Like many other writers, I’ve always wanted to use a typewriter. They look cool, and they’re vintage, which is even cooler. In the old movies I grew up watching, I always saw writers clacking away on the keys of a typewriter, and I never thought I’d be a legitimate writer until I sat down in front of one of those things. Let’s face it: typewriters look pretty cool. And they’re even cooler if you grew up a Stephen King fan.
The fact that the film adaptation The Shining exposed me to typewriter-induced madness at an early age didn’t sway me from it at all. When I went to use the typewriter for my latest blog post, I was incredibly enthusiastic about finally getting a chance. I knew it would be incredibly difficult compared to writing on the computer, but I also figured, “Hey, how bad could it be?” I decided to spend some quality time with the typewriter named Floyd Pepper.
— Kim Broomall (@broomallk3) March 12, 2015
Bad isn’t quite the right word, but it was a far more arduous process than I expected. The movies make it look a lot easier than it really is. I felt like a senior citizen trying to navigate an iPad for the first time. “What is this confounded thing?” I thought at least once.
The first thing that gave me a hard time was loading the paper, which I’m still not entirely sure I did correctly. It took me a few minutes to realize that I needed to turn one of the knobs away from me, not toward me. Of course, my writing ended up coming out at a slanted angle by the time I got to the end of the first page. I think I did a little better the second time, though!
The second time: Typos. I made about 3,400 typos during the course of this assignment. A lot of these resulted from me typing without appropriate punching of the keys and thus losing a letter here and there, the rest resulted from me being an incredibly fast, impulsive writer. Since one cannot easily go back and change the way they have written a word, there are two possibilities for dealing with typos: ignoring them and moving on, or correcting them after the fact with a pen. I did both, and wasn’t particularly happy with either decision. Furthermore, the necessary amount of force to write at all was rather baffling. I’m pretty rough with computer keyboards when I type, so I was shocked at how hard I had to hit a key on a typewriter for it to work. This left my hands with a numb, tingling feeling in all of my fingers that didn’t go away until the next day.
Revising is also virtually impossible without starting over on a new piece of paper, so my only option was to keep going. Since I got back my blog feedback after I finished the typewriter work, I had no choice but to type up and revise my original text to make it better fit the requirements for the course. Was this particularly frustrating? No, but it’s also the sort of thing that writing on a computer has almost eliminated. (Even writing by hand is easier to revise, if you do it in pencil.) Theoretically, this could’ve made my writing a bit more careful. Of course, it didn’t. Writing on a typewriter in such a short, crunching-for-time span, I knew I had to keep going, and fast. I finished my paper in a bit over an hour, and aside from the typos and other formatting issues, it was mostly a pretty decent rough draft of something. Unfortunately, when I’m writing something, I want something that looks a little better than a decent first draft. Correct formatting and spelling are ridiculously important to me; without them, I feel like a failure even if the content of my writing is otherwise passable.
It’s not hard to see why typewriters are considered obsolete: they’re limiting. It’s hard to write quickly on them, and it’s hard to write well on them. This encourages careful writing and discourages people who like to type lots and edit more later. The environment of the room with the typewriters didn’t hinder me at all; knowing I wasn’t alone made it hard for me to get discouraged, so I finished a lot faster than I thought I would. Since I had to type up everything I’d written after the fact to make it remotely readable, I learned that I am the sort of person who is much better at writing if she gets a chance to change things a lot as she goes along. It also tells me that I should perhaps slow down when I write, although this is not something I would prefer. (I would much rather write quickly and then revise than write slowly.) Individuals who are more careful writers would likely benefit from the usage of a typewriter; as for me, I just view the devices as a curiosity of the past, albeit ones that contributed incredibly important works to our culture. In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym discusses technological determinism, a view of technology that posits that technology changes the way people think and act. (Baym, 30-33) I think this is an important thing to take into consideration when discussing the typewriter. Most people in this day and age who are accustomed to typing on a computer keyboard will find the typewriter to be antiquated at best, regressive at worst. There is also a social stigma against people who still use typewriters; they are mainly viewed as individuals who are just doing it “to be cool” and/or different, often called “hipsters,” and are often criticized for their choice in writing tool as a result. Those who still use typewriters, such as Richard P. of The Typewriter Revolution, are quite displeased with this social stigma. As Baym says, “We are surrounded by messages that treat media as a cause of social consequences,” (33) and it’s hard to look at the inundation of messages about new technology being “cool” in the eyes of the mainstream and not see it as connected to modern views on the typewriter. I don’t view the typewriter as at all uncool. I view it as terribly inconvenient for a person like me. Still, at the same time there is something weirdly charming writing on a typewriter. Perhaps it’s the satisfying clacking noise, or the little bell…
Or perhaps it was the opportunity to finally type out the most famous words ever written by a fictional author.