A while back I wrote an article about collecting typewriters. I only briefly discussed the joys of actually writing on one, and why it works for me.
In my last article I discussed the joys of listening to vinyl records. I made the case that the medium is making a comeback. A commenter rightly pointed out that these claims are dubious at best. I would like to re-state my position and say that vinyl isn't necessarily making a comeback, but instead is kept alive by a loyal bunch of followers who continue to love the format.
The same thing is true about typewriters. Though they are far from making a comeback, there is still a loyal smattering of followers who enjoy the format, either because of Hemmingway-inspired romantic ideals of writing or because of the freedom from distractions. From the Kansas City Star:
The technology may be antiquated, but the typewriter is enjoying a renaissance among young people like Bouchard. Some are turning to the machine to avoid the time-wasting temptations of the Internet. Others, mainly older enthusiasts, are drawn by a sense of nostalgia. Whatever the reason, the continuing popularity of the technology has created a cottage industry for repair shops and has spawned dozens of typewriter Web sites and clubs.
Some find the tactile element of using a solid old machine therapeutic. “I love the sound, the mistakes that you make from using a typewriter, the time it takes to write,” said Nick Findlay, 23, of Sydney, Australia. Findlay uses his portable, shoe-box sized Olivetti Lettera 32 model, which he purchased in the last year, for all sorts of literary tasks, from typing up the shopping list to typing a love letter.
Despite the clunky limitations of the medium — keys get stuck and you can’t rewrite without starting over — many users insist they get more done on a typewriter than on a PC.
I, too, find myself relying on the typewriter for more writing, depending on the finished format. For instance, when writing a weblog entry, I usually write the first draft in a word processing program such as MS Word. I then edit and post into the weblog interface. Since the format is made to be read digitally, it makes sense to write it entirely in that format.
For more creative writing, though, I prefer to write first drafts on a manual typewriter. It slows me down and makes me think more of what I am going to say. I then edit and retype the manuscript into the computer.
I do find the clackity-clack of the type hitting the platen, the bell at the end of a line, and the ziiiiipppp sound of the carriage return very soothing. Like rain on rooftop that produces sleep, these machine sounds seem to induce creativity in the writer.
Another byproduct of the typewritten first draft is that it frees you from distraction. As advocates of a better night’s sleep insist on using the bed for sleep and sex only, and avoiding reading, eating, and watching TV in bed, having a dedicated machine only for writing helps me be a better writer. Not having the distraction of iTunes, e-mail, and high-speed web browsing makes me stick to my craft. My only distraction at a typewriter is my own thoughts.
From the same Kansas City Star article:
That feeling was echoed by Weston Allen, a high school senior in Lawrence, Mass. “I feel when I’m on the typewriter, I’m only thinking about one thing,” he said, “writing.”
That doesn’t surprise Timothy Pychyl, a psychology professor who has done research on procrastination at Carleton University in Ottawa. Pychyl said social networking sites, in particular, have proved addicting to many young people – and a typewriter offers the chance to go “cold turkey.”
As I am writing this article on my computer, I have found myself checking my e-mail, the indictment of Gov. Eliot Spitzer on prostitution charges, and the status of my QVC order. So much for committing myself entirely to my writing.
As you type your manuscript on a typewriter, your pages instantly appear. Physical pages measure your progress as they are stacked. As your pages continue to pile up, you can see your project grow. It makes the work more tangible and real.
When it comes time to edit, I take my typed pages, sit in a comfy chair with a red pen, and go to work. When a project is written on a typewriter, I tend to do my editing on the computer, cutting and pasting as I go. I never really read the manuscript or get a sense of it as a whole, as I do when it is in a printed format.
My favorite machine is a bulky 1939 Underwood #4. I also like my two Royals: a 1933 portable deluxe complete with carrying case, and a 1946 Quiet Deluxe. All three are fine machines, and harken back to an older day when you had tools that served one purpose. Writing is what they are best at helping you do.