Tag Archives: typewriter

Pictures and Words 02: Beautiful Tools

22 Oct
Yes, the 'new' is fully ironic - sorry.

Yes, the ‘new’ is fully ironic – sorry.

This is my favorite writing instrument and it is responsible for hundreds of thousands of words – and some of them are good, I swear! In fact, I just finished up a draft of my newest novel on this machine. My guess is about 85% of the final pages came through the typewriter before I put them on the computer. It might seem like a time-consuming process, but I am actually lazy and super efficient. This type-first method gives me a chance to edit on-the-fly, as I retype it into a Word document. As a bonus, there is a stack of raw pages for me to look at – complete with all my spellcheck-free errors and grammatical gaffes.

Note to self: burn all original pages; the embarrassment would kill me; there may be collateral shame-deaths.

Now, it does have a few temperamental issues. The ink ribbon doesn’t auto-return. So I have to open the top and push a little lever to change the direction it advances. And, regardless of how much I use it, a couple of the keys stick – for no good, goddamn reason. The ‘m’ and the ‘j’ keys are the worst offenders, but some of the other keys like to get on the action too. There is very little to match the frustration of having to stop every time I use those letters.

But it has a solidity – a real, tangible quality – that is perfect for my work. The sound of the keys hitting the paper is like music to my ears. The feel of the impact in my fingers makes me feel like I’m actually making something. There is an uncanny rhythm and sensibility to the action of typing. The keys slap, I move the carriage back, I mark the page number when I pull out the paper, and I carefully insert another, and roll the wheel to line it up.

Now and then I forget what I’m doing and I reach for my wireless mouse. You take for granted how easy it is to distract yourself from writing. I can’t check my email, or look something up “really quick” on Wikipedia. Those short moments when my mind is idle don’t lead to a destructive cycle of procrastination. Instead, I just plow on, until I get done. Yes, it’s ‘just’ a machine. And yes, I am totally in love with it. No, there’s nothing wrong with that.


My Work Space

16 Oct
This motivates me.

This motivates me.


The studio I work in is in (what I think is) a strange part of downtown. The building is mostly empty, with a restaurant out front and a bar next door. I share it with two real cool writers and I think we’re good for each other. Just being around other people who are actually working is pure magic – but that’s a subject for another time. I have never been more productive and happy to work on my craft.

My chair is a solid wood thrift shop find on big ol’ casters. It’s got funky, orange padding, it’s not too comfortable, and you can’t adjust anything on it. The typewriter was a gift from a dear friend; he’d lugged the damn thing around the world and back, even though it’s not really portable. It’s home is on top of the brown, leather briefcase my mom bought me when I turned eighteen. Why would she do such a thing? No one will ever know, but I still get some use out of it now and then – just like the typewriter.

There is a wooden coffee table under that, and next to it is a second-hand floor lamp which gives me an adequate amount of work light. All of this is next to my trusty, gray aluminum, two-drawer filing cabinet – which doubles as a small tabletop of sorts. It’s a good place to keep my small bin of yo-yos, little office essentials, and somewhere to prop up my papers. I usually don’t put my coffee, water, or snacks there, for fear of spillage – but I have a rickety barstool that does the trick.

Now, when I’m using my laptop, it rests on an old TV tray that is just the perfect height for me. A lot of people might not know what these are for, but they were an invention of the 1950s – right about the time that Americans fell in love with television. These tiny, folding tables were perfect for propping up your dinner, cutlery, and beverages, so the whole family could stuff their faces while watching TV. How wonderfully ‘Mericun. They still make ‘em, of course, and mine is light bamboo or something.

I didn’t spend more than ten bucks on any one of those things – a fact that makes me pretty pleased with myself. And it’s not just weird smugness. I literally had to save up to make those purchases (besides the gifts, naturally). Now I could probably head out to Ikea and snap up some super awesome Scandinavian furniture science without breaking the bank. But there is a crazy appeal to me, in this slap-dash, bizarre conglomeration of junk. It is MY stuff.

The one thing I don’t have in my cozy little workspace is the internet. Oh sure, my studio-mates have it, and they really do need it for their business and projects. But I have warned them – on pain of death – to never give me the password. If I have access to the internet, my ability to write fades away. It is not a matter of self-control really, nor is it a matter of ‘net addiction’ or whatever. It is the neurotic desire to check my email, or my twitter, or facebook, or – everything. It is everything that I could be doing.

I don’t have any weird desire to live in the past. I am not a nostalgic hipster. I couldn’t give a damn about being ‘mainstream’ or not. The only thing I want to do is write. And every time I get work done on a project, I am teaching myself the most important lesson:

This is what works, this is what doesn’t.

And that’s it. Get off the internet. Write some words. Now write some more. It should be that simple. I’m doing my best to make it that simple.


Things That Work, Part 1

13 Apr


Things That Work
Part 1

It was Monday morning and I was alone. I sat in front of the typewriter. My studio was quiet, with just a tiny level of traffic noise from the street. It was mid-spring, so the room was comfortable. Happy sunlight glowed through the old, stained skylight. Curls of steam rose like ethereal tendrils from my coffee cup next to my chair. I leaned forward quickly and typed as I nodded my head.

“Oh, that’s good,” I muttered as my fingers flew. Every time a digit struck my ears were rewarded with a satisfying clack. “Uh, ‘curls of steam… ethereal..’ yeah…”

I sat back and took a sip of the dark, earthy brew. It burned my lip and tongue, just on the edge of being too hot. The words floated through my mind and I returned to typing. When I got to the bottom of the page, I pulled the paper out and replaced it. The process was quick, now that I was used to it.

Another reflex took over and I tried to reach for my mouse. My hand paused in mid-air and I shook my head. My computer wasn’t even turned on. There was no way to check my email. If I wanted to look up how a word was spelled, or find out why shade-grown coffee was superior – or any other damned thing – it would have to wait. There was no internet in the studio, even if I was dying to distract myself. I adjusted my seat and got back to work.

Tuesday morning was rough. I was behind my normal schedule as I eased into the chair. My coffee was hot, even if my brain was only lukewarm. I turned on the laptop, opened up the file folder and selected the right document. As I sipped my coffee, my fingers flipped through the typewritten pages from yesterday. The feel of each raised letter on the paper was nice – a physical reminder of the work I had done.

I propped up the pages, in order, and began to type on the computer. The soft, super responsive keys barely made a sound. Fingers flew across the keyboard as my gaze scanned back and forth on the page. In the middle of the last paragraph I stopped and considered the wording. My mental dictionary picked out a better turn of phrase.

On page three, I took out a line of flat dialogue. The next paragraph was out of order. I highlighted the text and moved it to page one. Then I deleted two paragraphs that followed.

“Measure once, cut twice,” I murmured. I swallowed a long drink of coffee and laughed. “Or is it the other way around?”

When I got to the end, I spent a few minutes reading it all over. I scrolled down to the bottom and saved the whole thing. I dropped the typewritten pages on shelf next to my typewriter. After I downed the rest of my coffee, I decided to get a refill. My mind bounced around with words and descriptions. The sunlight was nice.

Back in the studio, I fed a new sheet of paper into the typewriter. I glanced at the last few paragraphs and started typing again. The air was filled with the crack and clatter of metal keys striking the blank slate. My words appeared, one letter at a time, imprinted into the paper itself with black ink. I fed page after page into the machine and page after page came out, covered with my words. It was a nice arrangement.

<> <> <>

And THAT is what works. For me. Sometimes. Except, ya know, when it doesn’t work. But I think that’s related to some other, even more serious problem.

Is it more convoluted? Does it make the whole process of writing longer, more complicated? Hell yes. But it also shuts up my internal editor. I think I may have mentioned this before: He is a world-class jerkface. Anything that shuts him up – so I can work – is a damned good thing.

Here’s why it works for me. I’m using a different physical device. The typewriter doesn’t have a backspace, or any way to delete what I’ve done. It is immediate and undoable. I made a deal with my internal editor. He can do whatever he wants when I transcribe it onto my laptop. It’s like an instant, on-the-fly editing job. But it allows me the freedom to get that first draft out of my system.

Do I feel funny, typing on a typewriter? Isn’t that what hipsters, or poseurs do? Honestly? Who gives a damn. I do what WORKS. And today, after all the pain and misery I’ve had to wade through, it was ME that worked. You do what you have to do. Whatever puts words on the page, my friend.