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My Valuable Downgrade

— There’s more to life than upgrades —

Upon completion of the final draft of my latest novel three years ago, I sent out an e-mail to my family and closest friends. Subject heading: “What Has Mark Been Doing for the Last Six Years?” The message field was empty. The e-mail contained nothing but the following image.

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Those manuscript pages, towering at six inches, said it all. Though my book wouldn’t appear in hardcover for another year or so, it had already become gloriously material. (Actually, the book started out materially, as I generated the first draft entirely by longhand, but there had been a long, sensory-deprived period of computer entry.)

I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable with the term Word-processing. To me, its connotations are too industrial. I picture language mashed into paste, dunked in preservatives, and canned for a lengthy shelf-life.

(What term might we substitute? Anything measurably less utilitarian. Word-pruning? Word-arranging? Word-massaging?)

But my aversion, I suppose, extends beyond the jargon itself to the technology that spawned it. As noted in prior posts, I can take only so much of staring at a screen, watching the phantasmal flash of the cursor, straining to translate my inward human imaginings into ciphers of inhuman electronic light.

Paper is better. You can feel a clean white page. Each new leaf is cool to the touch. It crackles in the hands. It is of the body. On the page, the inwardly human becomes outwardly human — no cyber-middleman required. And for the novelist, a pile of papers is a thing of beauty, signifying a task slowly and inarguably surmounted, a vision taking physical form.

For these reasons I’ve recently invested in a technological downgrade of unparalleled value. Here’s a photo:

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That’s right, a Royal H-H Typewriter, circa 1958.

While I’m still in the longhand stage of my new novel’s composition — and will eventually have to, ahem, word-process, the Royal allows me to get a clean (well, clean enough) printout without submitting to the numbing cursor.

Here, in summary, are a few valuable benefits — creative and I daresay spiritual — found in this “downgrade”:

1. Eschewing instantaneousness.
It’s a long, hard road one must walk when writing a novel. Patience becomes a most useful virtue. But instantaneousness, or a technology that predisposes you to it, is counterproductive. Spontaneity, okay. An adventuresome spirit, sure. But good books aren’t generally written quickly.

2. Producing hard copy as you go.
Typewritten pages provide a record of the creative process, a physical imprint direct from the imagination, a trail of decisions and revisions made along the way. This can be invaluable when it turns out that your inner editor has overstepped his bounds. Give him use of a computer’s Backspace key and that guy’ll expunge everything.

3. Avoiding repetitive-stress injury.
The Royal H-H is a twenty-pound hunk of metal with innards of good ol’ fashioned, elegantly designed moving parts. You’ve got to employ fingers and arms in a variety of interesting ways to work this machine. Every new page requires hand-loading, alignment, and knob-twisting advancement. The carriage return demands that you lift a hand from the keys after every line. The Royal keeps you limber.

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4. Stimulating the senses.
Unlike staring at a screen, staring at a piece of paper rolled snugly against the platen threatens no deleterious effects upon your eyesight. What’s more, you can whiff the typewriter ribbon and the oiled key-hammers. You can delight in the rewarding chime at the end of each line, followed by the clickety-slide of the carriage return. (The whimsical musicality of the typewriter is celebrated delightfully here.)

5. Opportunity for further consideration, revision, refining.
Once the typewriter draft is done, I must re-type the entire manuscript into a computer document for ease of transmission, copy-edits, book design, etc. This provides further ample opportunity to review the work and weigh the choices I’ve made.

Well, enough hobby writing.

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(This post clatters forth from the Soul Shelter archives)

You might also enjoy:

One Way to Protect Your Soul In a Wired Age

Is the Internet Dangerous?

The Lonely Novelist’s Five-Point Productivity Plan

Unleashing Ideas: A Four-Fold Approach

8 Comments to My Valuable Downgrade

On Mar 8, 2010, Dan commented:

Hi Mark,

Just thought that you may want to know: a page typed on a type writer can easily be scanned into a word or PDF document using the OCR software that comes with most all in one printers. It saves you the hassle of having to type it all in again. but the tiny error margin of the software means that re-reading it is a must.A good balance of high and low tech, wouldn’t you say?

On Mar 10, 2010, The Simple Dollar » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Single Weekend Edition commented:

[...] My Valuable Downgrade “Upon completion of the final draft of my latest novel three years ago, I sent out an e-mail to my family and closest friends. Subject heading: “What Has Mark Been Doing for the Last Six Years?” The message field was empty.” Something about that opening really struck me. (@ soul shelter) [...]

On Mar 10, 2010, Monique commented:

I was just about to suggest what Dan wrote.

Also just wanted to say that your suggestion to write by hand or use a type writer really resonates with me.

On Mar 10, 2010, Allie commented:

I’ve always found it difficult if not impossible to compose anything creative on a computer. Even in college, when I was writing papers every week, I had to at least start long hand, and I always printed out drafts, and handwrote revisions before typing them in for the final draft.
Additionally, as someone who has made most of their income for the last 12 years typing other people’s words, “word processing” is very apt when you are are merely keying in someone else’s thoughts, creative or otherwise. It can be mind numbing, to the point of meditative… I agree, Writing is very different from “word processing”.

On Mar 10, 2010, The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Single Weekend Edition | Frugal Living News commented:

[...] My Valuable Downgrade “Upon completion of the final draft of my latest novel three years ago, I sent out an e-mail to my family and closest friends. Subject heading: “What Has Mark Been Doing for the Last Six Years?” The message field was empty.” Something about that opening really struck me. (@ soul shelter) [...]

On Mar 11, 2010, The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Single Weekend Edition commented:

[...] My Valuable Downgrade “Upon completion of the final draft of my latest novel three years ago, I sent out an e-mail to my family and closest friends. Subject heading: “What Has Mark Been Doing for the Last Six Years?” The message field was empty.” Something about that opening really struck me. (@ soul shelter) [...]

On Mar 11, 2010, cinnamon commented:

My parents insisted on buying me a typewrite when I left for college (this is the 70’s) and I insisted it be a $5 old 1930’s Underwood. I would like to say I still use it but there are no ribbons for it.
For writing, it is a toss up – I can key in faster than I can write things out, but those darn open windows distract.

Longhand has its place in the world too, especially when sitting in parks, beaches, etc.

On Mar 12, 2010, The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Single Weekend Edition | Rich Dad Poor Dad - Robert Kiyosaki commented:

[...] My Valuable Downgrade “Upon completion of the final draft of my latest novel three years ago, I sent out an e-mail to my family and closest friends. Subject heading: “What Has Mark Been Doing for the Last Six Years?” The message field was empty.” Something about that opening really struck me. (@ soul shelter) [...]

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