Old but not Obsolete: A Case for the Manual Typewriter Part Two

Ethan continues his case for the manual typewriter and urges readers to invest in perhaps a more unmitigated way of writing.

The typewriter forces a different approach to writing. Since you cannot simply delete the lines and start again fresh, you must think about your prose before you slam it into the page. Thus, it makes you write more slowly, carefully, and deliberately. Not only that but by removing the crutch of autocorrect and spelling/grammar checks, it reveals a lot about your writing style and quality. Having to check and correct spelling yourself seems far more conducive to actually learning from the error than selecting one of Word’s suggestions. Yet, perhaps even more useful for writers in the current day is the typewriter’s singular function. You cannot indulge in the aforementioned modes of procrastination – you can only sit down and write. If your phone is turned off, the distractions you might encounter with an internet connection become a distant problem.


That accounts for the benefits of the process, but what about the actual output – the typewritten page? Running your fingers across the back of the sheet, you feel something akin to Braille: the indentations left by each key, the points of each punctuation. This is something of permanence–the ink-soaked ribbon has stamped the words and the thoughts they represent– deep into the fibres of the page. It is as distinct from the laser printed page as a real tattoo from a children’s fake. To write something with a typewriter is to put thought and effort into the finished piece, more so than the tap, click, and send of an email or message. As is the case with a polaroid, the typewritten page is something you’re more likely to keep than a digital message or snap.

This all sounds great, but I cannot pretend that limitations do not exist – in fact, they are rather obvious and significant. On the most practical level, the manual typewriter ceased being produced decades ago, so it cannot be found on the high street or with large online retailers. Instead, the buyer is limited to eBay, specialist online outlets, or antique shops. More than that, if you want a working machine–let alone one of high quality–the premium can be high. For restoration to like-new quality by refurbishment companies (London Typewriter, for example), we are talking upwards of £180.


Nevertheless, there are bargains out there and a fully functioning, enjoyable to use, typewriter can be purchased for around £30. Thus, the main annoyance is not so much availability but technicality. For example, the lack of a CLEAR function makes mistakes permanent. Instead of whiting out an error, your only option is to X over it in ink and move on with any mistakes left dotted over the page. Similarly, the options for editing are limited, unless you settle for a mixture of the crisp Courier font and messy handwritten corrections. Large-scale changes are hardly practical. However, some think that this is not a problem because it preserves an honest record of the writing process. It shows revisions, it shows how a piece has evolved, rather than the clean final copy pulled from a printer.

So, where does that leave my case for the manual typewriter? Given the limitations I have outlined above, I believe it best serves the idea generation stage of the writing process. Whether thrashing out ideas for an essay or brainstorming possibilities for a fiction project, the typewriter is ideal. As I said above, the cadence of the keys is perfect for spurring your creativity and productivity. In fact, this was the starting point for the article you are now reading. With a heading of POSSIBLE WRITING PROJECTS, I proceeded to outline as many ideas as I could. After listing re-drafts of previous pieces and a few films to review, I suddenly remembered an idea I had two years ago. Ten minutes later, I had filled the page with all my thoughts on the matter (with the process of manually typing no doubt helping to generate my thoughts). In a similar way, when I write first drafts of essays, I will read over them and then use a typewriter to list problems with the piece.


With that said, a new typewriter is never going to be produced, no matter the premium you are willing to pay. So, with their prices rising – and quality diminishing – I would urge any enthusiastic writer to make the investment in what should still be a useful tool of their trade.






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