How much writing advice was based on typewriters?

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Ashtar Deza
by Ashtar Deza
2 min read


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  • Writing

I remember the first time I used a typewriter. It was somewhere in the mid-80s, and my parents had bought an old “portable” mechanical typewriter. It wasn’t really vintage. It had probably been made somewhere in the 60s or 70s. It used ribbons, and you had to bang the keys down with a fair amount of force. Hit the wrong two keys at the same time, and the arms would get stuck.

When you’d reach the end of a line, it would make this very satisfying “ding” noise, a little mechanical bell sounding.

I loved that thing, and I remember proudly taking typed sheets of random text to school to show to my teachers. Especially the little ritual of the bell ringing and cranking the handle to move to the next line made me feel like a badass writer or journalist, just like in the movies.

We later got an electric typewriter, which didn’t use ink but instead punched letter-shaped holes in the ribbon and essentially stuck the letters on the page. Because it didn’t use ink, it has this nifty feature where you could actually erase the last character you’d typed. The typewriter would literally lift the letter back off the page! It seemed like magic to me.

Now, why am I taking you on this trip down memory lane?

Earlier today, I was working on my current work in progress. My process roughly looks like this:

I almost always get my ideas for stories when I’m out and about. Thus means that the first few sentences or paragraphs of a new work often get typed on my phone.

  1. Write text on my laptop
  2. Generate a PDF file of what I have so far, and put it on my Remarkable tablet
  3. Pick up the next day, and edit the living hell out of what I’ve written so far. I cross stuff out, scribble notes, and rephrase stuff.
  4. Depending on my mood, I’ll either add a blank page to the document and start writing in pen, or I use the keyboard and type more text.
  5. Send the PDF to my laptop, where I update the original text and generate a new PDF.
  6. Back to step 2 and repeat until done.

Now, this process breaks roughly every single bit of writing advice I have ever seen. I’m ok with that. Writing is a very personal process, and we each approach it in our own way.

What I realised, though, is just how hard my process would have been in the days of mechanical typewriters. Adding a word in the middle of the sentence would require re-typing a full page. Moving a sentence or a paragraph around? Same deal. Editing used to be expensive in terms of the effort required. The sheer tedium of having to write the same thing over and over again would have killed all the love I have for writing.

This made me wonder, though. All the famous writers that insist on writing a full first draft before editing had their formative years in the era of mechanical typewriters. Would they be giving out the same advice now?

Fun fact in closing: the first draft of this post was fully typed on my phone 😅

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