Seven Reasons Why I Do Most of My Poetry Writing on a Manual Typewriter

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Luke Austin Daugherty’s old Royal Mercury Typewriter with the poem, Straight Corn Whiskey (100 Proof), on deck. Copyright 2016, Luke Austin Daugherty, All Rights Reserved

“One evening, I thought, ‘I’ll toss a sheet of paper in the old typewriter and maybe do a bit of writing on it, just for the hell of it, before listing it on ebay.’ I sat down in my garage and typed a fresh poem on that avocado-green, human-powered machine and I was hooked.”

I’ve wanted to cover this topic on my blog for a while and I got a handy kick in the ass today to get it written about. An old friend sent me a copy of The Typewriter Revolution in the mail and it just arrived. I am nigh to salivating over the book and can’t wait to read it over the next few weeks.

Before I digest that beckoning book, I want to give you my own writing on a manual typewriter “whys” before they are perhaps influenced, amended, or added-to after reading Richard Polt’s worthy, full-length volume on the topic of the present resurgence of interest in typewriters.

For a bit of personal history, we had an old manual in our home when I was little. I don’t remember the model. But, I liked playing around on it from time to time. My grandparents’ on my dad’s side, who lived just down the street, had a 70’s electric as well. My first typing and some early school assignments were done on those two typewriters. In middle school, our typing classes were still done on IBM Selectrics. “Fingers on the Home Row, kids!” If you are my age or younger, you likely remember the drill. Though, we did have a separate intro computer class as well.

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A happy birthday letter that I wrote (a day early) on our home typewriter for my dad when I was 7 1/2.

As I went through my teens, my use of typewriters diminished for the most part with the increase of the number of computers that I had access to at school, and eventually at home when I was in high school— some kind of Mac laptop, as I recall, that my mom’s job hooked her up with.

Typewriters, for about a decade and a half, went the way of the dinosaur (and VCRs) in my life. (Though, we now have a VCR at home again and use it more than our DVD player, but that is for another blog.)

As a poet during my adult life, the vast majority of my early writing was pen-to-paper style, even after having home computers. Before starting my own company eight years ago, I was always on the go as a driver in the moving industry, so an old-school journal and pen was the best combination for me as a writer. But, I type a lot faster than I (sloppily) write, so once I got my first laptop about seven years back, laptop-ing replaced hand writing as my primary mode of getting poems out of my head and into visible words for a handful of years.

Then, as I was picking for our ebay store a few years back, I ran across a 60’s Smith-Corona Super Sterling manual in the original case for ten bucks. I checked it out and all the keys worked well. The ink ribbon was old, but still intact too. At first, I figured that I’d just pick it up and resell it on ebay. Yet, Mr. Smith had other plans for me…

“I typed this poem on a 60’s Super Sterling

Because it had a bigger set of balls than any laptop ever invented”

-from the poem To the Reader in my new book Low Shelf Angels

One evening, I thought, “I’ll toss a sheet of paper in the old typewriter and maybe do a bit of writing on it, just for the hell of it, before listing it on ebay.” I sat down in my garage and typed a fresh poem on that avocado-green, human-powered machine and I was hooked. Since then, I’ve found other manuals and have about seven now. My favorite overall and the one I have used the most in the last year is one of two Royal Mercury portables that I own. The reasons I fell back in love with writing on a manual typewriter that first night are all reasons I still love writing on a typewriter today, plus I’ve found a few more. They are as follows:

  1. Mistakes cost you something- If you type a bad line or just mess up when typing on a laptop, no harm, no foul. Hit backspace and erase your keyboarding sins. Even if your keyboarding transgressions are vast, then highlight multiple lines and delete. But, on a typewriter, your fuck-ups will take a bit of effort to fix. From spacing issues, to typos, to content that needs repair— you’ll have to work to get it all fixed again and your lines aligned back properly.

Hence…

  1. Writing each line on a typewriter requires more thought- Since I don’t want to spend a bunch of (sometimes frustrating) time fixing things on my page, I must be MUCH more intentional when writing via old, mechanical metal rather than new, digital plastic.
  2. There are fewer distractions when writing on a manual typewriter- I don’t worry about plugging in, battery level, screen brightness, notifications popping up, or if Wi-Fi is available. I just write. Plain and simple. If my ribbon runs out to the end, I just spin that mo-fo backward or flick the direction switch and use it again if I don’t have a new ribbon to put in or want to mess with it.
  3. I have an instant, permanent copy of my poems- When my page is typed, no need to save or back up the data. I have the hard copy. Less getting lost, my grandkids will still have that page someday. Being typed on paper with my typewriter is always the best origin story for my poems.
  4. My manual typewriter is uber-portable and utilitarian- A typewriter has but one job, to type text. My typewriter types in the cold, it types in the heat, it types early, it types late, it types if I spill cheap brandy on it, it types if I’m home with the lights on, and it types if I’m out in the woods with no available electricity just the same. It has one job and it does it well. It isn’t multipurpose. If I want a do-it-all device, I have my Android in my back pocket. When I want to write poetry, dammit, give me my typewriter
  5. You must be rougher writing with a manual typewriter than with a laptop- Typing on an old manual takes a hell of a lot more effort than typing on a laptop. You can be tough with a typewriter in a way that you can’t with a laptop. Even when writing pissed or frustrated, you have to dial back the aggression when keyboarding on your laptop, lest you slay it. With a typewriter, holding back from brutish key punching isn’t needed. The force required to make one letter appear on the average manual is (I’m guessing by how it subjectively feels to me) at least 10 times more than the average laptop keyboard. There is a real percussiveness to writing on an old manual. Perhaps that aspect of using manual typewriters would appeal more to the Patriarchy than the Matriarchy, but I dig it either way.
  6. You must learn something about the mechanics of your typewriter- A person can use a laptop, cell phone, or home computer for years and not know shit about how it actually works. Using a typewriter will force you to become at least an amateur typewriter mechanic just to keep it going. You’ll need to change ribbon, which is no big deal if you know how, but can seem like trying to perform brain surgery if you don’t. Little parts will fall off or break from time to time. Gluing and tweaking will be required. Cleaning will be necessary. And with decades of age, even two typewriters of the exact same model will perform differently. Every typewriter has its own personality. You have to get to know your machine. And once you do, no one will know it like you do.

 

All that said there is a time and place for everything. When writing in public at diners, bars, and such, I use my laptop, phone, or go back to my paper journal. I’m not trying to be “that guy” and whack away on my typewriter in my local coffee shop like some distracting tool just to be nostalgic and next-level hipster-cool while interrupting others’ study and conversations with my thousands of loud clacketyey-clacks. But hey, if that is your game, type away! To each his own 🙂

I also type my blogs on a laptop. I have no need to write them on paper first. So, I’m not an untainted manual typewriter purist. I use one when I want to and use my laptop when I want to. Just like Dad and Grandpa, I believe in using the right tool for the right job.

By the way, find the links grab my brand new, full-length poetry book Low Shelf Angels at www.lowshelfangels.com

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As always, thank you for reading and sharing my blog! I am an independent poet, author, and singer/songwriter and I have my own ebay business to keep me as flexible as possible. But, writing takes time and if you appreciate what I do, if you have been moved or made to think by my writing, OR have just enjoyed something on my blog, please throw a buck or two in my tip jar!:) Your kind contribution may buy me a cup of coffee out at my next writing session. Click my easy paypal “tip jar” link that follows and THANKS! -Luke

LAD Online Tip Jar!

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My Worst Fears (An Honest Poem)

 

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“My Worst Fears” -an original poem by Luke Austin Daugherty. Copyright 2016, words and photo, all rights reserved. Written on my vintage Royal Mercury manual typewriter.

As always, thank you for reading and sharing! Please visit http://www.lukeaustindaugherty.com and find me on social media. -Luke

Five Tips for Making Your 2016 Resolutions

res·o·lu·tion
ˌrezəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n/ noun
1. a firm decision to do or not to do something.

Before starting to create my own resolutions for this new year, I asked myself, “What have I learned about creating resolutions and completing goals during my life?” Then, I created the shortest list possible. I hope some of what I have learned can help you to refine your list for 2016 as well. As always, thanks for reading and sharing! -Luke

1. Go for quality resolutions over quantity of resolutions- 

One of the biggest mistakes when setting goals is to have too many of them at one time. You only have so much time and energy. The focus that each individual goal requires will diminish how much you can focus on the other goals you have. It is much more advantageous to succeed in fewer goals than to fail at many. Also, different goals require different levels of attention and commitment. Attempting to complete lots of “big” goals during the same time span is a recipe for failure. Don’t shy away from some life-changing or lofty resolutions. Just avoid trying to tackle too many at once.If your New Year’s Resolution list reads something like, “Lose 50 pounds in six months, read a book a week, write a poem a day, do 6 half-marathons, learn to play a new instrument, learn a new language, and save 20% of my income,” I hate to be a downer, but you’ll very likely not finish that list. BUT, more than that, being partially focused on so many difficult goals may keep you from completing even one goal successfully. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Choose few and choose wisely.

For consideration, divide your life up into three primary realms with three subcategories each: 1. Self (intellectual, emotional, and physical), 2. Relationships (family, romantic, and friends), 3. Work/career (current job or the next hopeful job transition, continuing formal or informal vocational education, and/or entrepreneurial pursuits). Next, try to consider what goals, if set and achieved, would measurably improve your own personal health and happiness, the quality of your relationships, and the satisfaction and rewards you get from your current vocation or a potential new one. Shoot for choosing one manageable goal for each subcategory, for a total of nine overall goals. Then, toss out any less important goals that may significantly distract you from the more important. If you think all nine are worthwhile and manageable, keep them. For me, I am a big fan of bubble graphs when it comes to this activity. See my own work in progress, sketched out on packing paper from my ebay shipping table…

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Luke’s 2016 Resolutions- first draft on packing paper

2. Avoid “fad” and/or acquaintance inspired resolutions- 

Don’t pick a resolution only because you saw it on a meme that your friend shared on Facebook or some random goal that was suggested in a magazine article. If fad excitement is the reason you choose a resolution, the eventual lack of fad excitement will likely be the reason you stop following the resolution later. So far as activities go, choose things to do that you actually like to do already. Just commit to do them more regularly and/or with more dedication than you previously have. Do you enjoy reading? Read, but read new and/or more books. Do you like to ride bikes? Ride more often, to new places, and farther than before.

3. Choose resolutions that are challenging, yet achievable- 

You know yourself better than anyone. Based on your history of keeping previous goals, are the goals you’re setting now way too overboard for what you will or can actually keep? For instance, if you have set lofty weight loss goals for the last five years and then failed to  keep them, gotten discouraged after a few months, then dropped them all together for the rest of the year, perhaps more realistic goals are the way to go this year. It is much more advantageous to set a two pound loss per month goal and KEEP it, than an eight pound goal, not hit it, get bummed out, and forget about it. Don’t make your actual, present self the whipping-boy for a grandiose internal idea of your future “improved self.” Set goals, that though they are challenging, you will enjoy the process of keeping the goal as much as the end result of achieving it.

4. Don’t commit to new resolutions too quickly-

If you already have all of your goals for the next year committed to by January 1st of the year, you may want to give yourself some extra time for reflection. To commit a year of your life or even months to achieving a goal is a big deal. You don’t get time back after it is gone. I suggest coming up with a tentative list of goals by about seven days into the year. Then, contemplate on that list and get a feel for what it is like to work that list for another week or two. About the third week of January, grab a coffee or lunch alone in a relaxed setting to do a final draft of your resolutions in an unhurried fashion. Tweak your list if needed and then get some real traction on your firmed-up goals. Once your resolutions are set, type them up on a sheet of paper in a large, bold font. Then, post that paper somewhere conspicuous in your home so you’ll see it every day as a reminder of the commitment you made to yourself. Hold yourself accountable to that printed list. Remember, a goal is just the beginning. Each of the goals you come up with and commit to will require you to devise an intentional plan of attack for you to be successful completing them.

5. Consider if completing your resolutions will inspire lasting satisfaction- 

You’ll have to use your imagination on this one. Think about whether each of the goals you are setting now, if achieved, would still matter to you looking back in hindsight five years from now. Not only that, but would any of your new short-term goals potentially work AGAINST any of your more important long-term goals? Last, “more” doesn’t always have to be part of a goal. Simplifying life, decreasing distractions, and minimizing what you don’t desire in life is just as important as increasing what you do.

It is much more advantageous to succeed in fewer goals than to fail at many.

As you are working though your potential list of resolutions, some comedy relief may come in handy! Check out the new segment by John Oliver 🙂

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Revised Resolutions