May 17, 2014

Why 'Game of Thrones' Writer George R.R. Martin Uses an Old School DOS Machine

conanFor most writers, the internet provides them with virtually every tool they could ever need to write their respective narrative pieces. Word processors, screenwriting applications, even outlining programs exist (and with features ad infinitum) to make life easier, but Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin takes a much, much, much simpler, old-fashioned approach to completing his work. In fact, it's downright ancient. No, I'm not talking "quill, ink, and a scroll of papyrus" ancient. I'm talking "WordStar 4.0 on a DOS machine" ancient. Though such a word processor may seem obsolete, Martin's reason behind why he uses one is anything but.

Sometimes simplicity is best: that's an approach to writing that Martin takes when he's writing his pieces for Game of Thrones. Though there are so many helpful programs out there with features that allow users to customize, itemize, and organize their ideas to their heart's content (and beyond), a bare bones option can give creatives the opportunity to write unencumbered by options.

When Martin appeared on Conan O'Brien's show recently, he shared with him and the audience that he has two computers: one with an internet connections that gives him the limitless options that provides, and a old school DOS machine with WordStar 4.0 that gives him the privacy and solitude an unconnected existence affords him. (For those who may not know, DOS, which stands for "Disk Operating System," is an operating system that was dominant from 1981 to 1995.)

Check out the video below to hear him talk all about it.

There's nothing wrong with choosing writing programs that give you virtually limitless opportunities to make writing screenplays a less painful experience. However, what we can glean from Martin's process is that, sometimes, less is more.

What do you think about George R.R. Martin's approach to writing? Do you prefer writing with as many customizable options as possible, or do you like the scaled back approach? Let us know in the comments below!

[via Team Coco & The Verge]

Your Comment

36 Comments

That's like me and paper. I prefer just an empty space to begin. Too many options distract the crap out of me. I also don't write on a computer connected to the internet, or I end up browsing stuff I shouldn't be when I should be doing work. Kind of like what I'm doing now. Fail.

I like the idea of focusing on one thing at a time. It makes me less crazy. But that's just me.

May 17, 2014 at 2:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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As he said, he needs privacy and be sure that no one can access his computer. Depending on the projects you are involve you should never use a pc with connection

May 17, 2014 at 7:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Alejandro

I keep everything in the cloud after I lost a script to an external hard drive that died. If there's no internet I'm not writing. I think it's a generational thing

May 17, 2014 at 10:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Daniel

It's not a generational thing at all. There's a reason why the writer is using DOS, the GOVERNMENT CAN'T ILLEGALLY HACK IT like they can to all modern computers. The younger generation have been dumbed down to the point where they accept this and other totalitarian tactics. And if you bothered to research National Spying Agency whistleblower documents you'd know that being connected to the internet is not a prerequisite for them to invade your system. They use an air jumping system to literally jump from one device to another. An old ass DOS computer, though. They can't infiltrate that, no built in back doors there.

May 23, 2014 at 10:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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AMERICAN

To bad your wrong. They certainly can hack a dos machine through the air. Have you not heard of the old days when they used to copy the info through the air coming from the monitors radio waves with a antenna that puts all the text onto their screen and used screen capture tool to save it all to disk? the real question is why would they.

May 23, 2014 at 2:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gary

oops change your to you're.

May 23, 2014 at 2:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gary

Interesting, did not hear about that. As to the question of why would they? Trust me, they are monitoring EVERYBODY'S COMPUTER by default. Read the documents released, it's FACT. I have personal experience of being hacked by these criminals for daring to comment online about their illegal activities, thereby proving my point. Americans need to wake, we're being ruled by tyrants who are out to destroy the constitution.

May 24, 2014 at 8:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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AMERICAN

Alex Jones.... is that you?

August 14, 2014 at 8:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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BillyBobThornton

I use WriteRoom for the same reason - just a blank screen and the words.

May 17, 2014 at 8:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The fact that you had to explain what DOS was reminds me of how old I've become. Ugh.

May 17, 2014 at 10:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Swissted

I though the sam thing.

May 27, 2014 at 2:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Daniel Mimura

Same thing.

May 27, 2014 at 2:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Daniel Mimura

Ha! The instant I read the head teasing Martin's remark on Conan I thought to myself, "Wordstar!". You have to be of a certain age to actually understand the perfect simplicity of the, then, richly featured and, now, barebones haven of isolated creativity. I started my first novel on an Osborne 1 C/PM machine using Wordstar. And no, it wasn't the Bible. And now the thought occurs to me, "how much fun to create a DOS X386 machine just to run Wordstar" and use that instead of Pages and Word . . . but naaah.

May 17, 2014 at 12:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Steve San Filippo

My dad was a writer for corporate films and his first computer was a Kaypro ii using Wordstar. When he upgraded to PC/DOS he gave it to me and I wrote a few term papers for college on it. It was a very useful machine for the time.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaypro#Software

May 17, 2014 at 12:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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earnestreply

I remember using WordPerfect for DOS as a kid in the late 80s/early 90s. Vaguely remember it having a blue screen and white text. I use to sit at that computer and write for hours and hours. Started writing in earnest again a couple of years ago when I moved into a flat with no TV and no WIFI... never been so productive in my life! There's a lot to be said for finding a way to get rid of all distractions when you're writing.

May 17, 2014 at 2:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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When I do my early drafts i hate having distractions being plugged into the internet will no doubt end with me on netflix, haha. I really think this is an awesome way to write I try to stay away from the internet and stuff like final draft until i am done and ready to format it to a screen play.

May 17, 2014 at 4:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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i use Focuswriter. gets rid of all the fluff and non-sense. Whole screen gets a black background, and you only see the white text. Less is more.

May 18, 2014 at 3:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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palu

I use a typewriter.

May 18, 2014 at 5:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Bertzie

I used word processors when PC's were a tad too expensive for my budget (and, yes, that was a while ago)
.
PS. DOS comes from QDOS and that stood for Quick & Dirty Operating System - the name is meaningless in general but historically accurate. It does not stand for Disc Operating System.

May 18, 2014 at 10:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Uh... DOS does stand for Disk Operating System, you young kid. ;D

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOS/360

May 19, 2014 at 2:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ken Elliott

Wikipedia doesn't know everything... ask Obama.

May 24, 2014 at 9:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Diego

I was curious whether this was true. It's sorta right and sorta wrong.

"The "Microsoft Disk Operating System" or MS-DOS was based on Microsoft's purchase of QDOS, the "Quick and Dirty Operating System" written by Tim Paterson of Seattle Computer Products, for their prototype Intel 8086 based computer."

http://inventors.about.com/od/computersoftware/a/Putting-Microsoft-On-Th...

May 20, 2014 at 2:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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It was true that DOS was purchased by MS then developed further. Another word, DOS was not created by MS at all.

May 26, 2014 at 9:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Eli

I use Scrivener with full screen mode configured to look like DOS. Gotta admit that Alt-Tabbing into the modern world is a bit too easy and tempting at times, so I totally appreciate the old school approach.

May 18, 2014 at 11:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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You could get the effect with software that restricts your internet browsing, or you could get a similar effect using the Raspberry Pi. Since it doesn't have a wireless card and you need an ethernet cable if you don't have a usb adapter, it might work to discourage internet use while writing.

Not quite as distraction free, but could still work as a low budget solution.

May 19, 2014 at 8:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Anne

At least he can be sure his computer won't be hacked to steal his writings in process.
Hopefully he has spareparts, just in case something dies ;-)

May 20, 2014 at 5:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I agree that simple is best, all of those auto checks and auto corrects drive me mad too and I invariably turn them all off. Having said that though I don't think you have to go to the extreme of pen and paper or a dos computer to escape distraction. Just because the internet or a given piece of software has all these options doesn't mean you have to use them.

I use microscoft Word 2013, but just to type. Yes that means I only use a fraction of all the bells and whistles but so what. I totally agree about saving documents in the cloud. Off site redundant backups of data is vital!!

May 22, 2014 at 7:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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If you're looking for something fast, powerful and simple on windows, check out Notepad++. I use it for a lot of different things. It's free. (No I'm not the developer either).

May 22, 2014 at 9:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JW Carney

I dig it. Plotbot and Celtx are extraordinary screenwriting programs/cloud services. But after a year of struggling to write anything I'm finally almost done with my first full length with ScriptBuddy. ScriptBuddy is a total ripoff compared to the free and better Plotbot, but for me it fits my flow of writing much better.

May 22, 2014 at 9:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Miles

I use a sharpened stick and a delightful mix of feces and chicken blood. I then scan it with my top of the line flatbed scanner then use OCR software to convert it to a .PDF. Easy as pie.

May 22, 2014 at 10:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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funkydmunky

*(For those who may not know, DOS, which stands for “Disk Operating System,” is an operating system that was dominant from 1981 to 1995.)*

Thanks for making me feel old.
:)

May 23, 2014 at 12:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JuMo

I use a cave wall and a burnt stick.

May 23, 2014 at 6:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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James

The real question is how does he print out his script.

May 24, 2014 at 10:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dandy trooper

I think his publishers wouldn't mind figuring that out for him.

May 27, 2014 at 2:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Daniel Mimura

Many masterpieces were written by hand or with a typewriter. You don't need fancy Word 2019 or the fucking internet to write.
The End.

May 26, 2014 at 1:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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real as it gets

Well, I can see the advantages. (I've done some of my best writing sitting in a chair in the middle of a darkened room. Indecently low on body-cover, wifi turned off, phone turned off and door locked) But I do also realize that keeping an old DOS-machine working can probably turn out to be a bit of a hassle when things start to break. And how does he deliver these files? RTF-files on floppy-disks? Printed papers from dot-matrix printers? While choosing to work with obsolete tools (obsolete as in noone makes spare parts or replacements or even compatible ports) can be productive right now. I tremble to think of the day when a thousand page book is lost to a drive-failure or when his publishers refuses to accept floppies.

Even someone like Harlan Ellison (who is always a treat to hear and witness) writes exclusively on mechanical typewriters because he needs his hardware to be something he can beat into submission without fear of breaking it (paraphrasing here, of course). But the supply of typewriters aren't neverending. And the people that knows how to service them are dwindling.

Better then to do pen and paper. But for people like me with hard to read hand-writing the typed script is preferable.

So yes. I too value a distraction-free working-space/zone. But I feel more comfortable knowing that my writing is automatically backed up to several different continents. My laptop has a button to turn off WiFi. That is sufficient for me. My workstation PC has the WiFi on a USB-dongle I can jank out when I want to stay out of reach. Best of both worlds.

Though... if I could only get a story-planner that works somewhat like an excel-spread-sheet without all the superfluous fluff, I could probably get my structures beaten out faster... at least until I find that giant whiteboard that I've been looking for to put post-it notes on and draw connections with dry-erase-markers.

What were we talking about again? oh, yeah. DOS-writing.... By the way. While QDOS might have been an acronym for Quick & Dirty Operating System, the term DOS does stand for Disk Operating System... Otherwise it would have been Microsoft Dirty Operating System... And that would probably have been quite a hard sell for the fledgling Bill Gates company. Also. It's more descriptive. Since DOS is basically just that. A way to maneuver around the folders and files on the disk. Loading stuff into memory and launching executable.

Anyways. Has the winter come yet?

May 31, 2014 at 11:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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