The Typewriter vs. the Computer

Anais Nin with her Olympia typewriter, 1963

Anais Nin with her Olympia typewriter, 1963

WordPress stats tell me how many readers I have at Mirabile Dictu and whence they hail, mostly from the U.S., UK, and Canada.  The stats are not invasive, as they are at some blog platforms:  they refrain from recording every move your readers make and give you more privacy.  I assure you, I have no idea who you are.

That’s because most of the stats pertain to my own writing. I idly looked at them tonight:  I have written 872 posts in three years.  Oh, dear, I was startled by that stat.  Surely I could have written a book in that time.

Why don’t bloggers write books? Look at Ree Drummond at the Pioneer Woman:  her blog is  fun, she writes cookbooks, and she has her own cooking show. But her chatty style works better at her blog than in her humorous memoir, The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels–a Love Story.  The humor at the blog, complemented by glossy pictures of the ranch in Oklahoma, her husband (Marlboro Man), children (homeschooled,) and dogs, seems more natural..

I’m not Pioneer Woman;  I’m a city gal!  I’m not that amusing. I’m not looking at cows, I’m not photographing my beagles, I don’t have any beagles, and  I’m in the house playing string with the cats.  String is the only game they’ll play  now.  I’ve rolled their  “busy balls” (plastic balls with little bells inside) across the floor and tossed their small stuffed animals in vain.  They lie on their sides and watch ME play.  Most embarrassing.

Essentially this is a book journal, not a collection of reviews. I jot my impressions of books and bookish subjects. Occasionally posts are review-ish, but not reviews. I  type some notes, I revise a little, and then I post the same day.

But I do wonder if I shouldn’t have been working on something else.  Do you ever feel that you were better on paper?  In school my notes were intercepted by a teacher who laughed and read them aloud. She said she thought I could be a journalist.  (And I did that for a while.)  I switched from writing by hand to a typewriter when I got a Smith Corona for my birthday. I typed on manual typewriters and, later, electric typewriters until I was forced to abandon my Luddite ways for work.

Vintage typing image.

Vintage typing image.

I loved my typewriter so much I took it on vacation. Like everyone else, I worked on a novel. I finished it, but never tried to publish it, because it wasn’t good enough, though I could probably have cobbled it into what was then called chick lit. But I stayed in the hotel and read and wrote –by Day Two  I was into vacation reading form–and I remember how annoyed I was when I got home and discovered I had missed an assignment for an airline magazine.  That was before cell phones and computers and constant checking of messages.  On vacation we were more or less on vacation.

Here’s what I think when I go back and look at my early stuff:  my prose was cleaner and crisper.   Even the wordy typing exercise “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” was leaner than much of what’s on the net.

Our local newspaper now looks like a blog.  They fired all the senior writers or gave them early retirement and have hired young writers who turn in lists and photographs instead of articles. Their degrees are in something called Communication.  I don’t know if their editor has any experience in journalism.  Is there such a thing as journalism?  Often the front page of the features section is one huge picture with a couple of very silly paragraphs beneath.  And the real feature writers are publishing on the front page, presumably because there are no reporters left.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell work together on a story in "His Girl Friday."

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell work together on a story in “His Girl Friday.”

And so I miss typewriters and the days of The Front Page and My Girl Friday.  Even though, I must admit, you’re in danger of losing your soul if you’re a journalist, because you write the same kind of stories over and over and then You Think You Know Human Nature.  (You don’t.)  My old typewriter is in the basement.  Should I get it out?  At least I’m not on the internet if I’m writing on a typewriter.

Naturally, I’m not the only typewriter aficionado.  (N.B. I’m not adding hyperlinks below, because I’m pretending I’m on a typewriter.  You’ll just have to hyperlink yourself. ) The award-winning writer Stephen Dixon, who uses a manual typewriter, told the Baltimore Sun that he typed only once on a word processor and hated it.  “I don’t like to work on anything electric. I feel creative on a manual. I love the keyboard action. It’s like playing the piano.”

Will Self said in an interview at Shortlist that he went back to using a manual typewriter. “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.”

And what do I say?  If I can find a working typewriter in the basement, I will experiment with writing the first draft of my blog on it.  Will there be a difference?  Who knows?

TYPE TYPE TYPE TYPE TYPE TYPE TYPE TATTA-TAT-TAT-TATTA-TAT-TAT

12 thoughts on “The Typewriter vs. the Computer

  1. Hi!
    I came to this post thanks to a friend who knows I’m a typewriter collector, and I’m very glad she thought of me 🙂
    First of all: get that typewriter from the basement, clean it and put a new ribbon, and feel the joy of writting with that machine again. Oh God, I would give everything to have a Smith Corona; that’s a brand I don’t have among my “sweeties” (I mainly use an Underwood no.5, and I also have a Regia, a couple of Olivettis, and a Hermes). Coronas, Royals and Remingtons are on my list of “someday”.
    I’m not a writer, nor a journalist, but I use my typewriters for writting letters to friends. You are right: you have to think twice before every world because there is no turning back, but I think it’s a good thing, to use the brain from time to time. It’s so different from the computer!
    I know that using a typewriter means “manual”, but you can turn it into “digital” simply by taking a photo of your “post” or short story or whatever, and use it as an image for a blog post. That way you can use the typewriter but also update your blog 😀
    I haven’t done it yet, but other typewriters enthusiasts told me time ago, and I think it’s a great idea 🙂
    So well, hope to see that Smith Corona soon over here.
    Cheers,
    Isi

    • Oh my goodness, I’m so glad you found the post. Typewriters are eccentric in the 21st century. Great that you’re collecting them! I did love the Smith Corona because I liked the name. Photographing typed pages and putting them online is the best idea. Thank you! I was simply going to type them back into the computer.

  2. I’m a huge fan of typewriters, but then I learned to touch type in my teens on a manky old manual typewriter. I still have two portables knocking around the house and they have so much more charisma than a computer. Perhaps less practical but I think the writing experience is definitely different and I agree with what Will Self says – because it’s harder to correct, and a slower process, you’re definitely going to think more about what you’re typing. Good luck with the typewriter drafting!

    • Yes, I took a typing class! Those old typewriters did the job and I do like what Dixon and Self had to say. My husband had an antique black one but didn’t know how to type so he used to have to type his papers all night long. I got him to pay me after a while.

  3. I took a typing course in high school. We used large manual typewriters which were bolted to the desk because returning the carriage gave a machine a little jump which could eventually jump it off the desk. Yes, there was a carriage to return (CR). In the back of the room was a very special typewriter which only advanced, second-year students were allowed to use — it was electric! In the meantime, I developed a powerful muscle on the back of my right shoulder to return that carriage.

    • Yes, the bolted typewriters! We were required to learn to type in junior high. I’m so glad. What would we have done otherwise? It burns off more calories. I think typing on a computer burns off zero.

  4. I recently ditched our old IBM Selectric for a portable manual typewriter. I still type mostly on my lap top, though, but I like having a non-electric alternative.
    On the topic of journalism, whatever happened to the “news lead”? I look at the front pages of the news sections of our paper (The Philadelphia Inquirer) and find news stories with feature leads. I want to know ‘who, what, when, where, and why’. It’s easier to get that from the internet. I don’t have time to read a short story in the morning to get my news. And newspapers wonder why their readership is falling.

    • Ooh, we’ve got an electric typewriter, too. Love them all!

      I still see news leads in the New York Times but in many papaers, I swear, they publish features on the front page . I recently found out that the Syrian war started five years ago in the first paragraph of an old-fashioned article. For people who don’t keep up, the “news lead” is crucial. I could have read our paper here every day and never found that out.

  5. I am too young to remember typewriters, and even this machine that was half computer and half type writer that Mother used to say changed her life as she could erase her mistakes and type again. But I was re-reading “The Provincial Lady” (as often) and I find that the best blogs are those who sing the tune of the Provincial Lady Diary, which is not that easy to catch! It is a cross between a diary, a novel by short installments, journalism??? Columns, I think they were called – at least in France.
    And when I want to write something truly serious, I take an exercise book or a refill for notepad (A4) from WH Smith with which an English friend keeps me supplied. A bira (WH Smith ditto – and blue – or a pencil with an eraser. And I write. The bliss of the movement of my arm and my hand on paper…

    • Oh, writing by hand is supposed to be the most connected way of writing. You remember things better, they say. Perhaps your mother had a word processor? I didn’t have one, but I THINK that’s what we had. The Provincial Lady is so good and you’re doing great with yours. We still have columnists in the U.S. and they are so much fun to read.

  6. I gave up typewriters when my selectric died and I found I couldn’t replace it and knew that I had only two sets of ribbons left and could not replace them. I’ll respond to the other question: I have five chapters towards a book and will probably never revise or try to make it into a long discourse. It’s a huge amount of work doing a book, and I suspect aiming at such a thing demands that we have some promise of publication. But books are made up of parts and we can build miscellanies day-by-day. People enjoy reading short pieces, day-by-day — or night-by-night. I probably have several books on my three blogs if you were to rearrange and put together say foremother poets, or my 153+ postings on Jane Austen’s letters. My postings on the Pallisers is a book. .The other day someone told me my five blogs on Henry Fielding and Tom Jones constitute a monograph. He would record it he said in a small 18th century newsletter that goes out to scholars who belong to a small 18th century society. I find great satisfaction in publishing something every few days and people reading it, and then me replying. You don’t have to ask too much of your reader either. Just a little bit of time and thought and feeling. Some poets go for epics, others for lyric poems. I remember when my children were small I spent the interstices of free time in translating poetry: sonnet sequences, poem by poem until I’d done them all (by Vittoria Colonna) or annotating poetry one-by-one until I’d one them all plus the unknown unattributed ones (by Anne Finch). I thought of that this way: these are what women have time to do. Right now to do a book would mean I’d have to bury myself away; it’s a lonely solitary task a book. Better to blog.

    • You make a good case for shorter pieces, and of course you’re right. It is the sheer number in the stats that did me in. I love my books, but writing a book is a different process. I enjoy blogs, too.

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