Typewriters are, suddenly, cool. In particular they’re cool for people young enough not to have ever used them for work. People who didn’t peel Liquid Paper off their fingers at 5pm every weekday.
I had a love/hate relationship with typewriters when I was young (much the same as I have with computers now!). I was a rapid two-to-four finger typist by the age of 12, and used to write my own magazine, with a readership of one (me). I’d type it up on exercise book paper, and would get frustrated that I couldn’t get the text to fully justify like a proper magazine. I’d stick in piccies from other mags, I’d design and write my own ads, do my own artwork, write my own thrilling serial involving girls and horses. I used to produce a mag a week for a while and it gradually dwindled to one a month as I started to run out of enthusiasm.
I loved the neatness of typewritten text, so professional compared to my schoolgirl scrawl. I wrote novels by longhand, simply because I could take the exercise books in my schoolbag and scribble at lunchtime, whereas I couldn’t take the typewriter.
I wrote letters and short stories on the little Olivetti Lettera 32 that still lives at my Mum’s house. Mum would occasionally get grumpy with me when I was tapping out my ‘magazine’ as she grumbled I was wasting the ribbon; the typewriter was a tool, not a toy.
When I unlearned my four finger typing and learned touch typing, I suddenly stopped being a fairly accurate typist and become a fast and inaccurate one. As I tell people even now, I can spell but I can’t type! I became the Queen of Liquid Paper (TippEx if you like); my first employers became used to my correspondence being dotted with the white stuff and my carbon copies barely legible because of the overtyping. Even my clothes got spattered with Liquid Paper. By then I had grown to hate typing, particularly copy typing, as it was boring and I was rubbish at it. Back in the 80s none of my employers owned that sexy beast the IBM Selectric III with self-correction, the typewriter I drooled over.
I saved up and bought my own Selectric III for use at home and churned out two truly dreadful novels which I burned a few years later. Dreadful they might have been but the manuscript was devoid of Liquid Paper and there wasn’t a strikethrough to be seen. The Selectric was a joy. Again, it’s still at Mum’s place and has been her trusty tool for compiling family history.
And in the mid-80s my then employers stretched the budget and bought me a typewriter with a computer chip. Not quite a word processor – only the data processing team had one of those – but you could save phrases to the typewriter’s memory, and have them churn out at the press of a button. Very handy for signature lines and standard paras. It also had self-correction so my clothes had very few white spots on them.
In 1987 I saved up (again) and bought a word processor, an Amstrad. Cue another rubbish novel which I never completed, but I taught myself the rudiments of using a word processor and talked myself into a better job because of the experience. And then… the poor Olivetti, the poor Selectric, they sat reproachfully with dust gathering on their covers. The computer age had come to our house. Nothing would ever be the same for me.
But there is something homely and satisfying about the clatter of a computer, the little ‘ding’ of the bell at the end of each line. Something almost noble about these classic machines. I’m not the only one to think fondly about my old mechanical companions.
For example, there is a dock for the iPad or a standard monitor that connects it to a vintage typewriter instead of a keypad: www.usbtypewriter.com/ No, it’s not a hoax, I’ve had a look and can see how it would work.
And there are bloggers who go to the trouble of writing their blog on a typewriter, scanning it and uploading it. These include www.strikethru.net/, clickthing.blogspot.com/ and above all cambridgetypewriter.blogspot.com/
Why would you do that? you might ask. It’s just a gimmicky thing.
Ah, but consider this. When you use a typewriter, you do have to think about what you’re writing. You have to plan your sentences, you can’t just stop half way through for a spot of deletion or insertion or change of mind – well, you can, but the strikethroughs look messy so you will have to retype it all anyway. Typewriters – like writing by hand, preferably with a fountain pen – make you focus on what you’re writing. Language is all important when you use a tool that doesn’t have a spellchecker or grammar checker. Structure is everything.
Computers have allowed us to get lazy with our writing; typewriters force us to sharpen up.
I’m pondering getting the little Olivetti out of hiding and using it occasionally; I can see the appeal of writing a blog post or two on a typewriter, bizarre as it seems in the Age of Convenience. What about you?
And if I do, you can all have a good laugh at the Liquid Paper splotches.