I learned to type in the days before computers were a thing for us common folk. All I knew about computers back then is what I learned about in movies and on television—floor-to-ceiling machines with flashing lights and spinning disks.
The secretaries in my father’s law office used IBM Selectics. I remember fooling around on them, typing gibberish just to experience the thrill of my fingers flying across the keyboard. Years later, I was made to memorize the placement of every letter, number, and symbol in typing class—I can’t remember if it was in high school or junior high—and where to position my fingers to efficiently strike each key. Before long, I was a legit speed demon.
It wasn’t until I was a grown-up with both an iMac and MacBook Pro that I purchased my first manual typewriter—a collector’s item made of wrought iron that had roughly the same tonnage as my car. I can still remember the thrill of spooling the fabric ribbon through the type guides and watching the paper spin into position as I rotated the knob.
I’m not sure I could accurately convey how it felt to hear the clickity-clack of my fingers hammering the keys… the echoing explosion of the typebars striking the paper… and the rat-a-tat-tat of the carriage being returned to the starting position. Watching my thoughts come to life, sometimes imperfectly, was a thrill I’ve never experienced digitally. It was like making snow angels in virgin snow, or being the first to break the perfect surface of a newly-opened jar of peanut butter.
There are, of course, myriad advantages to writing a novel or a poem (or composing a blog post) on a computer. But for any writer, the tactile sensation of composing a literary masterpiece on an antique typewriter evokes the romance of a bygone era that produced the likes of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Harper Lee, Noël Coward, and their ilk.
Clickity-clack, rat-a-tat-tat… these are the sounds of a bestseller.