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Sunday, June 06, 2021

Memories of My Typewriter

Olivetti typewriter like mine. Fair use.

 On this morning’s Twitter, someone was wondering how “hellish” it must have been to have to use a typewriter. 

I chuckled at this, and a few of us chatted about it. It seems like a good topic for a post.

I did post about my relationship with modern technology here.

But here is what I did before I got my first computer, on which I wrote my very first published book! (I should add that even then I couldn’t email my MS, it had to be printed out, and my entire communication with my editor was by snail mail and phone.)

I started writing as a child, in my sister’s old exercise books. As she had tiny handwriting, there was plenty of space, even on the pages which didn’t have space left at the bottom. Eventually I got a typewriter, an Olivetti Portable, which I still have, though I don’t use it any more. I might still be able to get typewriter ribbons online, perhaps, but it doesn’t work properly any more, even with a new ribbon it looks faded. 

However, that was a wonderful piece of equipment. It’s lighter than a laptop; when I was overseas for a year, I took it with me. I learned to type speedily on it. Just for the record, I had to teach myself, because in those days you couldn’t take typing lessons at school unless you were planning to do that for a living. And that was all girls in those sexist days! My sister, who did do it for a living, told me she had never seen anything so fast done with two fingers. These days, of course, we both do it on computer or iPad.

I started university and my sister organised an office model for me, so I could type my Honours thesis, but in the end she typed most of that and I went on using my “laptop” typewriter. 

Eventually, I won my first writing competition(the Mary Grant Bruce Award for Children’s Literature) and used the prize money to buy an electronic typewriter, which used a daisy wheel and thrilled me because it was able to type a whole line before printing out. And you could change fonts with chosen daisy wheels! I called it Merlin, because it was such a whiz. 

I was on the road to my computer tech days. 

But before that, I typed up my stories and even a novel using a typewriter. And three fanzines. 

Let’s go through the process I used to write my stories in those days. First I would write it in longhand. It wasn’t a good idea to do it any other way, because you can’t correct mistakes with a typewriter except by using correction fluid. Which is a pain and shows up embarrassingly. You can fix typos but it’s not good for editing. 

So, I always carried notebooks or exercise books with me, and on one occasion, when I was lying in bed with a temperature and flu, I wrote a whole novel in longhand. I never typed it up, by the way, let alone submitted it anywhere. It was too awful.

Second draft I typed up, with carbon paper between pages, to make three copies. I didn’t want to risk having only one copy (People did, by the way. There is a story about Aussie writer Tim Winton carrying his only copy of his manuscript of  Cloudstreet at the airport in Paris and dropping it. Luckily for him someone saw and handed it back to him). There were photocopiers, but they weren’t everywhere and they were wet copiers; any copy you made faded with time. 

I used the typing for my editing process. I had to hope that this would be enough, because if it wasn’t, you had to type it all again. All of it! 

And that brings me to my fanzines. I edited four media fanzines before I got my first computer. They were lovely things, with beautiful art work by my fannish friends, but... when there were typos, I had the choice of Liquid Paper or retyping the whole damn page, something I will never have to do again, thankfully. If there were too many typos it had to be the entire page done again, or it would look dreadful. 

When I finally got my first computer, a Mac Classic 2, I rejoiced at the prospect of being able to do my next fanzine much more easily, but I never did another zine, as I sold my first professional book instead. 

When I was submitting stories, I finally had access to proper photo copiers, but not yet the Internet, so it was all snail mail and “don’t worry about returning the MS if you don’t want it, just reply with this postage paid envelope.” 

Oh, yes, I kept a pile of those little international reply coupons you could buy in those days so they could reply without paying postage. I also found a philatelist shop where I could buy foreign stamps. And a packet of large envelopes to send my stories off. 

How times have changed! 

What do you say, gentle readers? Are any of you old enough to remember the humble typewriter? 


Hels said...

Oh yes. The greatest technological leap in my life was 1956 when TV arrived in Australia. My parents didn't have enough money for a TV back then, but the neighbours did, bless their hearts.

Now back to typewriters. Did your school offer Shorthand and Typing as subjects in Forms 3 and 4? They were only offered to girls, because only girls would ever be secretaries and would therefore need at least typing all their lives. But clever girls who were going to university were also not offered Shorthand and Typing because they were not scholarly subjects.

How regretful was I, when I got my first typewriter for university essays and couldn't type :( Thankfully business colleges in the city ran 3 week courses during the summer holidays.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Hels!

My parents did buy a TV in 1956, because no way were they going to miss out on the Olympic Games! As both of them had working class jobs - Mum was working in a cosmetics factory, Dad was working for their landlord, in knitting, I think - I can only assume Dad managed to get a special deal, or maybe they paid it off. Everyone liked Dad, so probably the former.

Yes, my school offered those subjects for girls only(not sure what they would have done if a boy wanted to study them). It was the Commercial stream, I was doing the Professional stream. I went to university and became a teacher, as I had a teaching studentship.

Oddly, only a few years after I finished secondary school, I was able to advise one of my - bright - male students to take typing as an elective. The poor boy had horribly swollen hands, not sure what his condition was, he had to write with a big pencil. I suggested it would be handy for uni. He thought it a great idea. He couldn’t have done that when I was at school.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I learned how to type on a standard (not electric) typewriter in high school in the early 70s. It was the most useful school course I ever took, LOL! My ability to type provided me with summer jobs throughout university so I didn't have to waitress or do other food-service-industry type jobs. In university, I typed all my essays and papers on a little manual Brother portable typewriter. Man, that was an ordeal! Electric typewriters were faster and easier to type with because you didn't have to pound the keys so hard, but expensive to buy so I never had one. I LOVED IT when word-processing on computers came along -- so incredibly easy to correct errors, move blocks of text, make things look neat and professional! I don't miss typewriters one little bit.

Sue Bursztynski said...

How wonderful, Debra! I envy you for being allowed to learn typing at school. It was too sexist at my school. You didn’t get to learn unless you were going to work in an office as a typist or secretary. And were a girl, of course, so the boys didn’t get to do it.

I went straight from electronic typewriter to computer, no stop for word processor.

I have to smile at your comment about pounding keys, my sister the secretary took a long time to learn not to pound her computer keyboard!

Agreed about not missing typewriters, as I don’t miss catalogue cards in the library. But one thing you can say about them, they don’t crash and lose all your work! 😂

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - I do owe you lots of visits ... I will get there! Re typing ... I wasn't going to university at that stage in my life, so off to typing school I went - I have to say it was one advantage that I was blessed with. I wasn't that brilliant either, so was glad when tippex came along, as too electric typewriters.

When I was in South Africa I was able to get a computer via the Chamber of Mines, which I worked for ... with a loan - and ever since I've been forever grateful for these blessed inventions of the techie sort -

You did start your writing young ... I'd have never started my blog if these machines et al weren't there!! Cheers - oh yes and I've seen your comment above ... I missed out the word processor - but when I came back to England those were in use - and I had no idea! Also icons passed me ... but somehow I got round things.
Fascinating post - thank you ... Hilary

Guillaume said...

I can still remember the last year I used a typewriter. It was in 1993. I also remember the typewriters in my grandparents' house. We played with them a lot when we were bored.

AJ Blythe said...

I started to learn to type on my Mum's very old typewriter (the sort now seen in museums), then at school we progressed to electric typewriters, but it was really only when I got my first computer did I teach myself to touch-type (I'd had the grounding but needed the practice).

Out of interest, today Lego announced that at the end of the month they are releasing a typewriter lego kit (it has moving parts and looks very cool):

Lego Typewriter

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Hilary! Did you know that correction fluid(what you call Tippex and I used as Liquid Paper) was invented by a woman called Bessie Nesmith Graham, a typist, who was always making typos and invented it in her kitchen? It seems that women are the inventors of practical stuff we need, though they also invent other things. Bessie ended up selling her business for $47.5 million! Her son Michael was one of the Monkees. And yes, I started writing young. I used to lie in bed composing stories in my head before I wrote them down.

Hi Anita! Another self taught typist! I confess that when I was using my first computer I taught myself to touch type, but I type with one finger on my iPad. It’s not really possible to do it any other way on the screen. I’m speedy, though. PS Did you attend that crime convention? It was on at 2.00 am our time and I couldn’t watch all night, so I watched the first panel, about research, and hoped that the recording will be soon.

Hi Guillaume! You have a better memory than I have! 🙂 I think you gave up typewriters sooner than I did. In 1993 I had my first computer and was writing a novel. The world has changed so much since then…

AJ Blythe said...

Because of the 2am start I didn't watch any in the *fingers crossed* hope the recording will be available soon. Do you know if they are emailing the link to everyone registered? Then I can clear some time and sit and watch in peace :)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Anita! I emailed to ask and they said that they were hoping to get it done in the next couple of weeks, once they worked out how to do it! I did suggest they could ask someone from SF cons which HAD done it. I’ll email you as soon as I know.

AJ Blythe said...

Thank you!!

James Pailly said...

I grew up in the 80's/90's, so typewriters were still a common enough thing, but they wouldn't be for much longer. As a kid, I loved writing on a typewriter. It made me feel very grown-up and important.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I know what you mean about feeling good about using a typewriter, James! There was something professional about it, after you have been doing everything longhand,