An Ode to My Typewriter

Sitting here typing away on my laptop has become second nature. There are moments, however, when I fondly recall my old Smith-Corona typewriter. What a treat it was to carry it to college in its snazzy case — my first electric typewriter. Toggle the on button, listen for the whir, insert bright white paper, roll down to an inch from the top margin. And type.

typewriterThe force needed to push the keys on my old manual typewriter gave way to easier tapping. But alas, errors had to be either carefully erased with a clean eraser or whited out with the ever-present bottle of appropriately named Wite-Out or with Liquid Paper. (Fun fact: Did you know Liquid Paper was invented by Bette Nesmith Graham, mother of Mike Nesmith — member of 1960s band The Monkees?) I loved to use “onion-skin” paper because it was so much easier to erase — the surface just didn’t hold the ink as well. Teachers hated it because it also made the papers extremely difficult to read. (As a college prof now always reading printed papers, I publicly apologize to all my own college profs who suffered through such papers from me!)

Ribbons would run out and need to be replaced, causing your paper to appear in two tones. Not paying attention could cause you to type for several words with nothing appearing on the page. Not paying attention might also cause you to type right off the bottom of the sheet of paper, which meant either retyping the page or slathering Wite-Out across the entire bottom of the sheet of paper and blowing on it until it would (eventually) dry. Same thing with making sure you heard the ding at the right margin and reached up to push the carriage back to start the next line.

Some days, when I’m writing and backspacing with ease on my laptop (no clumsy erasers or Wite-Out bottles in sight), when I’m moving paragraphs around and changing my mind only to move them somewhere else, I think how different my college papers would have been with this amazing machine instead of my clunky Smith-Corona. Would I have done a final revision, knowing I should move a new paragraph to the beginning but also knowing that would mean retyping the entire paper? I’m sure, too often, the pages were just left as they were because it would have been far too much trouble and too time-consuming to retype.

Ernest-Hemingway-1929-Underwood-Standard FAKE
What might have been Hemingway’s typewriter, as seen at The Atlantic, “The Hidden World of Typewriters.”

Which also gives me awe for the likes of Hemingway and, indeed, those classic writers, who worked by hand and on manual typewriters. Hemingway once told The Paris Review that he rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms 39 times. Whether he did this on a notepad or on a trusty typewriter, I honestly am amazed at picturing him yanking the paper out of the typewriter, scrolling in a new piece, taking a drag on a cigarette, and trying again and again and again until he was satisfied.

All of this makes me happy to report that typewriters are apparently making a comeback. Young people have always had screens and easy-to-push keys. I wonder if they are finding some kind of tangible joy in the feel of a typewriter and getting one that “fits” them individually — has the right angles, the right tension, even the right lines and color.

I have a couple of old typewriters that merely decorate my office, although my 11-year-old grandson is fascinated and attempts to type against the ancient ribbon each time he visits.

Now I’m thinking I need to clean it up, try to find a usable ribbon, and work my hand and wrist muscles a bit.

Nah. Writing is hard enough. But I still admire Hemingway.

Those of you readers who typed on typewriters, what do you miss (or not)?