July 28, 2013

Writing on paper, Ctd Will Self and writing on a typewriter

In an interview with The White Review, Will Self explained how he writes:
"I’d write on screen, print it out, correct the type, rekey it, and then do it again after that. I was primarily writing on a word processor but then bigger, faster computers came in, the internet arrived in about 1995-96, and I began to get slightly technophobic. I wasn’t enjoying the technology much having been quite enthusiastic when I was running this business and adopting all of these machines. I didn’t go completely luddite for a while though. Dr Mukti was the first book I wrote on a typewriter in around 2003. I’ve written all of my books since on a manual typewriter."
In November 2012 the Times of London did a feature with Will Self that followed the closure of Britain's last ever typewriter retailer, Brother. Will Self said:
"I switched to working on a manual typewriter in 2004 (all my previous books had been composed either on an Amstrad word processor or more sophisticated computers), because I could see which way the electronic wind was blowing: dial-up internet connections were being replaced by wireless broadband, and it was becoming possible to find yourself seriously distracted by the to and fro between e-mail, web surfing, buying reindeer-hide oven gloves you really didn’t need — or possibly even looking at films of people doing obscene things with reindeer-hide oven gloves. The polymorphous perversity of the burgeoning web world, as a creator of fictions, seriously worried me — I could see it becoming the most monstrous displacement activity of all time. 
And so it has for a significant proportion of the population — and for quite a lot of writers. But it wasn’t simply avoiding the web that drove me to the hunt-peck-clunk of the typewriter: it was there already, seared into my brain, the idea that typewriters were ... cool. Papa Hemingway with his Remington, Jack Kerouac rattling away on his roll of shelving paper, Benzedrine tubes stacked up beside his typewriter. The typewriter was an icon of the 20th century in the same way as the Box Brownie camera: it was the primary source of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. 
And what I learnt very quickly once I began working on a manual typewriter was that they were also a delight to be with: a cool, solid presence on the desktop; silent unless coaxed into life, and then productive on an infectious thought-accompanying beat. The typewriter, like the bicycle, is a very pure invention: all it requires is human power and it can take you anywhere. The bicycle produces travel, the typewriter typescripts — and this too I find extremely satisfying; there’s always a sense when working on a computer that your words don’t really exist, that they’re floating somewhere off in the electronic void, waiting to be blown away. Typescripts are already defined texts — all they need to be is bound. 
For serious writing — things you have to think about a lot — working on a manual typewriter makes no essential difference. All you do is think the sentences out in your head before you hit the keys, instead of just thinking on screen with deletions and insertions. I have, of course, been fetishistic about the typewriters I’ve acquired: the beautiful Groma Kolibri, the thinnest typewriter produced, which featured in the East German-era thriller The Lives of Others; the aforementioned Olivetti, and a magnificent 1930s Imperial “Good Companion”, one of the first portables to be mass-produced, and the same model as the machine on which the late Beryl Bainbridge wrote all her first drafts." 
The BBC also did a feature in November 2012 which looked at the merits of working from a typewriter. The BBC feature quoted one person who said:
"There's something special about typewriters - they're connected to language and connected to people's lives in a rather romantic way. Every writer rather fancies having an Agatha Christie-style sit-up-and beg typewriter on their desk that they can write their wonderful novel on."
 Another person who said:
"People still use typewriters because they still work. They offer a distraction-free alternative to the modern day methods for producing a document. They challenge the user to be more efficient and see their errors on paper."
You can also see a blog post here which runs a feature on a still-open typewriter shop in Berkeley, California.

Read the full Will Self interview on The White Review here.

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