Tor.com has an interesting article looking at the resurgence of the humble typewriter in recent years. Writer Frederic S. Durbin discusses coming to typewriters at an early age, thanks to a largely-unused 1930s-vintage L.C. Smith typewriter in the home where he grew up.
Right about the time he graduated from college, the advent of the word processor brought new abilities to correct and revise your work before committing it to paper. At the time, Durbin was sold on the new tools, but now he finds himself returning to the humble typewriter—along with many other writers.
Typewriters are making a return these days. They’re becoming highly fashionable to have around as decorations, but even more, many more people are getting and using them for writing. “Hipsters are nearly as likely to be toting a portable Remington as a Mac, and people of all descriptions are tapping away from park benches. Preteens ask Santa Claus for typewriters.” Durbin calls it an “insurgency,” after Richard Polt’s The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century.
Durbin goes on to wax eloquent at great length about the benefits of the humble typewriter to writing, and the funny thing is to me, some of them sound very similar to reasons to prefer a paper book over an e-book. You don’t have notifications popping up to distract you while you’re writing; they don’t need electricity so you can use them even in a power outage, or somewhere with no handy power outlets.
Others sound a little more similar to the “smell of books” argument. Such as, the way they force you to think about what you’re writing before you write it, because you can’t go back and edit it afterward. While it’s true that’s something typewriters have in spades, it seems to me that if you want that kind of thing there are surely a number of word processing apps you can get that will simulate it for you. There’s no reason to set up with an antique for it.
(Though, thinking about it, it does cast the Freewrite’s curious inability to edit what you’ve written in a whole new light. If you consider that it’s trying to be an electronic implementation of a manual typewriter in all aspects, rather than a full-featured word processor, it makes perfect sense. Perhaps Durbin would be right at home with a Freewrite in a write-in-your-head sense.)
It all seems a little silly on first glance, but perhaps there’s something to it on second look. People do get different things out of books they consume in different ways, whether as print, e-book, or audiobook. It stands to reason writers might get different things out of writing in different ways, too. And that’s the reason behind the recent spate of minimalist word-processing applications, as well as tools like the Freewrite.
I’m as fond of portable writing as anybody else—I wrote this blog post on my Nexus 7 with a Bluetooth keyboard, sitting at a table in a local breakfast café—but it seems like using a typewriter portably would be a bridge too far for me. But then, I can’t imagine being one of the “smell of books” crowd, either. However, I don’t have to. In both cases, peoples’ individual preferences make sense to them, and more power to them. They don’t have to make sense to me.