Meg bought me my fourth typewriter last week at the thrift store down the street: a 1975 Smith-Corona Super G. It’s not a great machine, but it’s fun and stylish, designed by Italian car makers. I spent a few hours this weekend playing with it, swapping out the ribbon and degunking a few keys.
I don’t go searching for typewriters. I let them come to me. I just buy whatever comes across my path that’s in good shape and reasonably cheap. (Before anyone asks: Yes, I’ve seen the documentary California Typewriter! It’s good fun.)
The first typewriter I bought is my least favorite: an electronic Smith-Corona from the 80s I picked up for $14 in 2019 while browsing at Goodwill. It’s ugly and loud and not shown.
Right before the pandemic, I bought my favorite: a 60s Smith-Corona Galaxie.
Last year, I bought an old 50s Royal Quiet De Luxe. Probably the best machine, overall, but it still needs a little work, so I don’t use it too often.
(Dear universe: please send me an Olivetti.)
One of my favorite literary disses comes from Truman Capote, who once bitched of writers like Jack Kerouac, “They’re not writers. They’re typists.”
Capote spit that in the 50s when my Royal was cutting-edge technology, designed to speed writing up. Today, typewriters seem like a perfect technology to slow writing down.
Here’s David McCullough:
I love the feeling of making something with my hands. People say, But with a computer you could go so much faster. Well, I don’t want to go faster. If anything, I should go slower.
I also use my typewriters to slow down, but I don’t use them to slow down my writing, I use them to slow down my reading.
One of my favorite ways to warm up in the studio is copying out good poems on the typewriter. Whenever I come across a poem I like, I type it. In the same way that biking can be a perfect speed between walking and driving, I’ve found that typing on a manual typewriter slows me down just enough to really pay attention to the words — and the line breaks! — of other writers. (This, by the way, is not a new idea: both Hunter S. Thompson and Joan Didion used to type out Hemingway stories to get a feel for his style. Copying is how we learn.)
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