When nostalgia is misplaced.

Fair warning: I am about to not step on some toes, but stomp on some writing fantasies. So if you’re bothered by such things, you might want to stop reading now.

Now that the warnings are out of the way, let’s get down to business.

Recently, in an online writer’s group I’m involved in, someone asked where they could find a typewriter. Their reasoning for asking was that they were having problems writing because their laptop was randomly failing as they used it. My response was simple: forget about looking for a typewriter and find someone to fix the laptop so they could get on with writing.

For my efforts, I received some pointed negative comments, but I stand by my position: Modern computers, even those in need of serious TLC, are infinitely better writing implements than typewriters.

I do not take this position because I used to work on computers for a living, but because of past experience writing on both computers and typewriters.

For roughly the first year of my time as a writer, i.e. someone who writes material for others to read, I used a typewriter. It wasn’t anything elegant, just an (even then, nearly thirty years ago) ancient Underwood manual. I had been looking for some way to get stuff in printed form, and had picked it up for what I thought was a song at an auction sale. Of course, once I started using it, I found out why it had been so cheap: it needed a new ribbon (yes, it used an honest-to-gods ribbon, one on a pair of spools that had to feed into place by hand), half the keys had their letters crudely painted on, the hammers themselves often stuck, and it was rare event when all the text lined up perfectly.

For all that, it got me started, and until I found a cheap computer and printer (an elderly Kaypro that should have been in a museum even before I laid hands on it and a very early HP Laserjet printer that weighed about as much as a modern Smart car), I was glad to make do with what I had. It wasn’t until I first sat down and worked with a word processing package (WordPerfect, if memory serves) that I realized that writing wasn’t something to suffer while doing. No more lines of text that jogged all over the place. No more pages where the text angled subtly from one side to the other because I hadn’t quite gotten the paper in correctly. No stopping to ‘white out’ an error, or to plaster it on a portion of a page so I could change a sentence completely. No more worrying about pages accidentally getting out of order because I knocked what I’d already typed over.

Since then, I’ve gone through several different computers, many printers, and more than a few word processing packages, but never once have I felt a desire to go back to the ‘good old days’ of using a typewriter. Don’t get me wrong, if a typewriter is all you can afford, then go with one. If you need to sit down in front of a typewriter to get your ‘creative juices’ flowing, more power to you. But please, when you’re talking about them, don’t look at the experience through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. There’s one universal truth we should all acknowledge: typewriters are a pain to work with. Compared to computers, even the balkiest ones, they’re seriously inferior in usability. So the next time you read/hear some writer expressing an interest in getting a typewriter, especially some young writer who does not know what they’re really like to use, please give them an honest opinion of the beast they are about to tangle with.

BTW, here’s my old Underwood. I keep it around partly because it weighs so much I’m not sure the garbage men would take it if I threw it out, but mostly to remind me of how much better I have it these days.