An archaeologist, pondering these documentary artifacts, might be moved to write the following article:
The Pre-Industrial History of Writing a Novel
Evidence garnered from a recent study of the Garillon manuscripts suggests that, prior to the dawn of the Cyber-Age, professional writers composed their works on crude hand-operated devices known as typewriters. Using a proto-model of the computer key-board, writers inscribed their works on sheets of paper, letter by letter, one page at a time1. There were only two font sizes available: pica (large print) and elite (small print), and each individual typewriter had its own fixed font style (a fact often featured in contemporary crime fiction). Special formatting effects were unknown.
Correcting mistakes inadvertently committed in transcription (typographical errors) was a time-consuming procedure. First the writer would “erase” the text in which the error occurred, either by painting over it with opaque correction fluid (Typex) or by applying a small strip of self-adhesive “correction” tape to the appropriate spot on the page2. The writer would then re-set the page and type in the correct version.
In the case of more substantial revisions, there were no easy solutions. If an author wished either to excise a block of text, or transfer it from one place to another within the manuscript, there were only two options. Either he/she could completely retype the chapters affected by the changes, or take a pair of scissors to the existing typed copy, rearrange the pieces in the new order, and stick them down on a backing sheet3.
This time-consuming, complex, and sometimes messy process of type-written composition generally yielded only a single copy (master copy). A secondary imprint might, with difficulty, be generated during the inscription process by means of inserting a thin sheet of “carbon paper” between two blank pages. Inserting these layered sheets into the typewriter, the writer could generate two copies at once: an “original” and a duplicate “back up”4.
The prospect of losing one or both of these copies was a prevailing nightmare. This danger was somewhat alleviated by the invention of the Xerox photo copier which enabled writers to produce multiple copies from a single original. These early copy machines, however, were both bulky and expensive, which meant that many writers were obliged to enlist the services of a commercial printing agency. As this entailed entrusting the master-copy to the copyist, this stage of the process contributed to what has been termed “the anxiety of authorship.”
In the final analysis, it was not until the work was published that the writer could finally relax – before moving on to the next project. Authors of the present day owe a profound debt of gratitude to those tireless innovators who brought us PCs, inkjet printers, and all related marvels of the 21st Century.
1 Irregularities in the type face suggest that the author of the Garillon manuscripts was using the more primitive manual typewriter rather than the more advanced model powered by electricity.
2 The Garillon author uses both these methods idiosyncratically.
3 The Garillon manuscripts are rife with this kind of nursery school cut-and-paste work.
4 Traces of carbon on the obverse sides of certain pages indicate that the author of the Garillon manuscripts made carbon copies as she worked. The whereabouts of these duplicate copies, however, are unknown
Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.