Grace Notes

a blog about life’s everyday magic

June 14, 2016

The Magic of Writing on a Typewriter

Grace Notes | The Magic of Writing on a Typewriter

Words: Kayla Dean
Photo credit: Kayla Dean

 

He carried a floral gift bag bigger than any purse I owned into my kitchen. My birthday present. I wore a dress the colors of the ocean, my hair curled, my makeup done for our night at the philharmonic. I couldn’t wait for the night to start, but lingering excitement came over me as I suspected what might just be in that floral bag.

 

The tissue paper susurrated as I swept it aside and withdrew a wrapping paper-covered box. It was a carrying case, and inside was my 1948 Remington Rand typewriter. The tiny metal arms stamped with letters and numbers fanned around the green-gray shell and the black ribbon that transfers the ink to the creamy linen pages. The silver lever that moved the type to the next line gleamed. A tiny part of me suspected, but I didn’t let myself believe, that this glittering slice of magic was in that bag. It was the most romantic gift I’ve ever received.

 

I felt like Hemingway or Fitzgerald or even Zelda just looking at the thing, even though my typewriter is from a completely different era. As I pressed each fingertip into the key, I realized how much more effort it takes to produce even a word, to make your fingers move in tandem.

 

When I type, I think of the person who possessed it before me.  Did she type only at work, or did she place that typewriter into the black carrying case and write among the trees?

 

I think now of the similarities that must exist between my typewriter and the machine my granddad used to have, back when he could type 90 words per minute on a manual typewriter without mistake. I think of the writers who wrote every single draft on these things, replacing ribbons when they dried out or arms when they broke off, and lugged their machines to desks and park benches to write.

 

Typewriters weren’t always such a novelty. The backspace bar existed even in the forties, but you could never completely erase your work. It was inconvenient then, but now there’s something freeing about allowing yourself to make egregious typos over and over again. It’s a gift to hear the gears click and the keys clack as the letters walk across the thick, linen page. There’s something magical about slowing down to write, taking the time to think gently about the things that matter without worrying about how long it takes.

 

I’d always wanted a typewriter so I could finally escape the glowing computer screen. Now, I can’t imagine a more charming way to reengage with technology and simultaneously disconnect.

 

I admit that I didn’t end up using the typewriter for much beyond my first drafts. It soon became the best way for me to map my characters’ emotions onto the page before a plot took shape. My first drafts on my typewriter often start with a tail of dialogue or a shocking first line. I’ll usually throw that part out, rejecting it again and again until I find the right entry point into the story.

 

Most days, my typewriter spends its life on my bookshelf waiting for me. Days go by, and sometimes I don’t always get to write. The truth is, a typewriter doesn’t make writing any cleaner than it ever was. I still jot down notes in the margins and lose track of pages, but the most satisfying thing about a typewriter is that they are one of the most beautiful relics we have of an era we have no memories for.

 

When I write, I wonder if the person who bought this typewriter in 1948 was a writer like me. When the words are borne onto the page with a clack and the sentences punctuated with a ring at the end of the line, I know that there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. I may never know for sure who owned this typewriter first or the journeys my Remington Rand might have taken, but that piece of the past will always be the elegant alternative that lets me find a window into the past.

 

Kayla Dean is a Vegas-based writer who reports about arts and entertainment. She also interviews writers and blogs about living a creative life on kayladean.com. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest @kayladeanwrites.

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Comments ( 11 )

  1. Teresa

    April 19, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    Enjoyed your post. I’m drawn to the romance + nostalgia of using a typewriter too. Sounds like it sparks your imagination.

  2. Kayla Dean

    April 19, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    Hi Teresa! So glad you enjoyed reading my story! My typewriter truly does spark my imagination and it’s a joy to own a retro typewriter. It’s definitely an experience that makes me think about every word I use. Although I don’t use it for all my writing, it sure does put my work into perspective.

  3. Judy H.

    April 19, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    I never was a typist, I may have even failed typing in the ninth grade. My father is an excellent typist. As a child, I loved falling to sleep at night with the sounds of his 90 word per minute clicking on his college Smith-Corona typewriter. When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I never gave a second’s thought to writing anything on a typewriter! I much preferred a sharpened pencil and a yellow legal pad. How could I think and type at the same time? I still have a typewriter today. It is stored in its case in my stationery hutch. It belonged to my mother-in-law who typed her 300+ page autobiography on it shortly before she died. I will never use it, I want to let her fingers be the last to have touched those precious keys. As for me and my writing? I have a fabulous computer that does anything and everything I could ever hope for, but I still write every single draft with my sharpened pencil on a yellow legal pad.

  4. Kayla Dean

    April 19, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    Hi Judy, I know exactly what you mean. Typewriters are lovely but it would be so difficult to type everything I wrote on a manual typewriter. I can’t imagine how writers finished entire novels on them. I think nothing can replace a simple pen and paper, but the typewriter can give us a certain feeling that we’re connected to the writers of the past that inspire us to create more amazing work. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. The Typewriter Revolution

    April 19, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    Beautifully stated. Enjoy the typewriter!

  6. Ella

    April 19, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    Hi Kayla,
    What a wonderful gift~ I love how vintage items captive us with their charms. I love what you said-“I know that there’s no where else I’d rather be. ” I feel the same~
    I loved reading your thoughts.d

  7. Carol Halesworth

    April 19, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    Loved Loved the typewriter blog post. I totally agree andf feel the same way. thank you !

  8. Judy H.

    April 19, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    I have a typewriter that belonged to my mother-in-law. The year before she unexpectedly passed away, she wrote a book of her memoirs on that typewriter. The book is on my bookshelf, the typewriter is in cabinet of my china closet where I store my china, crystal and table linens. One day I thought I might type on her typewriter. I carefully opened the box and looked at the keys. The last fingers that touched those keys were hers, writing her beautiful memoirs. I had to leave her fingerprints untouched. I gently placed it back into its box and when I opened my china closet to put it away, I noticed the lace doilies she had crocheted for me before my husband and I were married. “Yes”, I thought, “everything is as it should be.

  9. pattisj

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    There is something special about a typewriter. I like the idea of using it to jot down ideas, morning pages, etc. I seek them out in antique shops, hoping to find that “perfect” one. Your story renews my hope!

  10. Charlotte Seehafer

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I just found my 15 year old daughter a typewriter at an antique store! She wants to be a writer. We are in Las Vegas right now, but will be moving out of state once she graduates. I am hoping that she finds more and more joy in her writing as time goes on. Loved reading your post, and am sharing it with my daughter!!

  11. TomR

    September 4, 2023 at 11:58 am

    Here’s the typewriter challenge: is it a tool or is it an artifact? For those trying to integrate a typewriter into their writing practice, it needs to find a place next to the pen, paper, and computer. Those who put it in a cabinet or on a shelf and consider it part of the family have moved it into the “artifact” category. Both camps have their adherents, but pity the poor typist who tries to do both at the same time; this usually results in much hand-wringing, and eventually, multiple typewriters.

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