Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ancient Perils of Writing

I recently came across some old columns I’d written for a suburban newspaper. Here is one that any writer over fifty may be able to relate to. Younger folks will have to do a Google search to find a picture of a typewriter so they can know what it is that I wrote about oh those many years ago…..

What is it that a writer dreads more than rejection slips or writer's block? The death of a typewriter.

Without his typewriter, a writer is like a salesman without his pitch, or Tolstoy without his inkwell. Handwritten manuscripts were acceptable in his day, but modern editors frown on them. Especially such handwriting as mine that falls somewhere between chicken scratchings and hieroglyphics.

So you will imagine my dismay as my trusty old Smith Corona started her demise. (Or should that be his demise?)

It began with one or two minor problems. The key that would occasionally stick. I could live with that minor inconvenience. After all, how many times do you use the x key?

Then the shift button came loose. Again, just a minor problem. The only time it would actually come off is at the speed of 90 wpm, and at my best I can barely break 60.

Then the line spacer started going wacky. Sometimes, toward the end of a page it wouldn't give me a new line. Okay, it wants to be difficult, I can white-over the spaces I typed on twice and start a new page. But then the line spacer decided to play more tricks on me by stopping in the middle of a page, or by giving me random spacing.

This has all been going on over a period of a few months, and I've been nursing the poor thing along, hoping to eek out a few more pages before I have to mortgage one of my kids for a word processor.

But one day recently, my machine had a major attack. It whined. It groaned. It fizzled and fumed. And then 10 keys all jumped' up at once, paused, and then started slowly sliding down the page.

Obviously, the machine was in its death throes and I immediately started administering emergency treatment. A little oil here and a little oil there. Tape this wire back together, and it wouldn't hurt to clean it out a little. All I need is one more spark of life to get me through this page.

I've always believed if you treat a machine right it will come through for you in the stretch, and mine gave me one more gasping breath. But I think it may be very temporary.

When I finished my page, the machine kept going on its own: PROMISE ME YOU'LL GET ME A NICE PLOT IN FOREST LAWN…

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Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play It Again, Sam.

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2 comments :

  1. I remember my first typewriter. How I loved that thing, I'd agonize over ever single word I typed because my white-out was drying up and my allowance refused to increase despite the necessity.

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  2. And to think we just gave a way a perfectly good typewriter. Reading this makes me feel guilty. BUT I'm confident it will find a better home where it is appreciated.

    For me, my laptop is my baby and I dread when it begins having issues. And with Vista it is usually often. Thank goodness I have live in tech support.

    I do remember my first typewriter though. It was a huge clunker in grade 9 typing class that always gave me sore fingers and wrists. While I miss its look and personality I don't miss its keys.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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