Hello! I’m writing this to you from 1954.
That’s not true, of course (it’s still 2022), but I feel like I’m sending it from Eisenhower’s first term. I’m typing the first draft of this piece on a 1954 Smith Corona Silent, a green and gray beauty from the fine folks at Nashville Typewriter.
Now, deciding to buy a typewriter in this age of the internet and texting and iPads is like saying, “Hey, I bought a butter churn!” But there are plenty of writers who still use typewriters, including Robert Caro, Loren Estleman, Cormac McCarthy, Don Delillo, and Danielle Steel (and she has written almost 200 books on her ’40s Olympia, so she must be doing something right).
I love using something made in 1936 or 1954 or 1980, something that lasts forever, that looks and works exactly like it did back then. Using a typewriter is a form of time travel.
For people who know me well, the fact that I use a typewriter isn’t a surprise. I’m someone who still has a landline, uses a paper planner, has more notebooks than I will ever fill, and wears a wristwatch (one with hands!). So owning a typewriter fits into that life quite nicely.
Why do I love them so much?
- They’re made for doing one thing: writing. There are no distractions, no email to check, no alerts that grab your attention (except the “ding” that tells you to return the carriage). Some people look at these old machines and think, “But you can’t access the internet on it!” Not being able to access the internet on my writing machine is a feature, not a bug.
- They’re beautiful! Look at this 1947 Smith Corona Sterling, this 1948 Hermes Baby, this 1955 Royal Quiet Deluxe, this 1951 Princess 300, this 1957 Voss De Luxe, this 1960 Torpedo 18, or this 1960s Antares Annabella. They’re not just “something you write with,” they’re works of art. Does anyone smile or get all dreamy and nostalgic when they think of a 1998 Dell or a 2019 Chromebook? Even Macs, the most well-designed of computers, have limited charm.
- Make a list of the 25 best novels of all-time. I bet most, if not all of them, were written on a typewriter (maybe even handwritten!), not a computer.
- No one prints out an email or a text and sticks it to their bulletin board or tells someone else about it. Type a letter to someone and snail mail it (with the address and return address handwritten) and it will immediately become a prized possession (bills and IRS letters excluded).
- No glitches, no viruses, no malware, no social media. Works during a power outage, too.
Of course, I don’t use a typewriter all the time. It’s impossible in the 21st century. As someone who does a lot of work online and has to email their work to editors and other people, doing all of my writing on a typewriter just isn’t something that would work today. Tom Hanks is probably the world’s biggest typewriter nerd and uses one every single day, but he wrote his book of short stories on a computer. Even Andy Rooney, who famously used an old Underwood manual for decades (he owned 17) eventually switched to a computer and admitted it was easier (though he still owned several typewriters and used them for letters and notes and such).
And after using a computer keyboard for over 30 years, typing on a typewriter is hard. I haven’t used a typewriter since the 1980s, and it really does take some time to get back into the swing of things, to get a rhythm going, for your fingers to remember how to press those keys. Sometimes the next key seems so far away. I’ll get used to it, but I can’t imagine doing all of my writing on a typewriter (though if I had to, I would).
But it’s wonderful for writing letters, creating first drafts, making notes and lists, and a typed message on a card or thank you note looks fantastic. I didn’t buy it for show or to solidify any hipster credentials. I’m actually using it!
So I write on both a typewriter and a MacBook. I live in 1954 and in 2022. Old and new, analog and digital, beauty and convenience. I straddle both worlds and try to use the technology that suits me best and works the best depending on what I’m doing. And that’s really what we all should be doing with technology, isn’t it?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have my eye on a nice Olivetti …
Featured image: Shutterstock
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