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?

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