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How to write with a typewriter (it’s not a computer)

Back in April 2011, I wrote my obituary for the typewriter on the occasion of the closure of Godrej and Boyce’s typewriter manufacturing plant in Mumbai, India.

Well, there must be zombies about, because they’re still talking about typewriters today.

Nina L. Diamond tweeted a link to a CBS Sunday Morning piece on Bill Wahl, who owns a typewriter repair shop in Mesa, Arizona.

But it’s really eye-opening to read a University of Arizona piece on the typewriter. Now back when I was in college, I used a typewriter regularly (at least until I had to write a 100-page thesis). To a University of Arizona student, a typewriter is an amazing new thing. And with this new perspective, Brenton Woodward is immediately able to realize things about the typewriter that I have long since forgotten.

You won’t know what to write your first time typing on a typewriter, becase you won’t know what words are worth being struck so permanently onto the surface of the paper. You’ll type pithy greetings, and strings of random characters, as you watch the mechanisms swing and shuttle along. You’ll listen to the click and clatter of the machine that seems alive under your fingertips, then, after the initial coy flirtations, you’ll get serious. You’ll find the words coming to you, the right words, the words that are meant to be there.

I of course remembered the permanence of typewritten text, but I had forgotten how it affects the writing process. Woodward quotes from Will Self:

“I think the computer user does their thinking on the screen, and the non-computer user is compelled, because he or she has to retype a whole text, to do a lot more thinking in the head.”

After 30 years of working with the ability to edit before committing text to final form, I wonder if I could still write the old way.

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One thought on “How to write with a typewriter (it’s not a computer)

  1. Pingback: The reports of the typewriter’s death are greatly exaggerated | tymshft

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