The Nature of Writing

My dad got me a typewriter for Christmas as a gag gift. It’s a Smith Corona Electra 120 vintage approx. 1970; it comes in a suitcase because it is “portable”, although it still feels like a couple of bricks taped together.

The same kind of typewriter.

The same kind of typewriter.

Using it has given me some interesting insights into the nature of writing. I’ve always known that writing by hand, with a pen on paper, is fundamentally different from typing into a computer. I always thought that this difference boiled down to the fact that writing by hand lets you control every aspect of the paper, as if you are crafting your work of literature by hand. You become an artisan, as well as a writer. Typing on a computer takes away the visceral aspect. Your work becomes the stark logical words, purely abstract. The printer is the artisan, you are the writer. Separating those two roles removes a critical piece of the puzzle.

Now I realize that this line of thinking is false. Typewriters lie in this strange ether between pens and word processors. Yet using a typewriter is more like writing by hand than typing on a computer. Why is this? Now I think that it has to do with the singular focus on your work. Computers let you jump away for just a second when you get stuck; Twitter is always there. Yet when your sole focus is on your writing, you have to work through breaks in your train of thought. Trying to remember what you were going to say, I think, causes an internal rumination in which your thoughts are pared down and improved.

Of course, typewriters also have some unique benefits and downfalls. The most prominent is the complete immutability of your words. Yes, you can go over and white-out mistakes. But even with a pen on paper, it is possible to cross out a section and squeeze in a replacement overhead. Unless you write double-spaced, this is impossible on a typewriter. I’ve found, however, that this inability to revise lets me enter a stream-of-consciousness mode. Because I don’t need to review the words I just wrote, I can spell out all of my thoughts without getting caught up in phrasing.

The only problem with leaving self-editing for later is that I get lazy. Then you end up with something like this blog.


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