So I practiced my method. I wrote a dissertation by hand. Typed it into a computer. Printed and edited by hand. 50,000 terse words. Compact prose. Deliberate words, because they were written with my body. Think first, then write. Think again. Write more. Over and over, this was the pattern. And it showed. Handwritten works show themselves in their economy. No wasted words, because words become physical acts, unlike the digital buzz-humming of word-processed rambling. A fetish for economy.
Yesterday I read that Cormac McCarthy's typewriter sold at auction for upwards of a quarter of a million dollars.
Last week, I picked up my newly refurbished 1938 Royal KMM typewriter. It had been a gift, buried on my desk under a stack of printed papers. But I decided to have it fixed up so that I could give it a try. Immediately I remembered the joy of the sounds and the smooth strokes of a manual typewriting machine. And I quickly learned how weak my hands had become in the digital age.
But moreover, I learned what had happened to my mind – my writing mind. As I reflect on the fact that McCarthy wrote all of his novels – by his account, over 5,000,000 words – on a manual typewriter, I realize that the manual typewriter inspires the ultimate physical writing fetish. Pure. Intentional. Economical. I realized that even my preferred handwritten method is no match for the precision required by a machine without the capacity for correction. Not just precision with fingers – mental precision. And an economy like no other method insists on.
McCarthy's is the prose of a man who has taken the time to think things through. Never a word-processed ramble. Always crisp. Clean. Economical. The kind of thinking that a typewriter demands.