In an online writer’s group the other day, one writer stated she loved the sound of the keyboard clicking as she wrote. A few of us admitted to liking the sound of typewriter keys, but agreed we wouldn’t want to use one for our writing. Yet I’ve heard other writers say they prefer a typewriter to a word processor. And not just any typewriter, but a manual one.
Are you kidding me? A manual typewriter over a computer?
I’ve often said I probably wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t have my laptop. And I certainly wouldn’t attempt to write a novel without a word processor. I started thinking about the days before PCs.
When I learned to type, we used the state-of-the-art IBM Selectric II. The Selectric was a vast improvement over manual typewriters.
- Rather than type bars, they had typing elements or typing balls. The typist could easily change fonts by switching the element.
- At the flip of a switch, one could change from single to double spaced lines.
- Press another key to set tabs and indentions.
- The return key was conveniently located next to the keyboard. No more reaching with the left hand and thus interrupting your rhythm to hit the return handle.
They made typing a breeze. Yet even these typewriters had their drawbacks. If you made an error, you had three choices—a special eraser, correction fluid, or correction tape. With the eraser, a faint shadow of the misspelled word was still visible. If you got too aggressive with the eraser, you would tear a hole in the paper.
The smell of the correction fluid was atrocious. It would thicken after a few uses, but we had thinner. (That smell was worse than the correction fluid.) We thought we had moved up in the world when correction tape came along.
If we came too close to the right hand margin, we could either hyphenate or press a button to release the right margin. The latter choice worked fine unless the word was too long. Getting too close to the edge of the page required the use of one of the dreaded correction methods!
Setting the top margin required hitting the return key x number of times for a 1 inch or 1.5 inch top margin. You were on your own with the bottom margin, but later models included a page guide. Speaking of the bottom margin, you had to insert a new piece of paper when you came to the end of the page.
Centering a title was another matter. We used the space bar to get to the center of the page. Then, we counted the number of characters in our title. As an example, For Whom The Bell Tolls is 23 characters and spaces. Divide 23 by 2 (11.5). Discard the .5 and count back 11 spaces and start typing. Heaven help the person who wanted to center each line of a poem. I don’t remember if it was even possible to have justified margins.
We didn’t have spell check, grammar check, or auto correct. We were probably better at spelling back then, but that is another subject. And these typewriters weren’t lightweight. You couldn’t pick up one and tote it to the local coffee shop. But then again, writers didn’t hang around coffee shops in those days.
Be a writer before laptops? Perhaps. Write a novel before word processors? No way! But then again, I once wrote a novella longhand.
Creative Commons Photo by Etan J Tal