Dust Off The Ribbon – Real Writers Use Typewriters

My Remington typewriterMy father arrived home from his rental properties and he handed me a dusty typewriter. He had stumbled upon it while rifling through junk in one of his apartments. It was utterly dilapidated: smothered in dust, sticky, half of the typebars didn’t punch, a broken paten, and the spool was missing. “Do whatever you want with it,” he said.

Oh, I did.

I scoured half of the county for someone who could fix it. Ironically, the man I finally found lives down the street from my parents. I forked over $160 to have it restored, polished up and given a new ribbon. They had to ship the typewriter to California, the only manufacturer who could find the missing parts. When I picked it up, I was informed that the typewriter was built in the late 1940’s, early ‘50s. I shudder with ecstasy, the thought that I possess the device upon which Ray Bradbury may have typed Fahrenheit 451.

It’s enormous. It’s heavy. It’s loud. And I absolutely love it.

When operating a typewriter, if you are “in the zone,” you will know it — your fingers will burn, your neck will strain, and your eardrums will be drowned by the machine gun assault of tiny key hammers battering ink onto the page. A rewarding “ding!” announces you have finished another line, and you rip the platen sidewise and start again. Line after line after line. Want to write a story and burn some calories at the same time? Buy a typewriter. You will actually break a sweat if you embark on a typing streak. I worried my neighbors would awaken. When you are writing with a typewriter, you know it, and everyone in the next room knows it.

When you finish, sit a moment. Smell the oil, the freshly polished metal. Feel the effort in your aching muscles. It doesn’t matter if nobody ever sees it. You’ll feel like a true, goddamn writer.

For a month I kept a typewriter journal. It would be my private archive of thoughts, the device through which I could blather ideas, or simply scream for joy and madness, and discover my true genius without the haunting specter of criticism. At first, it was thrilling. I fancied Sean Connery pacing behind me with a glass of whiskey in his hand, breaking the typewriter-filled silence shouting: “PUNCH THE KEYS, DAMMIT!”

There is something therapeutic, even liberating, about spilling ones thoughts onto a typewriter. It lies in the utterly unchangeable state of the page when it is finished, the permanency of the ink. I’m a rapid typist — I’ve scored around 80 words per minute — but I can’t write free hand well. The most use I have for a pen and journal is to jot down notes in the dead of night, after a dream.

Of all the keys on the keyboard, my favorite is the delete button. My self-esteem is so low, my perfectionism so obnoxiously meticulous, that every single word I write is certain to fall victim to the delete button, even if it is only to be typed again a moment later when I change my mind. A digital age child like myself will be startled to discover that, upon the typewriter, the delete button is conspicuously missing. Just like life, my friends.

That reality is terrifying. It’s also freedom. All self-doubt and self-criticism must vanish, if one is to ever finish a page upon the typewriter. When you start, you must not stop, or else the words will come out disjointed and impartial. Spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, even bad word choices must be humbly permitted if one is ever to move forward on a typewriter. If I say “Today was a bad day,” or if a character throws a coffee cup across the room, then today was a bad day and the character now has a mess to clean up. Upon the typewriter, thoughts and actions are forever printed onto the white sheet of history. Every thought, then, must be deliberate and polished.

Sadly, while writing upon a typewriter is a writing experience like no other, the device is (of course) utterly obsolete. There’s a glaringly obvious reason why they haven’t been manufactured since my parents typed their college essays. I can’t publish my thoughts — not unless I re-typed them on my computer. That’s a ton of trouble. What is its use if I’m blogging and all of my fiction submissions are electronic? My own secret fetish for the antiquated, I suppose.

I was the kid who begged his parents for gigantic, expensive lego sets and hot wheels tracks nine months before Christmas. When Christmas finally dawned and I unwrapped those toys from their ribbons, I played a half hour with them, then grew bored and forgot about them. When it came to gift-giving, I was the bane of my parents.

I’m ashamed. I don’t want my typewriter to be one of those toys. It dwells on my living room table, a symbol, a badge of honor. In the very least, while the computer is an opportunity to cruise the Internet, play games, or watch a movie, the typewriter serves a single function. When one sits before the typewriter, he has but one ambition …

To write.

**Here’s an excellent essay by another writer who prefers the typewriter, Brian Drake.**


2 thoughts on “Dust Off The Ribbon – Real Writers Use Typewriters

  1. Adam, you are a trip! Enjoyed the piece.

    A recommendation…Enjoy the solitude, angst and OCD on the typewriter and then employ OCR to disseminate to the internet and the world! Yes and amen!


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