Why Canon Matters

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT FOR DOCTOR WHO SERIES 12 FINALE EPISODE. 

I know I said I was done with Who but I promise this isn’t just another reason to rag on the series 12 finale and why The Timeless Children is undoubtedly the most insulting episode to anyone that cares about Doctor Who and its history.

The more I thought about this episode and all its foibles, the more I realized I had to say on the subject of canon and continuity as a whole. I’ve seen many different shows and movies fall pray to the desertion of both the holy “Cs” and they have suffered in quality as a result. This is particularly common in TV shows within the fantasy and science fiction genre.

There is the commonly used defense within the Who fandom that postulates that Doctor Who canon has always been messed up and, therefore, doesn’t matter. After all, it’s a show where “anything can happen” so it stands to reason any changes made (no matter how contradictory to the themes and history of the show) are to be accepted.

Firstly, I reject the premise that “anything can happen” in a story regardless of how mercurial in nature the narrative may be.

When you create a fictional world it is imperative to create continuity (or “rules” if you prefer) so the viewer knows what can and cannot happen in this world.

Harry Potter cannot use an AK-47 to mow-down Death Eaters, Walter White cannot use telepathy to melt Gus Fring’s head, and Joe from You can’t use vampire mind-control powers to win Beck’s affections.

Why? Because these things would interfere with each stories’ internal logic.

This isn’t to say there can’t be twists along the way that may call into question previous notions about a character’s past or motivations, but these twists should complement rather than contradict the world in which they are taking place.

If you just haphazardly throw in an unplanned twist that messes with logic of that respective universe, you usually end up with one of these guys.

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Let’s use Who as an example.

If the Time Lords gained regeneration energy from The Doctor as a child, how did River Song obtain regenerative abilities? Presumably, if the Time Lords weren’t given regeneration energy from exposure to the Eye of Harmony this shouldn’t be possible and River Song should be entirely human.

If Ruth is supposed to be The Doctor before Hartnell, why is her TARDIS a police telephone box when its chameleon circuit had not been broken yet?

Why didn’t Clara see any of the female Doctor’s when she jumped into The Doctor’s time-stream?

Why did the Time Lords need to give The Doctor more regenerations when he literally has an infinite amount of them?

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The answer is simple: Because the change in the canon wasn’t supposed to happen.

Imagine someone gives you a jigsaw puzzle as a gift. You pour all the pieces onto the table and work for hours to recreate the picture you see on the box. However, it quickly becomes apparent the picture isn’t forming the way it is supposed to. In fact, many of the pieces appear to be from a different jigsaw puzzle altogether. When you confront your friend on why this is, they explain to you that this is how it’s supposed to look and, if you don’t see it, you’re an idiot. And so you give it another try, forcing the pieces together, bending them and contorting them so they will fit within the whole. You take a step back only to realize no matter how much you try to bend the pieces, they do not–will never–form a coherent picture.

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This is what it is like when canon is tampered with arbitrarily. Anything you change in the past will invariably have a ripple effect, causing everything that happened prior to the “amazing revelation” to no longer make sense.

This drastically hampers the audience’s capacity to suspend disbelief which negatively impacts their ability to be engaged in what they are watching.

I don’t know about you, but if I am forced to do mental gymnastics in order to justify creatively bankrupt decisions in my media, I tend to just give up.

If “anything can happen,” then why does anything matter? If a character dies they can just be brought back to life through some improbable means. If a “rule” prevents a character from obtaining their goal, it can be retconned with or without explanation.

There’s no reason for the audience to internalize any new information because it will only be discarded at the writers’ convenience.

This robs the story of tension, mystery, heart and everything else that makes a good story worth telling.

I’m perfectly fine with subverting an audiences expectations, but just because something is shocking that doesn’t mean it’s good.

Thanks for reading!

How to NOT Suck at Reviewing in Five Easy Steps

To anyone that has read this blog for any length of time, it’s no secret I love reviewing stories in all forms of media.

It enables me to think critically and learn what makes a story fail or succeed.

I owe much of my growth as a writer to watching other reviewers discuss what they did or didn’t like in stories and, more importantly, why.

While I don’t claim to be a professional critic, I believe there are certain steps one can take in order to not suck at reviewing.

1. Know Thyself 

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Before you can judge something, it is important you have examined your own personal tastes and biases. These, as well as your own experiences, will influence how you digest media. 

I read a review on  Ford v. Ferrari in which the “critic” spent the entire article berating the movie for being about white guys and….that’s it.

She failed to mention anything about the writing, characters, lighting, cinematography, editing, music, or anything relevant to the story. I learned absolutely nothing about the film or whether or not I would have enjoyed it.

I felt like I was reading a diary entry by a moody teenager that was angry at her father rather than an actual review someone was payed to write.

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It’s fine to have opinions whether they be political or otherwise, but it’s important you are able to compartmentalize. You have to ask yourself if you dislike something because it is genuinely bad for the story/characters, or simply because of your own intrinsic biases.

2. Don’t Nit-pick

If you look closely you will find flaws in every form of fiction. Perhaps the writer described a character as having brown eyes in one chapter and then mistakenly refers to them as cerulean a hundred pages or so on. Yes, this was something the writer or editor should have caught in re-writes, but honestly it isn’t that big of a deal.

There are entire channels on Youtube dedicated to nit-picking *coughCinamaSinscough** and while they can be amusing to watch, unnecessary emphasis is placed on minuscule infractions.

Small things can add up over time, but if you are constantly hammering on things that are essentially inconsequential to the main story or details most people wouldn’t notice anyway,  you need to reevaluate.

Most people don’t care.

Or if they do, they don’t care that much. 

If a problem is big enough it will find you.

3. Don’t Be an Elitist Prick 

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Having a degree in the medium you are reviewing is a wonderful resource. You can apply what you have learned from your studies in order to give informed opinions. I’ve learned a lot about the art of storytelling from watching video essays and attending lectures by people who studied extensively in their respective crafts.

The issue is some use their education as a trump tool, believing that their opinion is greater than the unwashed masses because they own a piece of paper that says Department of English or Department of Film and Media on it.

The truth is most people don’t care whether or not you have a degree. They care if you can provide them with an interesting or humorous perspective.

While the average joe might not be as well versed in the arts, they are still capable of snuffing out what works and what doesn’t in a story. Remember, most stories aren’t for the elites. They are for the other 99.9% of people.

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4. Don’t Insult People Who Like What You’re Reviewing 

I recently watched a review of Joker by a Youtuber named ralphthemoviemaker in which he makes a huge mistake.

In this video, Ralph essentially calls everyone who enjoys the movie a moron. But he doesn’t stop there. In fact, most of his review seems to be directed towards people who enjoyed the movie and how dumb they are for not sharing his clearly more researched opinion.

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I will be the first to admit I have ridiculed many a property, so I don’t have a problem with him badmouthing the movie.

But insulting people who like it is an extremely bad move.

By doing so you all but guarantee your audience will disregard everything you say on the subject. Worse still, it will turn people who might have otherwise agreed with your assessments against you.

It’s not even an argument that can be supported with evidence.

Why are these people stupid? Because they like something you don’t?

Are people that like blue smarter than people that like pink?

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This brings me to my final point-

5. Remember It’s Your Opinion

I don’t believe all opinions are created equal. Some are weak and easy to refute when presented with enough evidence. However, it’s important to realize that there is really no one “correct” opinion when it comes to art.

In the end, art is just one big Rorschach test that is influenced by our unique experiences.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t express pleasure, disdain, disappointment or any other emotion that comes with examining stories. But we need to be open to other interpretations of the messages we consume and cognizant of how they may resonate with other people.

Thanks for reading!

The Most Beautifully Awful Writing Advice Ever

Recently I was introduced to a gorgeous poem by the late Charles Bukowski called “so you want to be a writer?”

Here’s a small exert:

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.

You can read the poem in it’s entirety here of you could listen to a reading of it here.

It’s beautiful, right? Inspiring, powerful—something you would want to make a wall decal out of to impress your friends at dinner parties.

It’s also very, very, very, very, very, very wrong.

In fact, it’s difficult to recall anything that I’ve read that has been so astronomically wrong about writing.

Don’t misunderstand me, when he’s talking about writing for fame and fortune and sex he’s totally on the mark. Precious few writers reach the level of world-wide recognition and if you only want to write for accolades then you clearly don’t have what it takes to succeed in this craft. However, he also says–

“if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again/don’t do it”

and

“if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it/don’t do it.

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Uhhhh….I don’t know a single solitary person, good writer or bad, who does not struggle with sitting down and writing.

I also do not know a single solitary person who has never had to suffer through a rewrite.

You know, because first drafts are dumpster fires of confusion and poor grammar.

For those of you who are fans of Charles Bukowski , did he not rewrite any of his poetry? My education on the man is lacking so that’s entirely possible. Nevertheless, if it’s true that he didn’t then he is an anomaly.

His poem goes on to say that a person should wait until the fires of passion are so hot  they have no choice but to let them out before writing something.

“if you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently/ if it never does roar out of you, do something else.”

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I have had moments where the desire to write something was so powerful that I felt like the story was literally trying to push its way out of me, but I’ll be the first to admit that these moments are few and far between.

If you wait until you feel as if you physically have no choice but to write something, odds are you will never finish anything.

The Inspiration Fairy is a very fickle creature and will oftentimes screw off at random, leaving you with no will to go on.

My favorite quote about inspiration goes as follows “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Courting inspiration is a lot like trying to find a significant other. You can’t just sit around and wait for someone to notice you.

I have found that the best way to attract inspiration is to have a set amount of time each day to write. Believe it or not, the more you write the more inspiration is likely to show up. There have been months where I have struggled to produce anything; however, once I made the decision to write for at least an hour every day, writing started to become less of a drag.

I found myself feeling more and more motivated and my writing began to suck a little bit less.

Better yet I actually started to finish things I started.

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Did that mean I never struggle? Hell no. I’m struggling right now, to be honest. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.

Same goes for you.

Struggling isn’t a sign you should quit, it’s simply a byproduct of trying.

And if you aren’t interested in trying then, and only then, would I say–

Don’t do it.

Letting My Friend Break My Kneecaps, or Getting Constructive Criticism

I am happy there is someone who is willing to give me their honest opinion of my work. It can be difficult to a) find someone who is willing to read anything, let alone something I wrote and b) find someone who will not pull punches when it comes to problems with plot, story, characters, etc.

I gave one such friend a manuscript for a short-story/novella I am writing and the response I received went a bit like this:

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My characters:

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Me:

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My friend:

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Okay, in all seriousness, it was for the best. Sure, she wrote a diss track on my story, but none of her critiques stemmed from hatred or toxicity. She even told me she liked the story in spite of its many, many problems. Most of the issues she commented on I had seen for myself and agreed with.

I don’t get writers that won’t take any type of criticism. I’ve had many writing classes and in each there is at least that one person who insists they are the next J.K. Rowling and refuse to believe that anything negative said about their work is be true.

The teacher is just jealous or that editor didn’t “get” the story, etc.

This may be condescending of me, but I have a nagging suspicion most of these writers aren’t going anywhere.

How do you expect to get any better if you don’t even know if you’re doing something wrong? Would it be better if your sky diving instructor didn’t tell you how to properly jump out of a plane?

Having a beta reader is undeniably crucial in my opinion. It’s so much easier to see what elements require further explanation, or which characters need more development.

Everything I type comes from my own head so I have the benefit of all that background information. The reader does not.

That doesn’t mean I’m immune to saltiness when it comes to remarks made against my babies, but I have learned that most thought-out criticisms have merit.

In the end, it’s worth all of the blows to the ego in order for my story to become the best that it can be.

The Third Draft of Redemption

It’s not perfect, but it’s done.

After several long weeks, I finally finished that pesky third draft that has been plaguing my every thought.

Remember how a few posts ago I wrote about how a second draft was like a forest fire? Well, this draft was like trying to put the forest back together after the flames and then attempting to make it look better than it did before getting torched.

I kept rereading my previous draft, wondering how I could possibly repair the damage I had wrought without overdoing.

In some cases, I have been able to fix certain errors in my work, however, the result is that it becomes completely sapped of all personality. Personally, I’d rather have a project that’s zanny and nonsensical than boring.

Luckily, I think this draft is neither A nor B.

It’s adventurous!

It’s full of action!

It’s 68 pages long….!

Crap.

Oh, well. I’ll worry about that later. For now, I will relish in the fact that I have stuck with this project for so long and am planning to see it through to the end. Whatever the fate of my story will be, I will not stop giving it the love and affection it deserves!

The Return of Doubt: a Writer’s Buzzkill

Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced the most inspiration I’ve had in ages.

There was no climactic moment in my life that ignited this outpouring of expression. For whatever reason the spark just came like a surprise visit from your favorite uncle that you haven’t seen in years.

I resurrected a story I laid to rest several months ago and my blog postings were at record high.

I still have several ideas tucked away in notebooks and my white board. Nonetheless, the sudden burst of urgency to write has vanished.

I have all of these thoughts just waiting to be explored. But when I try to write them, I feel as though I have rushed onto stage without memorizing my lines. There’s a pervasive sense of not belonging in my own head.

I’m waiting for the gun to fire before I make a dash for it. Problem is there is no cue. I’m just waiting at the starting line in my running gear.

It’s safe to assume that it’s back to business as usual. Muse isn’t going to rouse me out of bed or pass along the right words in a pretty wicker basket any longer. It’s back to mulling over paragraphs, habitually cutting and rearranging dialogue. Then, there is the return of my sloven roommate, Doubt.

Doubt gripes about plot holes and leaves crumbs all over my keyboard. He also opens Youtube when I’m trying to work and distracts me with pictures of kittens on Facebook.

I knew that the surge of inspiration wouldn’t last, although I had hoped it would. However, I did enjoy it. I tied many knots with loose threads I had previously left dangling. I wrote down my ideas so I have something to go on now that I’m experiencing a period of post creative binge.

Muse will return to me one day once she grows bored of her other creative lovers. Then we’ll go out, ignoring all other responsibilities and create. Until then, I will attempt to beat away my inhibitions with my laptop and sexy writing utensils.

What’s the Point of Critiquing Published Books?

Recently, a friend of mine posed the question: What’s the point of critiquing published works? It’s already published so it’s not like the author can rewrite it for a better review or something.

Personally, I don’t critique books that often unless the author is dead, or I have something positive to say about the novel.

I  hope to publish a book one day and I don’t believe in making enemies unnecessarily (let’s pretend for my ego’s sake that some important publishing house reads my blog and gives a crap what I think). However, I enjoy reading the critiques of others because I believe they are beneficial to everyone, including the writer.

As my friend pointed out, the writer can’t recall the books that have already been distributed to the masses in order to make rewrites, so it would seem that telling them they screwed up after the fact is a bit pointless.

I would, nevertheless, argue that, while it can’t help the writer with their past work, it could provide some input into what they should avoid doing in future projects.

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Criticism is how people grow as writers. Contrary to popular belief, very few debut novels become best-sellers. Most authors have to learn by seeing what an audience of strangers respond to positively as well as negatively. A friend’s view of a story may be colored by their perspective of the writer, whereas a critic usually has no idea what the author is like as a person and is more likely to judge the book solely on its performance. 

Reading critiques on published works help unpublished authors as well. It’s beneficial to look at the mistakes or successes of predecessors and learn from them. In Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, he mentions an author of a book he read as a young adult that always used the word “zestfully.” Sometimes seeing that even professionals mess up can be encouraging to fledgling writers.

I don’t think I would be half the writer I am today if it weren’t for the millions of critics I’ve watched/read online as well as off. At least the ones that explain why something does or doesn’t work. There’s a difference between crapping on -or giving blind praise to-something and giving an actual critique over it.

There are good critics and bad critics, but I believe there’s something to be learned from them all. Regardless of your stance on a piece of literature, critiques make you think about a story more in depth than you might have otherwise.

Writing Withdrawal

The professionals encourage amateur authors to write at least a little bit everyday. However, some days this is not possible.

Unless you don’t need sleep and operate solely on the power of hopes and dreams.

If I’ve had an idea marinating in my head for a long time, not being able to write it down can make me go stir crazy.

Sometimes I’m tempted to grab a receipt out of my wallet, or take a napkin from my glove compartment to jot down ideas in between red lights.

If I’m truly desperate, I’ll talk to myself in the car.

I’m not crazy.

I’m just fabricating an argument between two people that don’t exist.

If I figure it all out while I’m on the way to my 11:00 o’clock class, maybe it’ll all come together by the time I’m able to sit down at my desk and work.

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I’ve constructed a fantasy world for myself wherein I am sponsored by a wealthy aristocrat who lives in an actual medieval castle. He wears a blood red robe complete with pope hat and pays me to live in a fancy loft and write all day. I type on a pristine typewriter and everything I create is amazing.

In reality, I have to go to work and obtain a college degree like everybody else.

Not to mention, I’m lucky if the hour worth of work I’m able to squeeze out of every other day is even going to be in the finished product.

The best advice I can give is to take advantage of whatever you have at your disposal.

Jot down a few words on your note app on your phone while you’re waiting in line.

Use your voice memos app to dictate as you’re driving. It’ll be a pain transcribing (unless you also have an app for that), but at least you’ll have more of an idea of what you want to do.

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Always carry a pen and notepad.

Above all else, if you have free time, don’t procrastinate.

You don’t appreciate free time until you don’t have it anymore.

Dear First Draft: a Breakup Letter

Dear First Draft,

Remember how I said I needed some time away to think about our relationship? Well, I’ve given myself some breathing room and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that we should see other people.

I know this must be heartbreaking for you. It’s difficult for me as well. In the beginning, our love burned so brightly. I was completely beguiled by you. I thought you were the most unique snowflake in a snow storm of literature. You were so strong, so smart. I’d even go so far as to call you sexy. But now that I’ve allowed our little fling to cool off, I realize that we can’t maintain this relationship any longer.

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For one thing, you’re more gabby than I remember. In the past I was absorbed by your every word. Each sentence was tailored like a tapestry. You were beautiful and intricate. Now that I’ve reread you, you just dither on pointlessly about scenery and give a bunch of exposition nobody cares about. I don’t know why you thought giving the custodian five pages of backstory was good idea. Considering he only does one thing that has any bearing on the plot, this seems more than a little pointless.

Secondly, you’re unstructured. You don’t know who you are or what you’re doing. You’re like a goldfish with Alzheimer’s. You can’t seem to remember what the main character’s motivations are. Sometimes you’re lucky to remember what day of the week it is. You said it was Friday one day, and then the next day too.

© Copyright 2014 CorbisCorporation

Also, as much as it pains me to say this, your grammar sucks. Seriously, it’s bad. Maybe it was the wine that made me see a comma where a period should have been. Who knows? Perhaps it was my love for you that blinded me to your faults. In the past, I wanted to show you off to everyone. Scream my love for you from the rooftops. Now I want to keep you in a closet where you can’t embarrass me anymore.

This is hard for me to admit, but I’ve been seeing another draft behind your back. I feel horrible about it. Nonetheless, I can’t deny there is more chemistry between he and I than there was with us.

Sure, he has his flaws too. He isn’t quite sure what he wants either, but he doesn’t write “your” instead of “you’re” and he doesn’t talk forever about birds or how much the sun is shining.

I feel like he understands my train of thought more. We’ll be seeing a lot more of each other in the future.

In fact, I think he might be the one.

I know this is difficult for you. But we had fun, didn’t we? It was chaos. It was messy. Nothing made sense. But it was fun.

Though our love has come to an end, I will always remember you. And you will always have a place in my heart…..

And in a desk drawer where you’ll never been seen by another living person again.

Sincerely,

Writer

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.