automatically. I mean with features like this it really is no wonder that their tagline was, “Discover What You and ATARI Can Do.”


After I recovered from the fit of laughter and my breathless sprint around the house to try to explain (incoherently) the source of my mirth to my patient and bemused husband, I really appreciated how lucky I am to be a writer today in the time of computers.


When I look at the pull quotes from this ad, I am especially grateful. Things like:


  • “Spend more time writing, no time retyping.” Holy typewriter ribbons, Batman! Retyping?  One of the big selling points of this cutting edge technology is that you could perfect your writing on your TV screen, before (they underlined the before in the ad…) you put it on paper.


  • “Not a word touches paper until you’re sure it’s right.” Holy tree cutting, Batman! They put their writing on paper?


  • “AtariWriter makes it easier to be a better writer.” Atari did a lot of things for me growing up. It entertained me on snowy afternoons in the Midwest. It taught me the futility of trying to defend my city from the onslaught of Nuclear attack with the dreary game Missile Command.  It helped me exploit the natural double joint in my knobby thumbs with its medieval joystick. But making me a better writer? I honestly never considered the possibilities there. 


  • “Are you a miserable speller?”  You could add a 36,000-word ATARI Proofreader program and it will find your errors for you. I wonder if it could point out when I typed form that I really meant from…


  • “Stop by your Atari Dealer today.” I was alive in 1984. I was…well, let’s just say I was old enough to remember 1984 pretty clearly. I honestly don’t remember the Atari Dealership. But it does create some pretty interesting images in my mind. I see wild-eyed video game junkies sporting calloused thumbs and faded Star Trek t-shirts crowded around consoles getting intense over the new version of Pong.



All jokes aside, this article made me realize how lucky I am to be a writer when we take all this revision on the screen stuff for granted. I have already revised and edited this piece about 10 times by the time I typed this sentence. It would have been an enormous pain to type it, correct it, read it, mark it up, and type it again 10 times.


Consider the technology of the greats, as well. Poor Hemmingway…no wonder he drank! But at least he had a typewriter; some of them had quills. Don’t you respect Charles Dickens and his verbose tomes so much more when you consider how he had to draft them? And what about Homer? I can only imagine how hard it was for him when he misspelled one of those Greek names, which based on the amount of letters and the complications of their language had to occur on a line-by-line basis.


I even feel bad for Alan Alda, the smiling celebrity spokesman of the AtariWriter.



His endorsement quote says, “You get to spend your energy on ideas rather than typing.” He may have been able to spend his energy on ideas rather than typing, but I doubt he’s spending any cash that he made on this piece of equipment.


We can surely all be better writers with all the technology we have at our fingertips. We no longer need “the sophisticated ATARI 1040 Disk Drive” to save our work for future use. If we need to print a copy for an aging relative or a stubborn editor, then we hit print and forget it. Heck, I can even play Pac Man on my computer if I really am jonesing for a little 80s video game nostalgia.


So in honor of Atari, Dickens and Alda, spend more time writing today and no time retyping. Revel in the fact that the pioneers at Atari paved the way for you to revise as you go on your monitor and for goodness sakes, please make sure “Not a word touches paper until you’re sure it’s right.”






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