Why I Love Typewriters

A few weeks ago, I bought an Underwood typewriter at a garage sale for $20.

The S and A keys are almost entirely rubbed out, the keys stick sometimes, and the space bar doesn’t work.

I love it.

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I’m hoping I’ll be able to get it working somehow, but I’m just content to punch the keys and watch as the letters appear on the page in front of me for now

Typewriters have been increasing in popularity among creatives, and it’s easy for me to see why.

“Why would you want to use a typewriter?” you might say. “They’re noisy, heavy, and you can’t delete anything. If you mess up you have to start all over again. Only a dumb hipster would want a typewriter.”

Here’s why you’re wrong:

Typing Is More Enjoyable 

It’s fun for me to type on my Macbook and listen to the click clack noise the keyboard makes. But I can’t deny there’s something infinitely more exhilarating about punching the keys of a typewriter. The ching ching ching sound it produces while you’re keying as well as the inner mechanisms working in tandem with you makes you feel like you and the machine are connected.

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I enjoy using my laptop and it’s many functions, but when they replaced the typewriter with a computer, they left out one key ingredient: intimacy. When you’re working on a typewriter, you can see the process being carried out right before your eyes.

You feel just as vital to the process as the ink and paper indicator.

No Distractions

Some people would say that one of the typewriter’s weaknesses is that it can only type. However, I would argue this is to a creator’s benefit.

In an age where people are constantly bombarded with distractions, it’s never been easier for people to procrastinate. When a character isn’t doing what you want them to do, or plot threads isn’t coming together, it’s so tempting to check your email.

And if you check your email you have to check Facebook.

And if you have to check Facebook then you have to click on a funny Youtube video a friend shared, and etc, etc, etc.

Using a typewriter is like being on a first date with the person you’ve had a crush on for months. Your entire focus is on what is directly in front of you, and what you’re doing. Nothing else matters but the task at hand. 

Brain Exercise

I used to be a good speller, then everything changed when the Word Processing Nation attacked.

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Suddenly, I didn’t have to be a good speller anymore. All our essays were suppose to be typed on a word processor that knew how to spell the word for me. Since my brain found no use in learning proper spelling, I stopped internalizing.

A typewriter actually depends on your own spelling abilities, forcing you to exercise your brain. I’ve noticed this when I’ve written stories out long-hand and it’s definitely applicable to the typewriter. When I spell a word out without the help of spellcheck, it’s strangely liberating.

At least when the robots overlords take over, I’ll know how to spell “acquiesce.”

Low Maintenance

It took me a while to get the typewriter tape I ordered off Amazon to load up into my Underwood, but when I finally hooked it on correctly I felt accomplished.

It could be a pain at times just because I’ve never had to learn to operate this type of machine before. But looking back on it, it’s a lot easier (and less expensive) to try fixing up an old typewriter than an old laptop.

In fact, after a certain point, laptops inevitably crap out and you’re forced to shell out hundred or thousands of dollars to replace it

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Typewriters don’t really have this issue.

All you need are a few parts and it should be good to go.

There are plenty of videos on Youtube that can help you along the way if you’re stuck.

I’m happy with how technology has progressed over the last few decades. I love my laptop and my iPod, and couldn’t operate the same way if I didn’t have my cellphone.

Nonetheless, when you want to unplug from the rest of the world and just create, sometimes the old ways are the best.

What Sylvia Plath Taught Me About Perfection

I find it difficult to get started on a new writing project. Not necessarily because I lack inspiration, but I often can’t bring myself to make that first step out of fear I will be dissatisfied with the results.

I procrastinate giving out my work to friends or others for critiquing. I have this undying need for perfection. Every adjective has to paint the perfect picture, the pacing has to be exact, the reader must think exactly what I want them to. But, more importantly, I must be perceived as a literary genius. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Don’t answer that.

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With this in mind, none of my drafts are ever perfect enough to send out. I spend hours languishing over what makes a sentence work, whether or not my protagonist is likable, etc. This is what an artist is suppose to do, but as a result of my concerns, I often keep my writing hidden under a bushel and never allow anyone to see it. I pass up opportunities to enter writing contests and publishing in magazines, all for fear that it’s not good enough yet.

The other day I was researching depression in the library and came across a biography about Sylvia Plath called Rough Magic. I didn’t know much about this poet prior to reading this book except what Plath is, unfortunately, most known for: sticking her head in the oven and killing herself.

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A character I’m currently writing suffers from a similar mental affliction, so I thought reading about Plath would help me gain a better understanding of the condition.However, not only did learning about her help me with my research,  it also assisted me on a more personal level.

Plath was a well-accomplished person for much of her young life. She was a scholarship student at Smith (a very prestigious school at the time) as well as a published author of many poems and short stories. She was also very attractive and laid claim to so many hearts I would need at least three pages to list all of her conquests. Her teachers adored her, boys loved her, she was relatively popular and had a successful life. 

It was never enough for her.

Not only was she susceptible to bouts of depression, she frequently made herself physically ill with stress over her studies and writing projects. She was going to fail her history class (she made an A), her talent for writing was gone (she published hundreds more poems), and if she could not obtain perfection, then her life was over.

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Her lack of faith in her abilities haunted her throughout her life. Each victory only granted her temporary relief from her crippling self-doubt. It didn’t matter how many magazines accepted her work, or how much money she earned. There would always be one or two that would turn her down, and this was what she focused her mental energies on.

 On occasion, she would even experience long dry spells brought on by her negativity, a feeling I’m familiar with (although not to the same extreme). One lead to her first suicide attempt.

While her extreme behaviors were a result of her mental instability, her feelings of inadequacy aren’t unique to sufferers of depression. Most of us feel the need to achieve perfection and seek validation from others. After all, if we’re not the best no one will pay attention to us, right? And if no one pays attention to us, then we’re not important.

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Not necessarily.

We writers need to let our babies out into the world and create as much as we can. Not so people will pat us on the head and tell us we’re a good girl/boy, but so we can become better authors. If someone doesn’t like our work, it isn’t the end of the world. It just means that, perhaps, there is room for growth.

Moreover, we don’t have to be this century’s greatest author and we shouldn’t strive to be. All we need to do is aim to be the best that we can be individually, not compared to the greats or even our colleagues.

So let people see your work in all its prickly glory.

And remember:

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10 Things Your Non-Writer Friend Doesn’t Understand

While you are able to enjoy happy and long-lasting relationships with people who have no interest in writing, there are a few aspects involved with your lifestyle that a third party, however beloved, may have trouble wrapping their head around.

1. Why You Can’t Go Out Tonight

It is Friday night and your friend wants to go to dinner or catch a movie. However, you have been mentally mapping out your story in your head while at work and you’re itching to get started on that project, or continue where you left off.

“Why are you being so anti social?” your friend may ask. “It’s not healthy to be cooped up in your room all night when you could be out with your friends.”

You love your friend. You love spending time with your friend. But the writer’s life requires you to make sacrifices. You may want to kick back and just relax, nevertheless, the more you put off writing, the harder it is to get back into the rhythm.

This doesn’t mean you never want to have fun with your friend, it just means sometimes you have to say no if you ever want to get anything done.

Man organizing documents in library --- Image by © Hiya Images/Corbis

2. Why You Overanalyze Everything

“Why can’t you just turn off your brain and enjoy the movie/TV show/book? Who cares if the villain’s motivation doesn’t make sense, or the romance came out of nowhere? Movies/TV shows/books are suppose to be fun. You’re thinking too much.”

What your friend doesn’t realize is a writer’s mind doesn’t just “turn off.” Asking a writer to stop considering integral story elements is like asking a colorblind person to just see green. You obtain new stories ideas through all your senses, and you study all the different forms of storytelling in the hopes of developing your own style.

You know from experience how hard a creator must toil in order for a story to be told well, so when a writer tries to get away with doing the bare minimum it is frustrating.

Doctor Looking at X-Rays --- Image by © Thomas Roepke/Corbis

3. Most Writers Aren’t Rich

With superstar authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and George R. R. Martin raking in the big bucks, your friend would be forgiven for assuming that most successful writers are makin’ dat money. However, you know that even writers who have published many articles and books are usually lucky to make a living wage, let alone get rich. Writing is not a job you should take if you are hoping to afford a condo in Miami. It’s something you should do because you feel like you’d go crazy if you didn’t.

Making a lot of coin would be nice, and money is a necessary evil for survival. However, if you are truly serious about being a writer, it’s not your aim to get rich.

20 Feb 1961, Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA --- Marie Reed of the Federal Savings and Loan Association sits next to a million dollars in cash. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

4. Nothing Is Sacred

Your friend knows you’re a writer, right? So of course they realize if they tell you about the time their uncle paraded around naked in his trailer park with a loaded shotgun singing “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy,” it’s going in a story someday, correct? Sadly no. Your friend will not understand. In fact, they will likely be very upset. Writers are like pack rats, continuously searching for interesting nuggets of information to place in their stories to help give them flavor. Truth is usually stranger than fiction, so true-life events are typically the most inspiring. You aren’t sharing your friends intimate moments in an attempt to shame them, you’re doing it to bring your story to life. You can explain this to your friend all day, but it’s unlikely they will see it your way.

Friends Talking While Boy Listens --- Image by © Buero Monaco/Corbis

5. Your Internet History

Writers need to know most things. Not for their own sake, but for their characters’. If their  protagonist is a sociopath with a proficiency in murder, an author must familiarize themselves with common methods used to end a person’s life. They must know the best way to dispose of a body, how long it takes to drown someone, or the various stages a corpse goes through during decomposition. If you’re fantasy writer, it’s prudent to know about various weapons and poisons or herbs that would be used in an age with no technology.  A thriller writer may need to research some of the key components of a bomb. A fellow writer would understand. You’re friend (and possibly Homeland Security), however…well…don’t give them your password.

01 Jan 1976, London, England, UK --- Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) hides in a trash can in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

6. Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a reality most creatives face. Some symptoms include self-doubt, frustration, and unwillingness to do anything except stare at a blank page and wonder why you couldn’t have become an accountant instead.

You will likely try to explain the depths of your frustration to your friend and they will say something in the vein of “uh huh” like you have spoken in a foreign language they took in high school, but have since forgotten.

To most non-writers, authors are filled with an infinite well of creative juice that squirts on the page with no problem. It’s easy, right? All you have to do is create.

While your friend may not understand, at least they can distract you with stories about their horrible boss or flakey co-workers.

Young businessman constructing a building of blocks of wood --- Image by © Holger Scheibe/Corbis

7. Your Characters Aren’t You

Well, they are versions of you; tiny flakes of your personality. Nonetheless, your character’s thoughts and feelings aren’t necessarily a reflection of your own. If you write a story about someone beaten by their alcoholic mother, you might find your friend staring at you with watery-eyes asking if you’re okay. If you write a story in which someone contemplates suicide, you may discover a 1-800 number in your coat pocket.

A writer has to wear many masks in order to depict someone other than themselves. This is difficult to explain to someone who is so close to the original face.

Don’t judge your friend too harshly. After all, they are trying to looking out for you.

12 Jun 2007, Venice, Italy --- Traditional Masks For Sale in Venice --- Image by © Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis

8. Rewrites

Some writers rewrite 3 times. Some writers rewrite 30 times. Regardless of how many times you must do it, rewriting is a teeth-pulling endeavor. All your previous problems are thrown back in your face. You must write a beloved character out of existence for the sake of the plot. You have to cut a scene you worked literally hours on because it no longer fits the new direction your story is taking.

It’s like Groundhog Day, only you feel like Bill Murray’s character during the suicide scene all the time. “Why are you writing it again?” your friend may ask. “Why don’t you just publish it the way it is?”

They mean well. They simply don’t understand that writing means rewriting. The first draft is usually a disaster, as is the second, or even the third. Books don’t just happen. They are cultivated through months, perhaps even years, of intense labor. Writing isn’t always a walk in the park, in spite of the fact you can do it from home in your pjs. It requires discipline and rewriting is one of the necessary steps to make towards completion.

Books burning in fire --- Image by © Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/cultura/Corbis

9. You Need Feedback

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You give your friend a chapter, either through email or in person, and you’re left to wait.  You check your phone religiously, you browse your emails, you watch TV,  but you can’t pay attention to anything. Will your friend laugh at that joke? Will they internalize that bit of foreshadow? Ooh. You should have edited out that scene. It didn’t end up going anywhere in the long run. At long last, your friend texts you.

“It was good,” they say.

You pause for a moment, wondering if they will explain.

“Great,” you type, “What’d you like about it?”

“I don’t know. I just thought it was good.”

You press them for more information, but they refuse to divulge anymore insight into what they thought. Your non-writer friend doesn’t realize that you aren’t fishing for complements. You are asking because you genuinely want to improve your writing. Literary agents won’t hesitate to criticize, so you need your manuscript to be in top form before you start sending it out. Call us needy, but feedback (positive or negative) is as critical to the writing process as ink and paper.

You know your characters backwards and forwards and, as a result, you may unconsciously withhold important information that the reader needs to know in order to make them more relatable.

Something about the the societal structure or a character’s motivation may not make a lot of sense to the reader if they’re going in blind, but you wouldn’t know because you’re too close to the material.

Washington, DC, USA --- Evelyn C. Lewis, Miss Washington 1921, listens to the radio. She tunes in by adjusting the condenser. --- Image by © Corbis

10. You Can’t Stop (And You Won’t Stop)

A writer may face years of rejection and failure. It’s an inconvenient truth. In spite of all the Instagram pics and empty platitudes plastered over the internet, when most people fail their next move is to search for the exit. Especially when they choose an unconventional career that requires self-discipline and low guarantee of financial success.

You’ll vent to your non-writer friend about the struggle. All the years of toiling over a keyboard and the closets full of rejection letters.

And then they will ask the fated question: “Why don’t you quit and find another job?”

Many writers have a second job to supplement their income. However, to just quit being a writer isn’t optional. A banker can quit being a banker. A grocery store clerk can stop being a grocery store clerk. But a writer doesn’t stop being a writer.

Even if a writer only publishes one book in their lifetime, they still write. They still have to ask themselves “what if?” and play with concepts. Being a writer is a state of mind and you can’t stop. You may want to, but the desire to create is still buried in your brain.

23 Sep 1976 --- 1970s MALE WRITER AT DESK TYPEWRITER CRUMPLED PAPERS ARMS UP IN AIR EXASPERATED EXPRESSION INDOOR LOOKING AT CAMERA --- Image by © H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS/Corbis

Don’t Want No NaNoWriMo

To a writer, National Novel Writing Month is like the olympics of literature. It gives those who have been holding out on their creative ideas to explode in a frenzy of words and storylines. The goal is to write 50,000 words (the length of an average novel) in one month’s time. NaNoWriMo has gained more momentum over the last few years and it has created a community around it that’s goal is to keep potential authors motivated. There are websites now dedicated to shelling out prompts, forums, and supportive quotes to those that wish to participate.

My Twitter is alight with Tweets from exhausted writers, boasting their day’s word count like athletes about their increased running distance.

I thought about NaNoWriMo this year.But then after a week of it, I thought the same thing I had thought last year, and then the year before that: nah.

I agree NaNoWriMo has many positive attributes:

1. Writers need goal, and NaNoWriMo gives them something to strive for (in this case a word count).

2. It creates a community of authors that can discuss and problem-solve together.

3. It helps authors get the first draft out of the way.

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My contention is that, at times, it can grow a bit competitive. Often in the writer’s quest to “win,” they forget the point of NaNoWriMo in the first place. It’s suppose to give writers an excuse to write instead of just letting ideas fester in their heads. It isn’t about brownie points or seeking self-validation from the approval of others.

I take umbrage with the designated word count that’s required to accomplish the goal of NaNoWriMo, as well. From my perspective, a story needs to be as long as it needs to be and only the author of the story is able to effectively determine how long the story should continue.

I realize that the goal isn’t necessarily to write a ready-for-publication novel in one month, but rather to complete a single draft in one month. Still, this might be too strenuous of an undertaking for most people to embark on in a single month. Most people have jobs, spouses, children, school, and other responsibilities to attend to. While this doesn’t mean a serious writer shouldn’t set aside time to write at least a little bit a day, some people may only have a few minutes to themselves on any given day.

I believe a more effective method would be for writers to create weekly or biweekly goals for themselves. Not necessarily measured in words, but in time devoted to the project. Even if you’re just sitting at the computer, staring at the same paragraph for hours, your brain is working on it.

It takes most writers months, even several years, to write their first novel. It doesn’t make them any less successful or productive. Some people just work at different paces.

I don’t mind if other people find NaNoWriMo useful or fun. If you enjoy doing it, then by all means participate. I won’t think any less of you. However, based on the reasons I’ve given above, it’s just not for me.