Gutenberging it

Not to sound coarse or anything, but writing on a typewriter sucked.

Really, it just blew — no two ways about it. Whether it was on a manual or an electric model, the act of writing on a typewriter was better than having to use a pen, a pencil, a quill or a crayon, but only just.

It wasn’t about the writing, you see, it was about the rigamarole of checking the darkness of the ribbon and threading a new one (and getting ink on your fingers that smudged the page so you had to start anew), the careful stacking and alignment of the carbon paper between the top sheet and the safety copy, the unjamming of keys that locked like two wrestlers in a death grip because you got a little too immersed in your work and typed too quickly. And god forbid you should commit a typo. Hoo boy, you were in for it then. Backspace, backspace, scroll up the page, erase the mistake on the top page and the copy, hoping you didn’t nudge the paper stack out of alignment, then scroll the page back down and discover you had in fact knocked the paper-carbon-paper Dagwood sandwich out of skew so suddenly the line you were typing looked like hell. Or get out the liquid paper (or the little rectangle of correction paper) and reach in to perform the delicate maneuver of dabbing white goo over the typo, like James Bond trying to defuse a tick-tocking nuclear warhead, then waiting for the goo to dry so you could get the hell on with your work, only then to discover that the goo hadn’t yet dried and your correction looked like it had been typed over a kindergartener’s finger-painting project. Leaving you to choose between: Option A, start the page over (which you might already have done a few times already); or Option B, climb a water tower and start picking people off with a high-powered rifle.

Walking talking Jesus, how did I ever get anything written that way?

There are still typewriter snobs out there (Harlan Ellison, most famously) who sneer at people who write on PCs instead of clickety-clacks and rat-a-tat-tats, and all I can say is fuck ’em. John Steinbeck used pencils to write The Grapes of Wrath, The Pastures of Heaven and Cannery Row, so we’re all wimps as far as he’s concerned. Maybe it’s the paraphernalia aspect. I think it was John Updike who noted that writing, alone among the arts, has no hocus pocus about it — no fancy musical instruments, no alchemical mixtures of paint, no stalking and shaping of a sculpture, just somebody staring at a sheet of paper and sipping coffee. Maybe typewriter snobs see their Gutenberg gear as the equivalent of Sonny Boy Williamson’s harmonica, or Jimi Hendrix’s Stratocaster.

Whatever. All I know is that barring some Lucifer’s Hammer scenario in which chunks of comet debris rain down on Earth and send us back into the Stone Age, there is no threat scary enough and no enticement delicious enough to send me back to the typewriter. I’m not caught up in tinkering with the gear. I just want the gear to be advanced enough, and usable enough, that I can get to the writing with a minimum of fuss. It was a great day for writers — this writer in particular — when the PC was invented.

These thoughts have been inspired by another writer’s observance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Commodore 64, which ushered many people into the joys not only of easier, faster writing, but the beginnings of what would become the underground cosmos of the Internet.

One thought on “Gutenberging it

  1. Tonoose says:

    Who knew it would ever get better than my Smith Corona electric typewriter?

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