A while back I was at a restaurant, where I overheard one teenager ask another, “Have you ever seen a typewriter?”
The second kid said, “No. Oh, wait. Is that the thing that goes ‘ding’ at the end?”
I loved the thing that went ding at the end. I liked the clacking of the keys, the old-fashioned printer’s-ink smell of the ribbon, and yes, the ding at the end. My first typewriter was a Smith-Corona portable, my second a manual Olivetti that weighed at least 50 pounds, my third a sleek Brother electric. I loved them all. I liked stacking up typewritten manuscript pages one by one. I liked the feel of the back of those pages, Braille for the sighted.
I’m glad that I experienced typewriters first-hand. I heard the ding at the end, not on a television program or in a movie, but because I’d come to the end of a line and it was time to return the carriage, at least with the manual machines; with the Brother, the ding meant it was time to hit the return button, now known to keyboarders everywhere as “Enter.”
Before you think I’m waltzing down nostalgia lane, I will tell you that I love my Mac even more than I loved those classic typewriters. I remember too well crawling among pages of manuscript strewn over the floor and cutting and pasting with scissors and tape. I remember inserting the carbon paper the wrong way, winding up with a reverse carbon copy on the back of my original page and a blank second sheet—inevitably when I was on a deadline. I also remember my favorite journalism professor, Gene Wiggins, insisting that his students learn to compose at the keyboard, a requirement for which I’ll be forever grateful.
Some people argue that writing with a typewriter or even in longhand makes a person a better writer because the act itself takes longer, forcing you to consider what you’re going to say, while computers make it too easy to spew forth garbage, quickly and uncensored. This may be true, but I would counter that computers may be the best thing that’s ever happened to the first draft. (Key words: First. Draft.) Writing quickly enables us to get past our internal censors and put down our thoughts in black and white.
My personal internal censor takes the form of a tiny woman, about the size of a parrot—a very large parrot—perched on my shoulder. She squawks at me. She flaps her wings and threatens me with her beak. She tries to make me timid.
She has no place in my first draft.
I will need her when I’m ready to revise, but right now, all I need is to finish the first draft. When I go “ding” at the end, I will welcome her back.