Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Typist & the Time Machine

I sometimes compare my typewriter to the control console of a time machine. I lay my hands upon the keys and I am whisked away to another place and time for adventures untold. I play the keys and the universe dances to the tune of every chatter and ding.

Ever notice that there's a typewriter on the control console of the TARDIS? I rest my case.

I know that I sound like a Luddite every time I bring up typewriters. That's a cross I'll just have to bear. There's magic in a typewriter and I like them a lot.

Which makes people wonder: do I write with one?

Alas, no. I own several, but they're mostly conversation pieces and subjects for photography.

When asked how I use typewriters in my writing, I almost always say "Metaphorically."

You see, I hate the term "Word Processor."  Think about that for a moment. Word processing? As if I could or should jot down a design for a new book on the back of a cocktail napkin and mail it off to a factory in China where an army of workers will assemble it into a novel for a dollar an hour.

No.  Just... no.

Typewriter sounds better to my ear. It has the sound of craft about it. And face it, it takes a real effort to write with a typewriter. From the number of foot pounds of force you have to exert on the key to make a letter to the finicky nature of aligning the paper under the platen. Don't even get me started on the irascible nature of carbon paper. 

Be that as it my, I use a word processing (gag) program just like everyone else.

I learned to type on a typewriter and I have long attributed my tendency to destroy keyboards to this fact. On this keyboard, the "T" is going out on me and often I have to backtrack to insert T's as I type this.  By the time my last laptop finally bricked, it didn't have a working space bar and most of the keys practically required a hammer to get them to register.

There's a learning curve when using any writing tool that's more complicated than a Bic pen. A goodly part of every workday for me is spent walking students through the eccentricities of Microsoft Word.  But when I write about typing, I don't see a computer keyboard in my head. I see the keys of my big black Royal typewriter that I call Matilda. That's her in the picture above. She's a thing of beauty, a real mechanical marvel.

Yes, I name inanimate objects. I also have a yellow truck named Woodstock. Don't judge me.

Matilda doesn't process words, she pounds them into shape like a blacksmith's hammer and anvil, forges stories out of base metal. She's practically a spirit totem for the modern writer, a talisman against the demons and distractions of electronica.

If writing really is 1% talent and 99% being able to ignore the internet, a return to the typewriter seems only natural to me.

Wifi? Twitter? This thing doesn't even have spell check!

See? I'm not looking backward toward the past, I'm looking forward into the future. I told you it was a time machine.

I wonder, though, what the proprietors of my local cafes would say if I hauled a typewriter in and started using it at one of their tables. If nothing else, it would save them from the endless complaints about not having enough outlets to serve the laptop brigade...


  1. Also, they double as bludgeons as you make your trenchcoated way through dark alleys on stormy nights. Not to be underestimated.

  2. It's true. Matilda would stop a bullet, an iPad wouldn't stop an angry hummingbird.


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).