Growing up as a child in the 70’s and 80’s, I experienced the rise of technology via the first HP touchscreen personal computer, complete with plotter—a printer that used little felt pens to create pictures and text documents (of course, we just used it to input our birthdays for a unique, colourful spiral-gram). My most enduring memory of that computer, is when my dad brought it to my grade three class for show and tell. We still have the thank-you card my class made for him, which is pretty cool.
My father worked in the technology business, so we had all the firsts: first Macintosh, first ColecoVision game system, first Motorola cell phone that was ridiculously huge, the first VHS player, followed by the laser disk player. Needless to say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I turned into a hardcore techie. Currently, I have an iPhone, iPad, Macbook, iMac, and Kindle. My husband is just as bad.
However, like so many people these days, I’m starting to resent it all — big time. With the intrusive nature of email, text messaging, and 24/7 internet access, there is no such thing as down time, and it’s become sensory overload. There is rarely a moment when my laptop doesn’t have several windows open, along with at least a dozen Safari tabs. Oh sure, it’s not being forced on us, and it’s a conscious choice to use all these gadgets, but really, it’s become a daily habit that’s hard to moderate because it is necessary. Very few people can manage to live off the grid. It’s just not realistic, and I wouldn’t want to do it full-time.
See, I love to do research. As a writer working on my Magnum Opus, I justify the wasted hours spent surfing and downloading tidbits as perfectly valid, because I maybe, might, kinda, sorta be able to use in my future novel(s). Problem is, I spend so much time online planning, I don’t spend nearly enough actually writing. So, my solution? A manual typewriter and rotary dial phone!
Over the past couple of years, I’ve watched with great interest as the world embraces vintage typewriters. Writers especially seem to credit these old machines with an increase in creativity and productivity. To say I was skeptical would be an understatement, but I came across a neat (and free) little app last year called Hanx Writer, designed by Tom Hanks (a long time manual typewriter aficionado). I fell in love with it, it’s sound effects, and the distraction free experience that made writing more fun than I can ever remember. From there, it wasn’t too long before I wanted a real manual typewriter. The only pitfall was (potentially) getting fleeced out of my hard earned money when purchasing one of these antiques. From what I can tell, nearly all the machines for sale online are overpriced at between $200 – $600, and a quick search of my local classifieds proved this to be true. Few were asking over $100 for the same machines I saw listed on auction sites.
It took less than a day to find my new precious, once I decided I
needed wanted one. It’s a 1958 Smith-Corona Super 5 for $60.00, purchased within walking distance of my house. Score! Oh, and the phone? Yeah, well, that was a Flea Market impulse buy to satisfy the unrealistic image I have of turning our modern guest room into a retro writer’s haven.
Now that I’ve had the Super 5 for a week, do I like it? Yep, I love it! There was nary a learning curve, and while I don’t have any other machines for comparison, I find the typing to be smooth and easy. I adore the sounds. It makes me feel like real writer in the way I imagine Hemingway, Faulkner, and Joyce felt while slaving away at their masterpieces. There’s a real psychological connection to controlling each keystroke as your words appear on crisp, white paper in indelible, black ink.
I can also say that so far, I agree that all the benefits proponents of manual typewriters claim, are true:
- Better posture. One does not slouch when pounding at manual keys.
- Lack of distractions. It’s just you and the typewriter.
- Spelling and grammar awareness, because there ain’t no backspace and erase function.
- Quiets internal editors, since revising or cutting and pasting isn’t possible.
- Increased productivity, because when going back isn’t an option, all you can do is keep going forward.
There, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little blurb about the value of going back to basics and taking more time to think, reflect, and slow down during the writing process. Manual typing isn’t for everyone, but it is worth trying to see if it benefits you like it has me and thousands of other writers. It’s easy to find a solid, working model for cheap; sometimes as low as ten or twenty bucks if you’re lucky and not in a hurry. Either way, I definitely recommend trying the Hanx Writer for the “shook-shook-shook, ding” experience of retro writing. It’s the best nostalgia app I’ve come across, and it’s a lot of fun to use.