Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ode to Typewriters: writing unadorned

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When forced to leave my house for an extended period of time, I take my typewriter with me, and together we endure the wretchedness of passing through the X-ray scanner. The laptops roll merrily down the belt, while I’m instructed to stand aside and open my bag. To me it seems like a normal enough thing to be carrying, but the typewriter’s declining popularity arouses suspicion and I wind up eliciting the sort of reaction one might expect when traveling with a cannon. 

'It’s a typewriter,’ I say. ‘You use it to write angry letters to airport security.' David Sedaris
Unlike David Sedaris, I don't carry a typewriter with me. In fact, I don't even own a typewriter anymore, but that doesn't mean I don't know how to use one. Not to date myself or anything, but when I was in high school, I took typing---none of this 'keyboarding' sissy stuff, but real typing.
We had to learn how to set tabs and everything.

About two decades later, I was alone in the office, my secretary was on vacation, and the printer decided it wanted to eat envelopes and labels for lunch instead of printing on them, so I turned to the typewriter thinking it would be like coming home. Oh no! Those things are scary. They make these freaky sputtering noises when you turn them on, and it's almost impossible to find the center of the page. It's so visible and yet so unattainable.

Also, with typewriters comes the whole needing to know how to type thing because if you don't, it's a recipe for sadness. No delete key. No saving. That wonderful Zen immediacy you experience with a typewriter is the same thing that leads you to say things like, "How many flipping (explicative-deleted-because-I-have-a-keyboard) times do I have to type this page over?"

You know what I never had to do with a typewriter though? I never had to go through stupid things like autoformat with Word or the tutorials and free trials that come with other types of writing software. Also, for anyone who has shopped for writing software recently, have you noticed that there's this huge range of packages that will practically cook dinner for you and "organize" your plot points, and have a built in word processor, while there are these gizmos on the opposite end of the spectrum that advertise how bare bones they are. If you want to go that bare bones, doesn't it make more sense to just use Notepad or Wordpad? Hmm. Maybe I should try that.

So you know what I do now when I feel stumped enough about just getting my ideas down? I use a pen and notepad. Simple. Gets the job done. No autoformat bullshit. Most of it's illegible, and I need to type it up eventually, but all technology has its limitations.