Freshman year of high school was a transition year for me.  My family had relocated from Pennsylvania to Arizona just before school started.  I immediately joined the wrestling team which changed me physically and showed me what discipline can achieve.  It also started me on a path toward running that has stayed with me for more than 40 years (you can read about it on jlgrunr.com).

Then there was the suggestion from my sister that I take a typing class that first semester in school. She was a professional secretary trained at Katherine Gibbs School.  You know, when secretaries knew shorthand and grammar and how to type.

“What the hell,” I thought.  So I learned to type.  On a manual typewriter.  It was a skill that I have used just about every day of my life from that point on.  Plus, the class was full of girls and for a shy, male freshman, it helped me get a bit more comfortable around the opposite sex.

Fast forward to the new millennia and I am laboring through my first novel.  One that still has not seen the light of publication.  My daughter, who was then editor of her high school newspaper, mentioned to me that if a writer felt blocked, sitting at a typewriter and just typing would bring relief.  I wasn’t having trouble with my story, but the thought intrigued me.

Hello, Google and e-Bay.

Hello Olympia SM9.

My #1 Olympia SM9

It took about 30 seconds of my fingers on the keytops to recognize the familiar feel.   The movement was smooth, clean, responsive, elegant.  You could feel each letter imprinting on the paper as the typebar clacked when it slapped the platen.  It took a slight effort and an adjustment of the hands to get the right angle, but I found a long lost rhythm in the motion.

All of the retro cool feelings aside, would it really help with writing?

The answer is “yes” and I’ll tell you why.  Typing on a manual typewriter is  a pure writing experience.  Every word you imagine gets imprinted on the paper one letter at a time.  You own that word.  As I said in my last post, there is no going back when you type.  It forces you to think about each word and the cadence of the sentence.

My Oly is a fixture in my workspace.  I like to write my first drafts on my Oly.  The first draft of my book SYN:FIN was typed on this Oly.  Most of my blog entries start on a manual typewriter.

A manual typewriter removes the interference between me and my words.  There is no worrying about formatting or font size or autocorrection.  The margins and line spacing are set up front.  I just close my eyes and type and hit the carriage return (that is where the term comes from) some time after I hear the bell.  That is exactly what a first draft is all about.

Unlike a meal, your writing should start with dessert.  The first draft is just for you and has everything that you ever wanted in your story.  All the little plot twists and plays on words that make your heart race.  A typewriter is perfect for a first draft because it captures all of it – bad grammar, poor spelling and all.

My Oly at work

A manual typewriter also forces you to slow it down and develop a rhythm to your writing.  That is a good thing. You begin to respect the words and feel more like a craftsman.

The funny thing is that I write just as fast, if not faster, on my typewriter.  It is because there is no backspace.  You soon realize that you have to just keep going and leave the window dressing and editing for later.  With a typewriter you just write the freaking story.

And what my daughter said is true.  Maybe it is something about the tactile feel of the keys or the sound of the linkage between finger and platen.  When I am wondering what will happen next with my plot, I just start typing in the direction I think I need to go and after a sentence of two, I find my way.  More often than not I will punch out three to five pages (about 250 words per page) before I know it.  Not bad for an hours work.

To be clear, I am not a Luddite. In real life I am a technology consultant and addict.

The Apple Arsenal

My MAC is my edit machine. It is where I change perspective and start to prepare the meal.  I cut and thrash and rework and season until the point I am trying to make comes to the surface and makes the reader want to keep reading.  This is where nothing but a computer can do the job.

But, that glorious first draft with all its brilliance and warts is all mine and saved for posterity on all purpose paper with inked impressions.  As Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.”  My Olympia SM9 is exactly that.

And just in case, I have a backup plan!

A bevy or Oly's

Each has its own character and soul.  That’s #1 up top with the day’s work on my second installment in the Jim Harrison Chronicles showing.

Whatever it takes, keep writing!


2 thoughts on “Typecast

  1. I cannot imagine writing a novel the hard way — on a manual typewriter. When the thoughts are flowing the fingers are moving. With spell check and auto editing the errors can be fixed in a heartbeat. Thank goodness for keyboards, oversized monitors and the new generation of writing. More power to you for using the old typewriter.

    • Thanks for the comment.James! And the good wishes! I support whatever works for you as long as it keeps you writing. I still do 90% of my work at the MAC keyboard and I love modern word processing capabilities and digital books. I love my Oly, too.

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