Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ode Upon a Grecian Typewriter

I miss typewriters. I miss the loud, clackety clack. The zzzzzhhhing of the return carriage. Punching the keys to make an impression on the paper. I miss the smell of paper and ink ribbons.

I miss typewriters. But only for a moment.

I couldn't live without computers. I don't miss measuring the paper before putting it in so I don't type to the absolute bottom of the page. I don't miss having to use a messy, blue sheet of carbon paper between two pieces of paper to make a copy. I don't miss correcting mistakes by using correcting tape and then realigning the typewriter and hoping my letters line up.

So why all the nostalgia? I don't know. I do collect typewriters. I wrote on them in college and grad school. I wrote my first (terrible, btw) novel on a typewriter - that one had a daisy wheel. Oh, I'm far more efficient and prolific now that I can cut, paste and delete with reckless (sometimes regretworthy) abandon.

But typing used to be an experience. I don't know - the sound of the keys helped me think. Printing my thoughts directly onto a sheet of paper seemed more permanent - more immediate somehow.

Today, you could write fifty pages on a laptop and until you printed them off, it isn't real. You only had to type one page on a typewriter, and you held that one page (flaws and all) in your hand. It existed.

My kids think I'm completely insane. I have a small, manual typewriter like the kind reporters took with them into the field. To them it's as big as a piano. When I tell them about measuring to make room for footnotes or spending twenty cents a page to make a copy at Kinko's (only in dire circumstances), they laugh hysterically.

The big gift when I graduated high school was a Brother electric typewriter. It weighed 30 lbs. I had to suffer through a semester of typing class to get it. Remember the 80lb. IBM Selectrics and the foldover Gregg textbooks? My grandfather was a travelling typewriter repairman for IBM. He retired in the early '70's. I still find IBM Selectrics with his name written in them as having last been serviced by George Johnson.

I miss typewriters. But would I ever go back to writing on them?

Not a chance.

Leslie Langtry


  1. I love old typewriters! I collect them, too, I just can't quit.

    In addition to having typed stories, they each tell their own personal one, and I dig that.

  2. Fun piece, Leslie. I never wrote on a typewriter. I was so intimidated by them. I used to pay someone to type my papers in school. I first started writing on a word processor. You could only see a few lines of text at a time and it was heavy as all get out.

  3. Leslie, love your post! I had an IBM Selectric, too, and an IBM Wheelwriter at college. I think I wrote two or three manuscripts on those babies. My hubby bought me a mechanical keyboard for my PC so I can hear the wonderful clackety-clack of keys as I write. It's awesome! It's like having a typewriter keyboard with a computer brain. ;-)

  4. Susan - where did he get it???
    Karin - I had a word processor too. It was a daisy wheel typewriter hooked up to a monitor.

  5. I have a wonderful manual typewriter that's now decor. It belonged to my grandfather who was a NYC detective. He used it to write his arrest reports in the 1930's & '40's. My electric typewriter is in a knee wall somewhere. In college, it saw me through many a creative writing paper--Back then, I wish I'd had stock in white out.

    Fun post, Leslie!

  6. Leslie, at the local MicroCenter. I think this is it online:

    I love it! It's so reassuringly noisy. ;-)

    Laura, that is SO cool. You can never give that away, you know. It's an heirloom. :-)

  7. Laura- a typewriter with a backstory! I love it!
    Susan - I'm gonna look them up! Thanks!

  8. Very fun post, Leslie!
    I have an old electric typewriter, too, that I loved, loved, loved when I was in college. Like you and Susan, I really like the sound of the clicking keys...but I'm so relieved I don't have to write a 400-pg. book on one ;).
    p.s. I checked out your website and your mysteries sound hilarious -- looking forward to reading!!

  9. Thanks Marilyn! Remember changing the ribbons? I don't think ink cartridge printers are that much better!

  10. Loved this post. I learned to type on a manual typewriter in the office where my grandmother worked as a secretary in Meridian, Mississippi, in the 1950s! In highschool I took a typing class on an electric typewriter. I bought one and took it to Ole Miss with me in 1969, where I made money typing (and editing) papers. Didn't get my first computer until the late 1980s, and yes, I missed the physicality of having that written page come out of the typewriter. But I didn't miss White Out and changing ribbons. What a fun walk down memory lane!

  11. Marilyn's comment reminded me that sometimes when the writing is going really crappy, I do say, "Well, it could be worse. I could have just manually typed 40 or 50 crappy pages..." :)