Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Typewriter Versus Word Processor

I had a thought last night. I have a lot of them. Most aren’t worth much. I’m not sure this new thought is either. I’m sure it’s not original. Maybe everyone has had it. But I haven’t seen it written down.

It begins with something Lana told me. She was contrasting her strategy for taking photos back in the ‘film’ days with the digital world of today. She said that with film, because of the cost and inconvenience, she tended to take few pictures and spend much more time framing each to try and make them good. With digital she doesn’t do much of this. She takes ‘lots’ of pictures, downloads them to her computer, and then weeds out the good from the worthless. Digital pictures are cheap to take and don’t need “development” time.

It occurred to me that something similar has happened with writing as we moved from the typewriter era into the computer/word processing era. I’m old enough to have written on a typewriter. I wrote college essays and papers on an electric. I wrote some stories and poems, and even a novel that will never see the light of day. I used my first word processor in graduate school and that is when my writing really took off.

Writing with word processing software makes it easy to generate lots and lots of words, then go through and weed out those that don’t work. I spent much more time thinking about the words I was going to use back when I wrote on a typewriter because I didn’t want to go through the arduous process of correcting and rewriting. I also typed slower and more carefully to avoid errors that would have to be corrected.

These days, I slather words down and do a lot of my thinking on the screen. I try out all different ways of saying things. I often end up saving several drafts of stories, those that are close to finished, or those that have variant endings. I like having these and sometimes go back later and think I chose the wrong ending for one I sent out. I also continue to rewrite stories even long after they're done. I save the published version as is, but I may still revise words, sentences, paragraphs and endings. 

Computer word processing software has allowed me to do this, and without it I’m sure I’d have no writing career at all. I also know, though, that the ease of writing on a computer can be a trap. A lot of the words that go down easily aren’t the right words in the right combinations. There’s still a lot of work to be done weeding out the good from the bad. In that process is where the art lies. 
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23 comments:

Ty said...

Back in my typewriter days, I tended to write in longhand on big yellow pads, then edit (with proofreading marks, etc.) and then type out my story. I don't think I gave any more or less thought to the actual words while actually writing, but there was definitely another layer of self editing in there.

I recently got my old Smith Corona back from my mom, and I've been tempted to try and write with it. The only problem is I don't have the user's manual and it is quite necessary as I don't remember how to work this thing! I'll get a manual eventually, but the only place to get them is from this one guy's office in NY and you can't order directly online but have to call in your order, and I can never seem to catch him in the office.

Charles, to take things a step further, have you tried "writing" with Dragon software or something similar?

Richard said...

I wonder if writers with word processing software think differently about what they are about to write, planning the structure )no cut and paste), deciding the language and descriptions more carefully. Could that result in better writing than slathering words on a page and then editing?

Oh, and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Ty said...

Richard, I won't speak for all writers and I won't suggest my writing is "better" one way or the other, but I do know my thought process is different depending upon my tools. Even within word processing. If I'm typing away at one my PCs, or if I'm typing away at my Neo (physical word processor), I come at the story differently. Sometimes it can even depend upon which PC I'm typing, or even if I break out my old Mac. Usually I'll plan for this, knowing it in advance I'll use one work process or another to tell a tale one way or another.

sage said...

I have a new iphone and Siri, the voice recognition program is very good--probably getting 95%+ of my words correct. I have played with sending notes to myself, which means I don't even have to type in the words... Is this the next break through?

Brian Miller said...

i have a nostalgia for the sound of the typewriter and the mechanism of it...but dang correction tape is no fun...lol...word processing is so much easier when i can go back and fix one word...or rework a line...honestly most of mine begins by hand in the notebook and is reworked there....

Oscar said...

Is life long enough for all this changing and substitution. I don't have the time for all this detail, although I do quite a bit of rewriting before its finished.

G. B. Miller said...

Strangely enough, even though I was around when typewriters were the main gig in high school (I think word processors were starting to come into vogue after I had graduated in '83) I never learned to type until the mid 90's, when my supervisor had me go to a weeklong class on keyboarding skills.

Also strangely enough, even though I use a typewriter about once every five years, when I do use one, I type like a speed demon. It seems that difference between typing on a computer and using a typewriter is like the difference between driving an Altima (computer) and a BMW (typewriter).

Father Nature's Corner

Cloudia said...

Writer still required!




ALOHA from Honolulu
ComfortSpiral
=^..^=

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I used a monstrous typewriter in the first ten years of my newspaper job. My father had a blue Smith-Corona and a red Remington portables. I found rubbing out errors with an ink eraser, changing spools, especially when they got entangled, and using carbon paper quite annoying because it was messy and took up a lot of time. I remember using the letter 'x' to delete entire words and sentences. In contrast, the 'Backspace' key is the best part of a computer keyboard. I never got a chance to use an electric typewriter.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Yeah, I remember being very careful writing on my old 'electric'. Editing has progressed in Word so far, it underlines how difficult it was in those days of 'whiteout'.

SzélsőFa said...

I guess artwork or part of it, has shifted. Formerly, you had to do most part in your head BEFORE putting ideas, chapters, paragraphs, sentences, words, letters on paper... now you pour out your everything and weed later.
I can relate to the photo simile: I too, worked with paper, and even developed my own b/w shots. Now I just push the button as much as possible and weed the bad ones out.

SzélsőFa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SzélsőFa said...

On a side~note somewhat related to the subject:
At the end of the Independence war (against the Austrians, who were backed up by the Russian army) in 1848, 13 Hungarian generals were executed (shot or hung). Right before death, they were given a blank sheet of paper and some pen and ink to write a farewell letter. These people had only one last shot at writing with immaculate grammar, beautiful outline and clear and compact thoughts. And man they did it. I, as a wannabe writer do look up to them for their discipline.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ty, I started out doing my writing in notebooks but my handwriting is so horrific that unless I transcribed it pretty quickly, I couldn't read it myself. I often typed from notes and edited some as I did so but probably did a total of less than 25 percent what I do commonly now. Haven't tried Dragon software. As for your response to Richard, Yes, I agree. I've found it depends in part on the size of the window I have available to read what I write.

Richard, I don't know. I've thought that those who do careful outlines might be OK with typewriters while the so called pantsers, like me, would have more problems.

Sage, word recognition software is a coming wave. I am so used to typing I don't think it will be a choice I'll make. But newer writers, yes, and it will likely change the stories.

Brian Miller, I only write by hand these days when I do not have a computer handy.

Oscar, sometimes it seems that modern life is a constant series of updating software knowledge.

G.B., I learned to type in high school on a typewriter. Probably the best class I ever took. Certainly the one I've used the most.

Cloudia, at least for now!

Prashant, I actually learned on a non-electric machine, but then when I started college my Mom bought me an electric. It had correction tape but, as you say, was a big pain. I do like the look of the old typewriters.

Bernard, and the complete messiness of a "finished" piece offended my sensibilities!

Szelsofa, the 'thinking' is easier on a computer it seems to me because you can move so quickly from a thought to a finished sentence or paragraph to see the thought in action.

the walking man said...

I wrote for 30 years in longhand, I knew how to type, albeit slowly but pen and paper were more convenient. Oddly though I have NONE of that 30 years worth of writing anywhere. 16 years ago I discovered word programs and have everything saved digitally in a number of formats. But I wonder at times "why save it." or "who might want it when I am no longer tracking up the planet?"

If I lost it all and the back ups too I wonder how I would feel? I can *shrug* at the first 30 years no big deal. could I do the same now?

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, once I started writing on a computer I actually transferred almost all of my notebook writing or typewritten material into that format. I have all of that saved. I don't know if anyone will want it but I'll probably leave it to my son. He can do whatever with it.

Riot Kitty said...

Your first paragraph cracked me up, but I think this is a really good point. For me, however, too many words has never been a problem. The longest part of my writing process is sorting out the ideas in my head.

Charles Gramlich said...

Riot Kitty, I tend to generate reams of words easily, but most aren't that good.

Erik Donald France said...

Agreed. One can always go back to "the old ways" with a typewriter, just to mix things up from time to time.

Like driving "freestyle" with no GPS or even map . . . guided by the sun and polestar into the unknown . . . with the discipline of jackboots hitting stone pavement down lonely lanes . . .

SzélsőFa said...

For me, too, Charles, thinking has become easier when sitting behind the keyboard (that is, in front of my laptop). It gives me more freedom somehow. It allows me to go wrong.

eric1313 said...

I've thought about this often. How different our craft was when there was no way to harness electrons the way we do now.

We're so much better off, but would a writer in our time look forward to now and get a little depressed about how lazy we must seem compared to the labor and brainsweat that were once actively a part of the process?

eric1313 said...

That time, not our time, of course.

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, I love the resonance of your phrase here. Lovely!

Szelsofa, that's how I feel for sure.

eric1313, I imagine some older writers would think modern writers have it too easy. But that is not an uncommon generational thing.