About a month ago I was talking a leisurely stroll in Cote-des-Neiges when I came across a garage sale. Curious, I stopped for a brief investigation. There, on a table at the side of the building, was a typewriter–a Smith Corona Clipper Seventy, to be exact. It was clean, functional, and all it needed was a new ribbon. Everything was accounted for. It even had the original paperwork and instruction manual, and it appeared the owner of this glorious machine had barely used it. The keys responded with pleasing mechanical alacrity and I pressed all of them to make sure nothing was broken. The wasn’t a spot of dirt on it. It appeared the Clipper was virtually in mint condition. To my amazement the price tag was a mere $20.
I asked the proprietor, “Is this typewriter still available?”
“Yes, it is,” said he. “How about half price for it? Ten dollars.”
I could have leaped into the air and high-fived the man on the moon. Without hesitation I made the purchase and carried it home in its case. The thing weighed about 30 pounds and my arm was burning by the time I set it down on the kitchen table, but I was thrilled. I had a typewriter!
Then began the earnest search for a ribbon for this archaic device. I checked Bureau en Gros (that’s what they call Staples in Quebec) but no luck there. I checked online: ebay, Amazon, specialty websites, but had no luck at all. Eventually I found a man in Montreal who does maintenance and repairs on typewriters and asked him over the phone if he could help. “Just bring the spool and I will put a new ribbon on it,” said he. The ribbons for my typewriter are not even on the market anymore, as it happens, so this was my only recourse. I took the bus more than an hour across town to the gentleman’s house and he put a fresh ribbon on the spool for $14.
The ride home was long and insufferable. Road construction demanded a detour of the buses normal route and traffic was slow, but all the while I looked forward to the many pages I would write in the fashion and spirit of the many writers before me. A quick stop at WalMart for a package of blank paper and I was ready to go. I installed the ribbon, inserted page one and rolled platen. Then typing, typing, typing, the first meaningless drivel to come out of my head, and playing the settings I familiarized myself with the limited functions of my machine. The page is now in the recycling plant being reprocessed into other paper products, but since then I have been writing my novel, again, from the start, and with an entirely new setting and direction than before.
Since starting with this daily practice of writing on a typewriter, I have noticed a number of undeniable benefits to the working writer.
It Only Does One Thing
When you work on a computer you have a million distractions constantly vying for your attention. You want to check your Facebook or Twitter feed, now you have an email, now you want to see if there is anything new on your favorite blog, and so forth. A computer has many functions, and hence many distractions. But since a typewriter only does one thing, (it types), you are freed from these insidious devils forever pulling you away from your work. This allows the writer to focus more consistently, and ultimately get more done in the time allotted.
The Mechanical Action is Physically Gratifying
Computer keys are easily pressed and offer little physical feedback. But a typewriter provides mechanical action that requires more strength in each keystroke, and the resulting hammer blow of the key slapping the page with a clack-clack-clack makes one feel truly connected to the page through more than just a psychic bond. You can feel the arms and hinges of the machine moving in and out when you press them, further consolidating the link between mind and page. This physicality is both satisfying and cathartic.
You Must Think More Closely About Your Words
With a typewriter you can not simply backspace and delete spelling mistakes, or poor phrasing. Thus, before you write anything you must be sure that those are the words you want to use, and you must be very careful that you hit the correct keys in the correct order and don’t forget to hit the space bar. If you make an error, the only thing you can do is cover it with x’s, (or as Hunter Thompson once suggested, alternating m’s and n’s if you want to drive your editor insane). This means that you must think very deeply about what you will say, and be sure that is what you want on the page. Once it’s down, there is no going back.
It Creates A Real Product
Unlike a computer, which only creates a digital item, the typewriter creates a physical item. When the act of writing is done, you are left with real pages, real words on paper that you can see and feel and read again. This makes the writer feel indelibly more connected to his work.
I would recommend using a typewriter for the purpose of rough drafts to any writer with an interest in creating books. This is, after all, the 21st century, so you will eventually have to make a digital version of your manuscript for easy replication and submission. Such is why I intend to write the second draft on this very laptop, and in that process I will be able to refine and perfect the story markedly.
You can still find typewriters today, although you will likely have to search online to buy one. Or, who knows? Maybe you will find one at a garage sale in your neighbourhood…