Friday, June 22, 2012

Why I love my typewriter

I am writing the first draft of this blog post on my new typewriter. It is a Brother AX-100. Later, when I write the second draft on my very lovely MacBook Pro, I will add a photo of my typewriter, and perhaps some links to some information about it, and where I bought it. But not now. Now I am just focusing on writing down some words.

And that, of course, is the reason why I love my typewriter. It does what it does, and nothing else. It has no means of distracting me. There are a few functions that I might tinker with one day. I can write in single-spaced lines or double. I can change the "pitch" from 10 to 12, whatever that means (I've tried it and can't see any difference). There are a few other controls to do with tabs, I think, and margins. They hold little interest.

I've wanted a typewriter for such a long time. I don't know why I've not bought one sooner. Partly, I think, it's because it seems such a step backwards. I love technology. My iPhone, iPad and MacBook give me great pleasure. They are the kind of devices that I dreamed of owning as a child. When I ask Siri questions, I am Captain Kirk.

Like many writers, I hate Microsoft Word with a passion. Every new version of it seems worse than the one before. My laptop, with all its gigabytes and megahertz, takes as long to open a simple document as my Mac Classic did 15 years ago. And when I work in Word, it crashes just as often. I use Scrivener as much as I can. It is simple and aimed at writers. But it still invites me to fiddle with fonts, window arrangements and such like. And anyway, it's not just the simplicity of a distraction-free writing environment that I crave.

A typed manuscript is a beautiful thing. Words bashed out mechanically onto a scrolling sheet of paper, the criss-crossing of edits, additions, deletions – ideally in different colours. I find the result of typing aesthetically pleasing. And when I am done, when I reach the end of the page, I have made something physical, an object that did not existing in the world previously. I have not simply rearranged bytes of data. I like that.

I like to write with pen and paper for the same reason. I will continue to do so. The typewriter is not meant to replace another writing technology, it is just another tool weapon in my armoury.

Oh, and I just love the noise it makes: whirr, clack, clack. By contrast, the near-silent hum of my MacBook's whispering fans, the click and shuffle of its hard drive, I find infuriating. No, the noise of the typewriter is a good noise. I can sit here now, at my desk, with the window open, a brisk breeze bending the sycamore trees and barging its way through the tilting fields of rape seed and feel connected to it all in a way that I wasn't previously.

Ah, I've reached the end of the page.

What a beauty

2 comments:

Faye Sharpe said...

Ah Neil. You take me back. But I learned to type (all 8 fingers and one thumb) on a manual - that ding of the bell and flick of the carriage was poetry in motion! We learned to type to the sound of acetate records playing marching music, the rhythm helping us to anticipate the next letter and find the right key. 10 words per minute lost for every typo! When not in class, I practiced by typing on my knees until I could keep up at conversation speed by the time the electric golfball came along. I paid for my beer at university by typing others' essays - a buck a page. But then I had to deny my skill in the workplace to avoid being stereotyped as a 'secretary' and asked only to take the minutes instead of make the decisions. But I had the last laugh when computers came along and I haven't looked back - until your blog. Thanks!

Neil said...

John Simmons adds:

Neil
Get along to the Writing Britain exhibition at the British Library. I've just got back from it. Lots of writing by hand and by typewriter by famous poets and novelists. You can see John Lennon's handwritten first draft of "In my life" while listening to him singing on the headphones. Lots of other treasures too.
John

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