Writing, Now and Then

laptop-vs-typewriter makeuseof

      WHAT WAS WRITING like in the pre-sixties, seventies even? Before everything electronic took over. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

Through nostalgia’s telescope, a history emerges of writers who diligently hammered away on typewriters to the sounds of pings with no other inanimate distraction than a landline. I think on what it might have been like, and it seems ideal.

Record stops abruptly

Actually, when I really think about it, it seems tougher. Way tougher. My romanticised notion of hitting keys, replacing ink ribbon, inserting new sheets of paper in a threadbare room while staring wistfully out a window is just that. The ease with which we can access and type now is incredible; from mobiles to laptops.

Everything is quick now…apart from literary agents. If I wanted to know how Eskimos lived for a story, before internet existed I would have had to research in a library (for those reading this in 2030… definition: a place with books accessible to the public for borrowing and reading). Trawling through books is time-consuming with no guarantee you’ll get what you are after. Now it is amazing. One click on the browser and we can not only read about an area of interest but often see pictures and videos as well for a full sensory grasp.

Instead of sending manila envelopes stuffed with short stories and novels, we just send an email. Click, click, done. The entire process of writing has speeded up. And I feel pretty lucky to be in this era of technology. Writing is such a basic millenia old practice, yet combined with tech they go so well together.

Instead of knowing you through a blog I might be friends with you based on a pen pals section in a writing magazine. The connectedness is really great now, and when I think back on how simple life was for writers 40+ years ago it’s nothing more than a temporary dissatisfaction with present day. Given enough time even global rogues lose some of their evil patina, such is the overwhelming power of the past to distort itself in real terms.

We have it pretty damned good. But, because there always is one…writing seemed more valued, treasured and loved even only about 15 years ago. I hope writers stay read and readers stay interested. There is more competition than ever for our attention in the dark arts of entertainment. One way or another, I think the written story will survive regardless of format. We need narratives and escapes. And some of us need to stay on the right side of sanity by exorcising the stories from our minds.

lion around 2

50 Comments

  1. The first stuff I ever wrote (way, way back many centuries ago, to quote Lloyd Webber Joseph.) was on one of those old clackety-clack typewriters (Olivetti or something). I think the advantage (if there was one at all) was that one’s thoughts could keep ahead of one’s typing speed. With computer keyboards it seems to be the other way round!

  2. I vividly recall the days when I typed on a manual typewriter, then an electric. You had to rewrite every draft. When my first novel was ready to submit, I had all my friends who had typewriters come to my apartment for a typing party. We got almost half the book typed out in one evening. People still talk about that party. It was fun…

    …and I wouldn’t go back to those days if you gave me a Hugo every year for the rest of my life.

  3. A long time ago, the keyboards weren’t QWERTY pads. They were actually listed abcd which I find fascinating.
    With the original typewriters, it grouped all the most commonly sequenced letters together which often caused jams – and you’d have to reset the type writer – leading to todays qwerty pads.
    Apparently you could type incredibly fast on those old keyboards because it was more efficient but I don’t know.
    Not that old 😛

    1. Interesting. I’ve heard the qwerty should never have been the standard due to the fact it isn’t the most efficient, but like many things it happened and once it went global there is little sign of it changing now.
      Seems to work ok tbh, but a bit of a shift to go from qwerty to abcd.

      1. Definitely. QWERTY was a safeguard to prevent jamming and nothing else.
        Once they fixed the issues with the earlier keyboards, I’m surprised they didn’t revert immediately back. They were only what…five years apart or so. I guess everyone just got used to it 😐

  4. Man use portable manual typewriter machine for many year. first long ago he clack away on olivetti lettera 22. then he find used smith corona super silent 1950ish machine what he really like. now still today Man use smith corona skyriter for type note & outline & make brainstorm of idea on paper. Man love sound & feel of typewriter machine but he do all draft on computer machine. if someone want feel little bit like real typing while on computer machine then try focuswriter program with typewriter font & typing sound on. it pretty cool. https://gottcode.org/focuswriter/

    1 more 100 % cool machine Man use for draft = alphasmart neo what he buy on ebay. it have ruggedness & lightness & it easy for transfer file to even up to date windows writing program. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-WeZ0_bPP8

      1. I’ll stick to laptop for now, but I wont be able to resist buying one at some point.
        The Neo keyboard is cool very handy, better than tablets, even if you get a keyboard for the ipad, they need a stable surface, not that convenient.
        Cheers for links!

  5. Yeah, it was tough back then. Believe it or not, K started my first manuscript on an IBM selectric. You can’t imagine the agony of being in the middle of a chapter a suddenly thinking of a paragraph to the opening pages.

    No cut and paste then.

  6. Great post on writing past!

    It was tougher, for certain, as far as getting your work out there. But today is too fast and too quick on about anything, including the way we write. Write it and click it gets information into circulation more quickly, but the art of grammar and structure suffer and spelling is sometimes babbling. And that statement doesn’t even begin to consider the art of thinking things through.

    Inserting paper and ink ribbons into a non-electric typewriter made for a more thoughtful writer, perhaps. Certainly, writing was more fun sitting under the maple tree with a pad and a pencil, my first and still most loved way to put words into thoughts.

    But all aside, if you love the art of writing, you enjoy any method used to do it. Those who don’t exactly love it, use any way they have available to do it in order to be heard. For in today’s writing world, being heard seems to have trumped the joy of writing itself.

    And to be clear, the library is still the best resource outlet available. There is a lot of disinformation on the Internet. People serious about writing need to stretch their idea imaginations by visiting the great writers and resources that comprise every library.

    And… generally if you enjoy writing, you enjoy reading: especially, for me, at least, that means reading with the smell and the warm feeling of real paper pages and hard back in my hands.

    Books will stand until eternity comes calling, and writing, whichever way, will never end.

    1. Thanks for your insights.
      Thats a good theory that the process of typing creates a more thoughtful writer. Even using pen and pad I pause more.
      And writers will write regardless, absolutely.

      “For in today’s writing world, being heard seems to have trumped the joy of writing itself.” – That is so extremely truthful. You said it perfectly.

      As for libraries, I think the worst aspect of the internet, is that people generally no longer research properly and misinformation is wide spread, rummaging through a library is left behind by college grads and rarely practised. However it isnt difficult to see why due to convenience.
      I was able to access millions of peer reviewed journals when at college – so the good and the bad.

      1. I appreciate your thoughtful response. Your post is a very thought-evoking piece of writing, and I enjoyed the chat and other writers’ remarks, as well. Good “stuff”!

  7. I keep weighing up the pros and cons of buying a typewriter, at least for typing out the occasional piece of poetry. Like vinyl, it gives a whole different tactile, more imperfect, experience.

    The downside of all this ready availability of the means to write and publish your own story is an awful lot of crap flooding the market (and the blogiverse)… which gets in the way of those who are more serious about improving their skills…

    1. Yep, analogue has its uniwue characteristics.
      And true, accessibility comes with a flood of bs, its a bit like being in a marathon and being stuck behind a field of millions, fitness level voided by the sheer number.

  8. I think when in the moment as I was, I had nothing to compare to pre internet. I have written and typed out manuscripts and pencil sketched kids’ poetry illustrations an submitted – it was slow but as I say, it wasn’t a slog..there was nothing else… it was a joy and a path to discovery or at least an accomplishment. My first typewriter was my dads who also wrote and typed his own scientific papers, inventions and course work etc and clacked away. We grew up using the back of realms of discarded paper with his work on it. I know it would be hard to go back to the void and slow pace of every aspect of writing typing and submitting…or life, in this digital sense.

    I preferred to write notes sometimes or shorthand (manly in my head, the next day I could generally type out a poem from it) and use typewriters. When I was younger I used the old heavy iron typewriters on display on a course I had to do because I am a show off and even then my speeds were high, I wanted the physical challenge and still leave the others behind and it was like going back in time using it…bit HG wells almost. The electronics were great compared to small portables but they got better and better until here we are with flat keyboards which allow more speed still…and everything else that comes with the magical black box we type on…or pink by accident.

    But today some things maybe have been lost but a lot more has been gained, and we are so spoiled – in a good way when use it all properly.

    1. Using the flip side of discarded paper brings back memories 😃
      Sounds like you were are proficient typist!
      I agree perhaps something is lost, but also many gains as you say, maybe one day I will buy a typewriter (I havent used one in decades).

      1. Yeah, I do that now for ecology, I suppose that was prevalent even then.. I was proficient so I was told, took every exam going..isn’t rocket science, because I could before I decide what I wanted to do, before college etc. I am lucky, to have never been a one finger typist. so the enjoyment is still there. Use one and spot light and let the muse take over. Might stop you biting your nails…you would have none left lol.

  9. If not for this digital age, I wouldn’t write. I’m not sure I have the same drive as many others who want to be published. I mainly like the interaction so without it, I don’t know. I’d probably just keep a journal of longhand poems. Maybe, lol. I remember having a typewriter but it was electric and that was tough enough. Then a tiny word processor and finally a computer.

    1. Yeah, typewriters were like manual labour compared to keyboards, I like to think I would still write…perhaps longhand more so.
      And the so called loneliness of writing now looks like a daily convention compared to the web-less writers of ye olde days…that was some real solitary confinement.

      1. It really was. But that romanticized thought of being a writer in seclusion at a lake or mountain cabin really appeals to me. Except I know I’d waste my time looking out the window all day instead of writing. 😀

  10. My father wrote scientific papers, and I still recall the sound of his typewriter where he wrote his drafts, that he later handed to a secretary (as a professor he had one)… at least three drafts for every paper… How he managed to write his PhD thesis of 500+ pages I don’t know, since I wasn’t born then, but I think my mother helped him… I don’t think it was very different for a writer of fiction. But a poet could probably get by with long-hand… One thing I do know, and that is: Books are longer now…

    1. I also have the memory of my dad typing, and all the sounds, kindn of hypnotic.
      Wow at 500 pages…so much work.
      And nice observation, I was thinking that the other day, so many great books circa 50s 60s 70s are excellent AND only maybe 200 pages.
      Now everything is an often bloated 400 pages+

      1. I do but seldom, and I find my writing is different, I imagine typewritten stories change a bit too.
        The main issue I have is the extra time taken to type it up. Maybe one day I’ll try it.

  11. Great subject choice for a post. The past is definitely romanticised but there’s no question that in general it was a lot tougher. I guess it’s similar with music – gone are the days when relentless gigging got you signed – now you just need a copy of Garage Band or Pro Tools. I wonder sometimes if the availability of information has led to imagination being curtailed – the fact that anyone with a browser can find out anything about…anything…means a writer has to be so meticulous and I wonder if it leads to less risk-taking or playing fast and loose with the truth?

    Ultimately I think creativity and hard work pay off in most endeavours eventually so perhaps even though the medium and the access has changed the rules aren’t that much different…

    Thanks for getting my seven remaining brain cells working – great topic!

    1. Yeah, things are very streamlined now, music is a good example.
      And I agree that mass info, and digital footprints are a factor in creativity and content output. Its all about commercialisation, keeping things clean – that leaves zero space for controversy, the truth, personal opinion etc to be expressed.
      If creativity is coupled with hard work sucess is more likely, but no guarantee. The writing world, music, film etc have a limited roster and insanely competitive plus publishers etc. Operate like cartels to some degree.
      Money talks, I like to think creativity is louder.

      1. Yep – creativity is definitely louder! Interesting bringing film into the debate – fascinating to see the shift in as much as TV is now the cutting edge where it used to be the graveyard for actors. It’s always evolving I guess.

  12. Writing is now easier for everyone, with the consequence that there are more writers out there all fighting for attention. We live in a bigger world, but one with a hell of a lot more voices to listen to.

    1. In terms of the book marketplace it is tougher now for sure, as well as less rewarding since publishers tightened belts. The fight rages on for readership and the whole ebooks and paperbacks ‘issue’ has not really resolved itself yet.

  13. I like it. I had an Olivetti Dora, portable typewriter. It would sit on my knee (but not give me a kiss). As it got older I had to punch the keys harder, but it lasted me from teenage years to when, in my mid thirties, I got blocked. When I came back, in my late forties, it was to a digital keyboard. What was harder to do in those days, was falsify or retrospectively ‘tidy up’ text that had become unacceptable …all too easy now, for text and for film, (e.g, Rogue Male, McCabe and Mrs Miller – both subtly altered on dvd). Falsification was possible back then, and practised, but it’s difficult to alter a whole edition of a printed book: one, somewhere, will always survive to testify…

    1. Do you prefer typewriter or keyboard?
      And thats a good point about editing. Soooo much easier to edit and possibly falsify too nowadays. Anything digital is susceptible to that, with unnerving consequences depending on the importance of said text.

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