Every writer knows how he or she writes best, and he has discovered their method through trial and error (or maybe the first attempt worked and he never strayed away from it). In this series we’re going to look at some different physical forms of writing and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each one. The three criteria I’ll be looking at are: Location (how free are you to write where you want to write?), Duration (can you write as long as you want, or are there physical limitations?), and Completion (once finished with the first draft, how hard is it to move on to draft two?)
You can follow these links to get to the different articles:
A typewriter is one of the classic instruments for writing. Most writers can imagine a person hunched over a typewriter, banging out the words to a great novel one letter at a time. The simple clack-clack-clack-ching of a typewriter is a beautiful sound to a writer. Unfortunately, the romance of a typewriter is really all that keeps these machines going as a tool for writing.
LOCATION: Stationary… mostly.
Typewriters are heavy. It doesn’t even matter what kind we’re discussing, even the “portable” typewriters are far heavier than a laptop. If the weight doesn’t bug you then the machines can be fairly portable. If you decide to travel with your typewriter you’ll find that you’re limited by the noise that the machine creates (unless you don’t care all about disturbing others).
Typewriters are great stationary machines, especially if you’re able to get your hands on a classic style. Many of them are beautiful pieces of equipment (my personal favorite is the Underwood typewriters from the 1950’s). That being said, they will take up a good chunk of space and aren’t good for anything other than writing (and addressing envelopes, for that they’re better than computers in my opinion).
DURATION: Good, not great.
Typewriters give a vast improvement to duration over handwriting, though they still fall short of using a computer. The keys on a typewriter are heavier than those on a computer keyboard, so you’re going to start feeling some physical fatigue after an hour or two, and since the keys are higher you run a higher risk of carpel tunnel injuries. Just make sure that you set your work-station up properly, with the top of the typewriter level with your relaxed arms. The biggest ergonomic issue with typewriters is reaching or raising your arms to reach the keys.
Other than physical fatigue, typewriters will frustrate you to varying degrees. When you first start out be prepared to get frustrated A LOT. If you type too quickly on many models of typewriter the levers will stick together. If you don’t pay attention you may forget to return the carriage, meaning that you’ll lose anything that you type and may even damage the typewriter’s carriage. Make sure that you have all the supplies you’ll need before starting as well: extra ink ribbons (and correction ribbons if your typewriter supports them), a pencil or pen to make manual corrections as you write, extra paper, and a tray or folder to place finished pages into.
COMPLETION: Complete Transcription…
In a lot of ways the completion of a manuscript by typewriter leads to the same issues as a handwritten manuscript: you’re going to have to completely transcribe the document. The biggest benefit over handwritten manuscripts is that the document will be infinitely more legible (assuming you have a typewriter that’s in decent condition).
Since it’s the same as transcribing a handwritten document I’m not going to repeat all the tips for editing as you transcribe. If you’re interested you can find that info in the post “On Pen and Paper.”
A typewriter is most likely going to be a stationary writing platform for you due to the size and weight of the machines. You’ll need to transcribe everything you type in order to edit, but the legibility of the original will be substantially better than a handwritten document (though not as good as a document printed from a computer). While pretty machines, they are bulky and require specific knowledge and tools in order to keep them running smoothly.
Concerning electronic typewriters: I’ve used them, and I hate them. There are some merits to them, mainly that many of the keyboards have softer touch keys and a display where you type a line digitally before printing it. Personally, if I’m going to type to a digital display I may as well use a computer so that I don’t have to transcribe later. Electronic typewriters limit your mobility even more due to the necessity of an outlet.
If you’re a romantic like me the typewriter holds a special place in your heart. If you’re going to use one, make sure that you have some other options on hand as well for the times when your typewriter either refuses to work or works so poorly that you give up in frustration. The biggest benefit of a typewriter is the sound of letters appearing on the page (and even this will become an annoyance to many people).