Aug 3, 2012

The Typewriter Question -- Does it Help Writers Write?

Does using a typewriter help writers to write?

A steely resolve to write more came in the form of a Brother SX-4000 typewriter I bought for $115 from Amazon. Yes, Brother makes typewriters, from lower end models that help office workers address envelopes, to high end models equipped with a floppy drive.

Of course I did not write this blog post on the Brother machine but I have been writing more. Lately. The typewriter sits on a plain wooden desk. A sheet of paper is loaded into the slot. The last sentence I forged still lies there. The machine is still. It is not asleep. It awaits.

Jonathan Franzen once said he wrote on a laptop with disabled Internet so he could write focused. The idea is the same -- reduce distraction -- commit yourself to writing, and write only with a dedicated tool. Heidegger is right - we are the tools we use. If I had two computers I would dub one the writing machine and the other the youtube machine.

Writing Seriously
I use the Brother to write seriously. It is my writing machine. It is not the clackety-clack of the keys that helps to fashion a story, but rather the material immediacy of ink struck on paper -- voila -- it is there on a page as if chiseled from rock. I turn to the Brother to write what I know I want to create. A blog post is ephemera -- in a way -- I am more playful -- and less prone to think of what I write on the internet as serious writing. Maybe this is a false dichotomy -- but I view  internet writing for writers to experiment and show off writing. It is instantaneous. With a manuscript created on a typewriter it may take months to produce a piece whereas a blog post -- at the most -- takes three hours from start to finish.

A typewriter will not help you become a better writer. But I do find the typewriter focuses me. Every word is a decision. I find myself planning ahead with a typewriter. How do I want to write this paragraph? And if make a mistake -- sure I can use auto-correct -- but the roll does not last forever and I have a budget. Every mistake is a penny out of pocket!
Creativity and Typewriters
For some reason on a computer the art of organizing prose is lost. Writing on a computer presents endless possibilities. No work ever seems finished. I can always edit, delete, move around -- to the point that sometimes I forget where I began. Especially when it comes to long essays, fifteen pages or more, writing on a computer turns a project into mush.

On a computer correction is free but endless. I have used Google Docs for years. In this format my writing seems to be in endless draft stage. I can share a draft with a colleague and she reads it and corrects my erros then I read it and revise. I can track changes and look at previous revisions. A 1200 word essay can quickly morph and grow, bloat and go off into zillions of tangents. I write myself out of writing. I lose what I intentionally hoped to create.

Maybe it is nostalgia. I owned an IBM Wheelwriter I bought for ten dollars at a garage sale. I wrote a short story in sixth grade on that thing.

A typewriter is designed to write stuff. That is what you do when you sit in front of it. You don't check anything else; you don't do anything but put thoughts onto paper.

Recently programmers have attempted to make applications for writers that helps to focus attention on the act of writing. The idea is to write in full screen and to eliminate any unecessary distractions. Those programs work and act as clean alternatives to the clunky Microsoft Word approach to word processing.

If I have to use footnotes -- hell, no -- I won't use a typewriter.

My fantasy -- or shall I say my motivation -- in a typewriter is that it will unleash my creative energy.

Nostagia for Typewriters

Sitting in front of the new Brother SX-4000 I felt the familiar rush of energy I remember having when I sat down at the IBM Wheelwriter. I typed a test page and remembered the old features I loved with the Wheelwriter work on the Brother. I can set tabs; the typewriter easily loads my sheet of paper; it beeps when a word is spelled incorrectly. Bold, underlining, superscript, subscript -- all those fun typewriter additions -- are there.

A typewriter is great for a party. Turn it on, type a sentence and people will ineluctably clack away -- collective party art.

In the collective imagination typewriters are associated with creativity. In a children's library a typewriter placed on a desk beckons children to fall in love with words. On a typewriter words are physical. Not abstract.

Digital and Analog
Two technologies combine. On the typewriter a draft is created. I am one with the typewriter. When the manuscript is completed I do a character recognition scan so the manuscript becomes digital and searchable. What was once a unique copy becomes a meme. But it was necessary to begin with the monomanaical relationship between myself and the machine -- to craft a purposeful composition. This is my addiction.

I am unsure why I have quit you for so long, O! Typewriter!






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