5 Reasons Using a Typewriter Makes You a Better Writer
I’m what you might call a born-again luddite. There was a time when I believed that I owed my writing life to modern technology. I learned to type on Windows 95 with Mario Teaches Typing, I used right-clicking as my thesaurus, and I penned my first short story on a first-generation Macbook. I once was lost, but now I’m found. I got saved back in college when I picked up a pre-war Underwood Portable at an antique store in San Diego. The machine was in good shape, and its vintage suited my great-American-novelist pretensions at the time. I oiled it, bought a new ribbon, and got to work. The words I pecked out of the Underwood were better than the ones on my hard drive, so I never looked back. By better I mean warmer, closer to the reader, flawed in a human way–any vinyl collector or guitarist with a tube amp knows what I mean
My typewriter thing is more like a fetish than a work habit. Something you either get or you don’t. I didn’t need reasons to go analog, but here are few that might encourage you to unplug:
COMPUTERS AREN’T FASTER:
Not if you have an internet connection. Retyping a manuscript is nowhere near as time consuming as the digressive interruptions of hardcore porn, online shopping, self-diagnosis of terminal illness, ISIS beheadings, comment-trolls, etc.
Even if you discipline yourself to work offline, word processing itself is a distraction. You upload your imagination to a confining screen where you have the power to delete and copy and paste. Writing is rewriting. You don’t rewrite on a computer, you rearrange pixels.
Like some new club drug, we don’t really know about the long term effects of the computer trend (you heard me, trend.) Infinite Jest, the last book it seems like everyone can agree on, was written on a typewriter. Jonathan Franzen, in one of his gusty generalizations, said that “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” His PC hasn’t got one. Zadie Smith uses an app. to limit her internet use, which another English novelist called “pathetic.” He urged her to “get a grip” and write by hand.
…OR MORE RELIABLE:
It takes a “genius” to repair a water damaged Macbook Air. If your PC is choked with malware from your questionable browsing history, the solution is to buy and install more shit to remove it. Tech support for a typewriter is a can of WD-40 and a pair of needle-nosed pliers. And the lost art of typewriter restoration and repair can earn you a little extra cash on Ebay and Etsy.
A Zen master was giving a talk to his students when a bird started singing over him. The monk stopped talking and let the bird sing. When the bird finished singing the master told his students, “my lesson has ended.” The best argument for the typewriter is the sound of the machine at work
Smell your typewriter, love your typewriter, sleep with it, and give it a name. My Olivetti 22 is named ‘Lovely Rita,’ like the Beatles song, because her olive-drab paint job “makes her look a little like a military man.”
SYMBOLISM & SEX APPEAL:
You’re writer, and you have the obsolete hunk of metal to prove it. It shows you mean business. There’s a satisfaction in tapping out a stack of manuscript pages one at a time. Printing a Word “doc.” just isn’t the same. As that stack grows, you get this feeling of vertigo knowing there’s just the one copy. The effect of analogue writing is contagious, a bug your friends and overnight guests are gonna catch. Leave it out and loaded with a blank page at your parties, send typed notes full of little holes where the periods and dots on the “i”s poked through. (See: “why you should fuck a writer.“)
So you’re ready to hunt and peck, to cut and paste with actual scissors. Here is a rough buyer’s guide. Happy typing:
1. Olivetti 22 / 32:
Not only is this history’s finest typewriter, the Olivetti 22 was named the best designed object of the 20th Century by the Illinois Institute of Technology. The MOMA has one in their permanent collection. Olivettis are abundant online for less than $200. Mine cost $90 on Etsy. Olivetti users include Cormac Mcarthy, Leonard Cohen, Will Self, JD Salinger, and Thomas Pynchon.
Perfect for: Aspirants to the pantheon, expats, recluses, and Euro-trash.
2. IBM Selectric:
Hunter Thompson used to shoot his typewriters, but he always came back to the IBM Selectric. He said it was the only one that could keep up with his thoughts. If words per minute are important to you too and you have a little extra cash, this is the way to go. The ‘M’ in IBM stands for “machines.” This is their masterpiece. What set the Selectric apart was its “golf ball,” digital to analog converter. This innovation led to the first word processors, and it all went downhill from from there. Californicaiton’s Hank Moody is partial to the IMB.
Perfect for: Amphetamine users, Mad Men fans, folks who pay their electric bills
3. Groma Kolibri:
Manufactured in East Germany, back when there was such a place, the Kalibri is the thinnest typewriter ever made. It’s a great conversation piece and a must for any serious collector.
Perfect for: History buffs, Marxists, backpackers, true collectors.
4. Hermes Baby Rocket:
This is the world’s lightest. At just 4kg, it’s only slightly heavier than an old Dell. The Baby looks like something out of a Wes Anderson film–hipsters take note.
Perfect for: Poodle skirts, gin & tonic drinkers, interior decorators, Sylvia Plath at age 14.
5. Smith Corona/ Underwood portables:
Most twentieth century American literature was composed on Smith Corona and Underwood portables. Their designs are what most of us picture when we think of the typewriter–the round, inlaid keys, the film noir look. These rugged little machines only need servicing about twice a century. You can find one at your local antique store or in your grandparents’ cellar.
Perfect for: Eisenhower Republicans, home-brewers, old timey bikes, mustache wax.
A SIDE NOTE:
Typewriters are still used in America’s prisons. Swintec makes a clear plastic model that allows for easy inspection for contraband (anyone who owns a typewriter knows it’s the best place to hide contraband.) Here’s where you can order one for the inmate in your life. http://www.swintec.com/