“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.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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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