Friday, May 13, 2011

Last typewriter factory standing

I heard yesterday that the last typewriter factory in the world just closed in India.

I didn't know how I felt, because, for one, I had been raised as a writer on fountain pens and manual typewriters. I had taken typing in high school, not knowing where it would lead or when I would need it, and thinking it was going to be an easy credit. (It was.)

I also wrote my first novel on an old Royal typewriter, which I had painted with a roommate's leftover purple nail polish, and peach colored keys. It had a radiohead sticker later in its days, and typed many more than the 320,000 words of my first draft. People usually say: "then you had to type the whole thing again into the computer?" Yes. It was a writing exercise that got rid of all the head-spinning back and forth editing that I end up doing now, and gave me a coherent skeleton to mark up with red pen. It was exactly what I needed.

Typewriters are not like fountain pens. Especially manual (non electric) ones. No longer produced for many years in North America, every one that is sitting in a basement somewhere is a one-of-a-kind artifact, with a unique history like horse drawn furrows or the abacus. Fountain pens are still made, and have been around for thousands of years (yes, thousands, the Egyptians invented them). There is a culture of fountain pens, but typewriters are just babies on the printing scene. The advice I got from my creative writing professor, back in 1993, over a couple (okay, a few) beers at a local pub, I think still holds true. He said if you want to learn how to write a novel, instead of taking all these courses, you take a large stack of paper and a typewriter into a cabin in the woods, and don't come out until you have a novel. Ironically, in 1998 that is exactly what I did after the ice storm crippled the island of Montreal.

Did it work? Hell yes.

I guess I'm trying to say that a computer just doesn't have that same desperation that a project or an author needs to get that novel done. There's always wi-fi, or 3G, there's always a portal to Wikipedia and Facebook, and Twitter. Even out in the Himalayas, you're never really alone.

Ah, the typewriter.

Computers, the criticism goes, are too fast for my fiction writing. I still write most of my fiction with a fountain pen, because, take this however you will, that is the speed of my brain on writing. Then I crank it into a word processor, and somewhere between the two, the humble typewriter, once a revolution in business and the arts, has been lost.

As I type my 75+ wpm, banging off blog entries in minutes, moving words around and correcting errors with ease, perhaps I am sounding like my grandfather. He used to talk about the horse-drawn milk delivery, or local bakeries with the same wistful remembrance the same twinkle in his eye. It all comes down to the same thing he used to say about modern life.

It just isn't the same.

To download my first novel, squeakyclean, click here:


  1. Not to worry! There's still a manufacturer of clear typewriters for prisons.

  2. Ooh, would it be suspicious if I bought me one?