How writing on a typewriter helps this modern writer


Guest post by Briana

Typewriter

I finally made a special trip with Other Husband (Legal Husband was working) into New York City to Gramercy Typewriter. And it was just like being in Ollivander's wand shop: the right one was going to choose me. I viewed this moment as a rebirth of my busy, writerly self. But why? Why would a typewriter make any difference at all, especially to a lady who got her start on Microsoft Word?

Well, I'll tell you, and it's not just because it looks cool…

It's easy to write now, if your definition of "ease" is mostly about efficiency. You can write fast. You can delete mistakes. You can check your spelling, grammar, and even word choice with built-in dictionaries and thesauri. There must be more to ease than efficiency, however, otherwise, your novel would be on paper by now, and not just in your head.

Mine, too.

A typewriter — without electricity, without helpful hints, without a delete key — might make your life as a writer easier. That is, if you're a writer who needs these things…

Focus

I used to read everyday, and write almost as frequently. You know what's singlehandedly responsible for the sharp decline in both? Social media. Your computer is not just for writing, the way that a guitar is just for playing music. It is more often about Facebook, or your bills, or checking Google to see if that cough means you're dying.

Where is our pride in our craft? Where is our single-mindedness? Where is our connection to the instrument with which we play? That is what we're missing when we lack a typewriter.

More freedom

My new-old (1931!) typewriter is a portable with a case. I wouldn't take it with me on vacation, but I could certainly tote it into the dining room where the sun is setting, bathing my table in golden afternoon light. That's not happening with my desktop and, to be honest, I've never been a laptop typist. Something about the small screen and keyboard feels claustrophobic.

On a related note, you are not tethered to a charger, condemned to the place near an outlet. You power this machine.

Less freedom

No matter what we tell ourselves, no one writes a "good" first draft. A typewriter can help you accept this.

This is actually my number one reason for wanting a typewriter. I am so obsessed with getting it right the first time — the right word, the right sentence, the right punctuation — that I know I lose sight of the forest for the trees. Stephen King inadvertently taught me a really great lesson about the non-profundity of writing… You do it to entertain yourself first, to tell yourself a story. The spit and polish comes later, in a second draft. No matter what we tell ourselves, no one writes a "good" first draft. A typewriter can help you accept this. There is no going back. You wrote what you wrote, now keep going! That's what it forces you to do: tell the story.

Visual Evidence

That is, more visual evidence than a number at the bottom of the screen. With a typewriter, your story will physically build up beside your typewriter. The ink marks are yours; the indentation of the key slugs on the paper came from the force of your fingers. Every letter was a micro-labor you really felt. You wrote the words, yes, and you really chose them, because they took work. Speaking of which…

A Muffler

Okay, typewriters won't make you type more quietly. What I'm saying is that, if you're like me and you've been told by friends and family and college roommates that you type too loudly on a modern computer, chances are good that typing on a typewriter won't be too hard for your fingers. Indeed, you were born for this! Be loud, be proud — punch those keys! (To a point, though. Don't break them!)

And these are just the logical reasons to dive backward through time. There's still the clicking, and that lovely ding as you approach the right margin…

I'm 8,000 words in. Wish me luck.

Anyone else use a typewriter? Why? How? And what are your tips and tricks?

  1. "There must be more to ease than efficiency, however, otherwise, your novel would be on paper by now, and not just in your head."

    Caught me! I have 300 words of a short story from two weeks ago, and 5000 words of a novel from November, that I haven't touched since. I don't have anywhere to put a typewriter, but I can certainly disable my internet connection and avoid the delete key. The hardest part is finishing the rough draft, so anything that gets me through that hump is good in my book.

  2. I used to use a typewriter for a long time. One advantage I saw was that in rewriting, I couldn't just backspace and correct one error, I had to rewrite the entire manuscript. And when I did that I tinkered as I went and improved the whole thing.

  3. YAY for casually mentioned poly and for continually normalizing the conversation around it!!! I love OBH&L!!

    • When I was submitting the post, I second-guessed including the detail. I thought, "It's not really what the post is about…" And then I realized: that's the point! Other people mention their spouse or SO in passing, and so can I! Isn't it wonderful? 🙂

  4. Using a manual, is like sculpture, the user has to be particular about what he's going to hit next. The process really forces you into a corner and demands that you think about what it is you are doing. That has been my experience and it also develops a better sense of awareness in the process of writing.
    IMO, it's a way better method of creation, as opposed to the digital realm.

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