Thursday, September 13, 2012


Writing Tools

In the ninth grade I opted for an easy credit and signed up for typing class. It turned out not to be the easy credit I had imagined, but I managed to get through it. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would use what I learned there.

Fast forward a few short years and I found my fingers sailing across a computer keyboard (something I’d never heard of in the ninth grade) while my co-workers used the hunt-n-peck method. Not only did that class prepare me for my future in front of keyboards, but it gave me a deepened respect for writers who hammered out classic literature on typewriters.

The typewriter I learned on was an IBM Selectric II.

It had a moveable typing ball that came in various font styles. One of our favorite tricks was to lift the release arm on top of the ball (not our own typewriter, of course) and watch the ball fly into the air as soon as the first finger pressed a key. The teacher wasn’t as big a fan of that feature as we were, especially the boys.

At that time, the Selectric II was top of the line. A few of my fellow students had to use the old-style typewriters with a carriage that moved as you typed. To return to the next line you had to reach up and push the carriage back with a lever. The keys were harder to press, too, like the difference in cars with and without power steering.

I was thinking the other day about writers like William Faulkner and Ernest Hemmingway, and about the dedication it must have taken to write novels with old manual typewriters. Editing had to be excrutiating. I wonder how many scene changes never got made because the author didn’t want to retype? And what about authors who wrote before the manual typewriter was invented?

We grow accustomed to our surroundings rather quickly, I suppose. I use Scrivener now because it is so much easier to keep my manuscript organized than it was with Word. Will that help make my upcoming novel better than the one before it? No, I suppose not. I still have to create the scenes in my head. Scrivener can’t do the heavy lifting for me any more than a laptop can write a novel on its own. It takes a writer to write. The laptop, like the typewriter, like the pencil, is nothing more than an implement we use to let others see our ideas.

A lifetime from now some writer will probably look back in wonder at how authors of our generation managed to work with such antiquated tools as the laptop. Who knows what methods will be invented in the future for processing words? Speech recognition will almost certainly be a factor, but even that technology may be dwarfed by something we can’t imagine at this point.

Do you think Dante imagined a writing device where authors simply pressed keys and created words inside a microchip? It’s safe to say he didn’t.

Even if in the future there is some device to read an author’s thoughts and generate a manuscript, it will still take a person with talent and imagination to generate those thoughts. Our future is secure, I believe, regardless of how much the tools of our trade evolve.

People want stories. It’s our job, as writers, to deliver, just as the great ones before us delievered. Readers don’t care what implement we used to get the story in their hands. They couldn’t care less if we outlined, plotted, or used Scrivener in place of Word. They won’t care if we used a laptop, typewriter, or chisled it into the face of a stone tablet, as long as they can pull it from a bookshelf, or punch it up on their Kindle, and lose themselves inside the worlds we create.

Carl Purdon is the author of The Night Train, available on Amazon.
Kindle Edition:

Connect with Carl online at:
Twitter (@CarlPurdon):!/CarlPurdon

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