Sunday, 6 December 2009

The writing's on the wall...

US crime-writer Cormac McCarthy sold his typewriter on Friday. The one he used to tap out all his novels. The one he bought for $50 fifty years ago in Tennessee. If you're a typewriter-geek like I am you'll want to know that it was a light blue Lettera 32 Olivetti with the slightly battered case. And no doubt one very, very worn-out ribbon. So, is the great man upgrading to a super-duper state-of-the-art computer? One with a colossal printer and some bespoke word-processing software? Will he be going for a Mac or a PC? Well, neither. Another Olivetti actually - this time one a friend picked up for $20.

He was robbed. I picked mine up (the one on the cover of my novel, Writing Therapy) for a mere £2.50 in a charity shop. It was a replacement for the one I sold when I got my first computer. To be fair, it had been so well-used that bits (irreplaceable, unrepairable bits) were starting to fall off. And some of the letters were missing (which made for interesting reading). All the student articles I ever wrote were written on it; several books were started on it, as well as a stack of really bad short stories. I learnt to type fast, without looking at the keys. And once I did I never wrote another thing by hand. The pen just wasn't fast enough...

Of course, the PC isn't everything that it's cracked up to be. A piece of paper isn't going to break-down, crash or become unreadable because it was written in an earlier version of a piece of software that isn't backwards compatible. And I'd never do a Barbara Cartland and dictate, no matter how accurate the word recognition software claims to be.

I need to see the words on screen, just as I used to see them on the page that slowly grew out of the typewriter. And a pen and paper might be slower, but you gain an intimate relationship to every word that you don't get with a word processor.

So, how about you? How do you write? On the keyboard? On a typewriter? With a pen or pencil? In a pristine, leather-bound notebook? Or on tiny scraps of paper?

One thing's certain. Cormac McCarthy won't be putting any old paper through his Olivetti. Oh no. His old machine was sold for more than ten times the reserve. With over $250,000 of profit, he could afford gold-leaf instead of typewriter ribbon. And gilt-edged typing paper.

Wonder if that'll make his writing even better?


25 comments:

  1. I love typewriters, but do most of my writing by hand in sketch books, or on yellow legal pads (I like misusing them :) ) I also really love the chinese/japanese squared paper, like graph paper. In fact truth be told I'm a stationary addict and would rather write by hand than on a computer any day :)

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  2. I spent many years trying to find the paper we used to have at school. Ringbinder paper, with narrow rules in blue and a red margin. Wide rules would do at a push. Because I felt that my writing flowed most easily when writing on that paper, with a blue ink Parker fountain pen.

    The closest I got was yellow legal paper, though I did find some exercise books that had the right rules in the local Works.

    Of course, it turned out that none of it made me write quicker or better. None of it made me find the extra time I needed to actually get a novel finished. I was just kidding myself.

    So then I convinced myself that, if I had a little netbook, I'd be able to write. I do use it to write, but only blog posts and comments, really.

    I think perhaps I need to just be a bit more devoted and motivated, rather than think up excuses about needing the right tools!

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  3. I'm always daunted by good quality paper, April. Afraid I'll spoil it with all the crossings-outs... Give me the back of an envelope any day!

    All writers seem to have their superstitious writing rituals Tasha - maybe you've just not found yours yet?

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  4. Depends what I'm writing. For prose I have long been converted to the keyboard and PC monitor but for poetry... it has to be pen and paper; I need to see my crossing out and the journey I made to get to the finished line.

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  5. Actually, Steve, I'd forgotten poetry. Typing or word-processing poems seems a bit industrial for such delicate creatures. I'm with you there.

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  6. When I first started work it was all done on a type writer. I remember copy paper - the work of the devil and all that too. I was so happy when I got my first word processor and oh my when sreadsheets came along I was in heaven!!!

    I write in a taty notebook or on the Laptop!!!

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  7. I write all my extremely messy notes and thoughts on paper, but I can't write prose for real on paper - that has to be typed. Writing on paper is too permanent for me. I like the editing freedom of a computer, that I can write a horrible awful sentence and erase it from the Universe just like that, while leaving the rest of my writing pristine and untouched. When I write on paper I just end destroying the vast majority of what I have written and get frustrated. But poetry, yes, I can see that would work better on paper (but that's after Chrimbo as you know ;))

    Hey! Do you think Clive will sell for a million, trillion pounds when I'm famous?!

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  8. I'm not a 'real' writer so feeling slightly intimidated by the comments above...novels, poetry...runs for cover.

    But for what it's worth I use my laptop for everything except shopping lists, notes for family members etc when I use a little pad or the kitchen blackboard. However, this week we had 24hours of no broadband. I needed to prep some blog posts (trying for 1 a day this month) and decided to do it using pencil and paper. Surprisingly I found it much easier and the words flowed from the pencil much more quickly. The problem is as I then have to type it into Blogger it doesn't actually save any time... and time is my most precious commodity (other than sleep)

    So my dalliance with pencil and paper was just that :(

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  9. I still have my old Olivetti, which was given to me by my father who was a biographer and historian. I haven't used it for decades but don't want to get rid of it.

    I write straight onto my PC as I can't write fast enough longhand (like yourself); but I'll sometimes jot down ideas etc on paper and am happy to write with pen and paper if no computer is available.

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  10. I love typewriters - the way they look and sound. But to write anything longer than a few sentences I have to use my computer. When I'm working I also have a fat notebook full of lists, scribbles and pictures that I stick in. It's very satisfying to cross things off a paper list.

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  11. Pen and paper but mental block makes it hard.....I have so many scraps of paper and then lose them. Never ever got on with a typewriter and still only type with two fingers much to the amusement of my children, even the six year old who are taught touch typing from day dot at school!

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  12. My dad had one like that on your book cover. It was a bastard to use. Glad to see the back of those dreadful things. Bring on PCs I say xxx

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  13. Interesting post. I write everything in pen, longhand before I commit it to the screen. I di the same when I'm editing. I find it so much easier. Blogging is different, I just type posts with little thought a lot of the time, but when it actually comes to crafting a *proper* piece, it has to be good old-fashioned pen and paper, preferably in an attractive notebook that I can carry round.

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  14. I'm a big fan of Robert Rankin (he's been described as "the drinking man's HG Wells" by Timeout magazine. He still writes his books in notebooks by hand and knows he's written a novel when he's filled a certain number of notebooks. Cracking stuff.

    Personally, I write on a computer, in notepad, in a window about 4 inches square. Once I've written enough to make the scroll bar look really titchy, I give up and cut and paste into Google Docs (used to be Word but times change). I then run a spell check and do a word count- usually between 700 and 1,200 words.

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  15. I remember copy paper too, TMH!! Really thin stuff, easily torn, that you put a piece against a piece of carbon paper. Wonder how many people who 'cc' an email realise that's where it comes from?

    No, I think Clive will be priceless, Josie. As will you be.

    Whenever I use paper (which is rare) it's always with a pencil too, GM. It's somehow more elemental than a pen. And as for balking at the 'writer' tag - that's what we all are, surely? Bloggers, commentators, every one of us. If you write, then you're a writer.

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  16. Oh, an Olivetti eh, DD? That's continental class for you. I rather wish I hadn't got rid of my original machine, which was handed down to me by my grandfather... that's why I was so pleased when I found a near-identical replacement. That, and the price of course!

    Yes, with you all the way on that one MDM. You can't satisfactorily cross out anything on a computer.

    I used to write poems on scraps of paper, CM. It became a sort-of fetish - if it wasn't on an old envelope I couldn't write it. And I then lost hundreds of the things. Which is probably a good thing, looking back. I was never going to be the next Philip Larkin...

    You're right, Jenny, they're difficult to use. But satisfying. It's as near to manual labour as any writer's going to get. Honestly, the effort... time for a lie-down.

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  17. Aha! The attractive notebook, Rosie. Bound in moleskin too, I'll bet?

    I love that description Alex... And I'm glad to find a fellow notepad afficianado too! Much under used...

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  18. My first typewriter was an Olivetti 'lettera 32' as well, but although useful, it was a great improvement for me and all my fellow translators when the first computers came available to all of us. Checking and editing on a typewriter is a very time-consuming job! I miss the time when we all used to write letters on paper instead of email and texts, though. I fear sooner or later the future generations will forget how to write with pen and papar! Ciao. A.

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  19. I've become quite adept at writing on my iPhone. That's just plain scary.
    I tend to go for computers - my handwriting's appalling and being a PA anyway I type pretty fast.

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  20. I've already forgotten, A. It's all I can do to write my signature!

    I didn't mention that, G, but so have I (well, in my case, an iPod). Amazing what good training Twitter is!

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  21. Whatever is infront of me when inspiration strikes - iPhone, laptop, PC, scraps of paper. I've even now downloaded a dictaphone app to my phone so I can use it when I'm walking around Tesco. Everyone thinks I'm nuts, but who cares eh!

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  22. I learned to type on a typewriter, no idea what it was though. Then my dad got a electronic wordprocessor for his business. Wow! These day's it's whatever happens to be nearest usually the laptop but I have a notepad in my handbag and there are several scraps of paper and paper napkins hanging around!

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  23. I remember when I was about 7 or 8 I got a Petite 990 Typewriter for Christmas.

    I loved it. It kept me going for years and I even typed my GCSE Art written element work on it many moons ago.

    These days I have more notepads than I know what to do with, none of which are in any order. The only 'writing' actually in these (other than random lists/ideas/names/etc) is poetry. I have to write poems/lyrics on actual paper. No idea why!

    Most of my blog posts flow straight from my head onto the laptop or sometimes iphone. It just feels 'crisper' that way and the delete button is my friend.

    Something I'd really love for Christmas are a couple of Moleskine notebooks, maybe a Moleskine sketchbook too and a nice Cross pen. Sigh.

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  24. I love an old worn typewriter! I love the sound of it! I love to write on paper...I'm a list maniac...slips of paper filled with ideas, reminders...love journaling...I guess I'm still an old school kinda girl!

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  25. Your head must be teeming with ideas, Tara! Either that, or you've got an awful lot of shopping perpetually on the go... Like the dictaphone idea though!

    That reminded me, Kassia, of the time on holiday that we (Sally, Sarah and I) wrote limericks on the hotel paper napkins. Hope none of the waiters read them when they were clearing up the table!

    I once had a Mont Blanc pen (must have it still, somewhere) IM, but like the poshest notebooks, I could never write with it. It was just too daunting, and seemed to demand far finer words than mine. The backs of envelopes are my friends...

    The sound is quite hypnotic isn't it Bee? I read some writer somewhere likened it to the noise of a sculptor, and the thought of chiseling out the words makes sense.

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