Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Would You Still Write, if You Had to Use a Typewriter?

Woman Seated beside Underwood Typewriter.  Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress. Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2003654903Huffington Post reported earlier today that the last typewriter factory in the world (located in Mumbai, India) was shutting down later this year.

They’ve since run a correction, citing a letter from an employee, that while production is down, they are nowhere near closing their doors. And, in fact, there are other factories in the world (located in China, Japan, and Indonesia) still creating these beautiful machines.

The story made me wonder how many people today would try to bang out a masterpiece if they had to do it on a Royal Upright, an Underwood (pictured at right) or even a Brother electronic?

Would you?

I remember speaking with an editor a few years ago at a convention about how computers had really changed the publishing industry, not from the viewpoint of helping publishers, but hindering them.

The fact is (and I’m paraphrasing the editor here) that owning a computer and printer makes it so easy to write prose, print it out, and mail it off to a publishing house, that every Tom, Dick and Harry who got an idea for a novel (or trilogy) is writing one and sending it off.

Publishing houses are inundated with manuscripts (many of which, according to the editor, should never have been written)!

I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon…and a typewriter — even the ancient Royal upright that we had at home when I was young — was an improvement over wax, despite cramped fingers and wrists by the end of a page or two.

I LOVED the electric typewriter I got for my 12th birthday (thanks, Mom and Dad)!

Would I still be writing if I had to use that ancient Royal? You bet.

How about you? If publishing houses required that manuscripts be submitted on onion-skin paper, typed on an upright…would you still do it?

14 comments to Would You Still Write, if You Had to Use a Typewriter?

  • Greg Chapman

    Yeah I would use a typewriter….
    I actually prefer to write longer works freehand in a notebook/s and then type them in on the PC.
    If I didnt have a computer I’d definitely use a typewriter…the desire to write is too strong and anyway just think about all the writing you could get done if we didn’t have the Internet to distract us!

    • Hi Greg!

      I only write longhand when I’m not close to a computer. Too slow! 🙂

      But I was just reading an old column today by Dick Dickson who writes with a dipping pen. He says taking the time to write long hand is perfect for thinking about what you want to say and choosing the right word the first time. He says you learn to concentrate better and create a better “writerly voice.”

      Do you agree?

  • Diane Scott Lewis

    I started out writing on a typewriter. First, (cringe) a manual, then an electric.

    I so love my computer now, so much easier.

    • Hi Diane! Did your manual have a black/red ribbon? My mom’s old upright did… No matter how I fiddled with it, red ink always showed up in my pages. I’m glad I wasn’t submitting those old drafts… (I love my computer, too!)

  • Funny you should bring this up.

    I saw that news on the last typewriter factory closing down. I wondered out loud if I’d still write if I had to go back in time.

    I would, but I’d also pay someone to do the typing and the spelling. There is a confession from my college days in there. I actually paid someone a buck a page in ’79 to re-type a term paper with the strict instruction to spell which wrong so the professor wouldn’t suspect.

    I did a lot of writing on a manual, back space, white out, retype. Shoot, there were mimeographs where corrections included a razor blade and torn off waxy paper. Red over black or maybe the other way around. Single use stupid ribbon and white out some more. I had a brother almost word processor in the 90’s that let me examine a sentence in a tiny screen before hitting the return key and committing it to paper. Dot Matrix Printers. Near-Letter-Perfect Dot Matrix Printers.

    I suppose the fact that I worked so hard at the art and craft on such primitive machines, is proof enough that I would have kept writing. And eventually paying a buck a page for someone else to perfect it as long as they spelled a word wrong consistently so no one who knew me would catch on.

    Thanks Kelly for the Question and the Forum for my answer.

    Life is a Story

    • Hi Sally! Overwhelmingly, I think the answer for us writers is going to be a resounding, “yes!” (We’re crazy for writing, eh?) But I love hearing the caveats (only if someone else does the typing and spell checking!)

      I can’t believe you paid a $1 a page in ’79 for someone to type your term paper. That seems outrageous!

  • I have to admit, I never used a typewriter!
    As a kid, I thought being a secretary (sitting proper and professional looking in front of a typewriter and typing away) was the ultimate career path. Something about the click-lick-lick sound of keys being rapidly pressed made me think this was what the corporate world was all about. However, instead of reports, I saw myself writing stories of corporate decisions. I wanted to make that sound. Later on, in college, I majored in Information Technology, my reason was initially mundane; to make that sound. Programming was my way of telling the computer stories, to make it believe them, perform them as tasks.
    Now I know that the need to write was manifesting itself in indirect and unrelated desires to lead to my current career choice. I’m very handy with figuring out how a program works and getting it to do jobs my way:-)
    At present, I make my own click-lick-lick sounds, using my laptop to make up stories.
    So, even though I never used a typewriter, I would say, Yes! I would write even on walls!
    Great post, Kelly. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Hi Su! I LOVE the clickity-click sounds of a typing. In fact, I’ve got an older keyboard attached to laptop docking station which clatters away as I type. As I’ve changed and upgraded computers, but always kept the old keyboard. (Drives the Husband of Awesome™ nuts to hear it, but I always feel like I’m making progress as I type. It’s like the sound announces: I’m writing! I’m telling a story! Come listen!)

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Well, I started writing 39 years ago on an old electric typewriter (my dad found somewhere for me)when I was 21. It wasn’t a great one as it had two keys (can’t recall which ones) that kept sticking. I used carbons for copies…whew, those were the days! I was a self-taught typist so I typed with 2-3 fingers (still do), made lost of mistakes and used bottles of that White-Out stuff. It was so hard. I often say that if I had to go back to that, I’d toss in the towel and give it all up. But that’s because I’ve been doing it so long. But I still remember the “fever” and “passion” with which I tapped (hard) out those first three, four long manuscripts and I wonder at all the hard work I put myself through. Truth is, my computer makes it sooo much easier to write, yet more importantly, I think it’s made it easier to write better books because I can rewrite and edit. So, if I had to go back to a typewriter now…no. But when I was young nothing kept me from writing – and probably if I had no other way to write except a typewriter again…I’d probably hate it but do it. Grin. Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    • Hi Kathryn! I was tempted to say, “no,” I wouldn’t write if I had to use a typewriter, but the fact is….I’d still do it (I’d just curse). Carbons…you used carbons? I can’t imagine!

      Thanks for dropping by!


  • Yes, Kelly, I used carbons. Ha, ha. And when Sally mentioned the two colored red and black ribbons…I remembered them and how much of a pain in the *#@ they were! Always getting too slack or getting holes in them. How expensive they were to keep buying (I was so broke in those days as a new mother at home way before my working days). Eccch! It’s a wonder I ever got those first three books published….took 12 years to get the first one THE HEART OF THE ROSE accepted. Yikes. Those memories, though, are golden to me now. I laugh at and cherish them. Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    • Hi Katherine – Our ancient Royal had that black and red ribbon. No matter how you adjusted the thing, the letters were always half black and half red! 🙂

  • I would definitely still be writing. I, too, started with a pencil and crayons, moved on to a manual typewriter, then to a selectric, then finally to the computer (kicking and screaming the whole way, I might add). I loved my typewriter and had no desire to learn the computer. I also remember carbons, two-color ribbons, and White-Out.

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