The Mark Blog

The Typewriter Dilemma

I’m writing on a laptop in bed.  About as far from Hemingway as possible, but I have an excuse: a vegan restaurant food-poisoned me. If I move too much, I get sick.  Even typing that last sentence made me a tad nauseous.

 Speaking of laptops and dead writers, lately I’ve been thinking about typewriters. Specifically, why I don’t use one. One pretty solid reason is that it’s 2013. The ability to make split-second edits sure comes in handy, as does the instant access to email so that I can make that midnight deadline without having to hire expensive messengers or carrier pigeons or however it used to be done. Also, I’m pretty sure I’d have a hard time typing away here in bed with a hunk of metal in my lap. In summation, it makes a heckuva lot more sense to write on a computer in this day and age. 
 
So why do I sometimes feel lame about it?
 
First off, I blame cafes, especially the ones full of people on laptops.  Are most of them writers?  Probably not.  Mostly they’re online. Unless you happen to be in LA like me, then quite possibly they’re wanna-be screenwriters. I’ve grown to despise glancing at a screen and seeing that oh-so-familiar format:
 
Handsome Man
Hey there, pretty lady.
 
Pretty Lady
Hey there, handsome man.  
 
I prefer cafes without all the laptops, but then of course I’ll ruin it by busting out my own. By the way, as recent as last Fall, it seemed this trend still hadn’t caught on in most of Portugal and Spain, where I would write in a notebook so as not to stand out as the dumb turista.
 
I also blame writers like Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, and Will Self, who, beyond all common sense, continue to write on typewriters. Will’s excuse is that it “makes you slower in a good way, I think. You don't revise as much, you just think more, because you know you're going to have to retype the entire fucking thing.”
 
Interesting, because I feel like the reverse can be true; too much thinking can get in the way of good writing, and that the faster you can spill out your thoughts, the less chance you have of tripping them up.  Then again, I can see the point that words become less precious, and we become accustomed to disposable writing, knowing we can easily edit or scratch stuff out rapidly.  It’s the contemporary dilemma: too many possibilities.
 
But that concept existed even in the age of typewriters.  Take the Kerouac approach, with his continuous reels of paper, spewing it out as fast and unfiltered as possible. Of course, the Benzedrine probably didn’t hurt, either. 
 
Isn’t a computer pretty much the modern equivalent of the continuous reel of paper? And Adderall could stand in for the Bennies, or multiple shots of espresso if you’re not that hardcore. (Stimulants are to literature what steroids are to athletics, more or less. Though right now, I’d take a Pepto-Bismol over anything.)
 
It comes back to the question: is bigger better?  Is the ability to churn out more words and instantly edit a more effective way of writing? Are we losing or gaining something with this technology?
 
I think the answer is personal. Older writers got their start on the typewriter, so it’s become tradition for them. A lot of other writers made the switch.  I remember Bukowski talking about writing on his Macintosh, and, though at first I had a hard time reconciling this with his image, now I gather one possible reason: it’s much easier to operate a computer soused.
 
I do remember using a typewriter in my early school days, but just barely. My Dad was a bit of a tech geek, bought the first Apple 2, the first Macintosh, etc., so I was already writing on them when a lot of my friends had yet to even own a computer.
 
Still, I long for a past that I wasn’t a part of. Kind of like how I’d love to own a cool 70s sedan, some old tank of a car with leather bench seats and a roaring, V8 engine.  But do I really want to spend that much on gas and repairs, much less burn that much fuel in this day and age? For what? To fulfill some cool image I have of myself?
 
As much as I’d like to be the kind of guy who writes on typewriters, I have to accept the reality. Someday laptops might be old-fashioned. They’ll be something newer, fingerless writing, for example, and I’ll be seen as an old-fashioned finger guy.  Or, maybe writing itself will be a lost art.  Still, I’m sure you’ll find me in the corner of the café, plugging away.