Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ancient Perils of Writing

Thanks for hosting me, Ginger. It's great to be here today. Wondered what to write about, then I came across some old columns I’d written for a suburban newspaper. Most of them were humorous columns about family life, but some were about writing.

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 and know what 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 with this final plea: PROMISE ME YOU'LL GET ME A NICE PLOT IN FOREST LAWN…


Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory, a romantic suspense, and Play It Again, Sam, a romance. She also has a short story in the One Touch, One Glance Sweet Romance Anthology.

Maryann Miller


Autumn Heartsong said...

Thanks for the memories and the smile! I learned to type on an old manual Royal, and I still miss the feel of the keys and the friendly clickety-clack...but only occassionally. Then I remember how much fun it was to center a line or justify margins and I'm suddently quite happy with my quiet little laptop keyboard.

Enjoyed the post!

Anonymous said...

That was a good piece, Maryanne. I recall the day of the typewriter. My dad was an accountant and he had one that was housed in a carrying case. A real monster but also a thing of beauty. It always put up a fight when it came time to change the ribbon, I used to dread it. It was as if the machine had a mind of its own or maybe it sensed my fear. There's something exciting about the punch of keys to paper, maybe it's the implied permanence. Comparing typewriters to PCs is like looking at LPs as opposed to CDs. Typewriters had charm.
Ed U.

Maryannwrites said...

Glad a few folks besides me have some fond memories of typewriters. I agree, Ed, changing the ribbon was a b#(#&#&.

Unknown said...

What a delightful post. Promise you'll come back again.


housemouse88 said...

I know this is probably late. However, I do remember manual typewriters and I am only 39. At one time, I typed over 100 recipes on one for my grandma's recipe box. It was great. My hands never felt so good. LOL. Thanks for memories.

LuAnn said...

Maryann, nice to see you at Ginger's blog! I actually still have my old SC electric typewriter, even though I never use it -- or rarely, anyway!

Maryannwrites said...

LuAnn, I still have my old 1940s Royal on which I typed my first manuscript. Not that I am that old. :-) I bought it second-hand in the 60s when my first story submission was rejected because the magazine did not take hand-written manuscripts. I thought that meant they'd buy the story if I just typed it and sent it back. Oh, how naive I was then. :-)

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