Archives For Typewriter

peck typing

Is it better to write by hand or via keyboard? There are those who would argue there is a correct answer to that question, and it is not simply a matter of preference.

Our recent discussion about C.S. Lewis’ handwriting caused a recent article on this subject to draw my close attention.

In “Phenomenology of the Hand,” Mark Bauerlein, an editor of First Things, recently addressed the disassociation from one’s words that results from the intervention of the computer.

Despite all the promises made when keyboards were introduced to classrooms, he says, “Students write faster with keyboard and mouse, but would anybody say that student writing has improved in the last three decades?”

That is a subjective determination, but the rhetorical nature of the question assumes what most of us sense—that today’s graduates are not better writers than their predecessors.

The essay makes pleasurable reading, whatever your opinion.

The pen moves more slowly, but that isn’t a drawback. Like other “slow” movements (slow food, slow reading, slow art), slow writing aims for a fuller and tighter relation to the object, a nearness of mind to the language it utters.

The plodding process of “drawing” letters instead of tapping keys and telling a computer to draw them gives words greater intimacy and presence. The hand­written word is closer, and that makes a writer more deliberate with words.

C.S. Lewis’ Typewriter

Narnia’s creator did not type. He wrote all of his books and relied on his brother Warnie to type the final versions. Not that Warnie was a particularly talented typist, relying as he did on only his index fingers (the hunt-and-peck method).

Lewis sincerely appreciated his brother’s assistance converting his “scrawl” into a readable text. In 1953, he began a letter with a witty verb describing the typing process.

This will have to be an inadequate scrawl for my brother, who drives the typewriter, is away and I’ve so much to do that I can hardly write– in the double sense that I’ve hardly time and that my right hand is stiff and tired with compulsory scribbling!

You can read an interesting anecdote related to Lewis’ disinterest in typewriters on the Desiring God website.

They sponsored a Lewis-related conference, and nearly included a scene in a promotional video that could have “discredited” their scholarship. (Desiring God provides free access to the sessions of the superb conference here.)

But one scene nobody saw was Lewis at his typewriter, not because we didn’t accidentally film the scene (and delete it later), but because such a scene never happened. Lewis detested typewriters.

Some writers may be accused of being technophobes, but the truth is many are eager to embrace novel technologies. Referring to his sturdy Remington, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) famously bragged that he “was the first person in the world to apply the typemachine to literature.”

Curiously, he could not recall which manuscript he first completed on the newfangled contraption. He recalled it was Tom Sawyer in 1874, but historians have determined it was actually Life on the Mississippi, eight years later.

The First Things essay would take issue with Twain’s enthusiastic endorsement. In fact, it concludes with a rather harsh judgment.

The virtues of the computer—faster, easier, simpler—are vices when it comes to writing. The pen personalizes the labor of writing, reminding us that we are responsible for what we write.

C.S. Lewis, who advised a novice writer to avoid typewriters because “the noise will destroy your sense of rhythm,” would likely concur.

Typing is Not Writing

February 21, 2017 — 8 Comments

chimp

How is this for an absurd waste of time? A foolish man wanted “to feel what it was like to write like F. Scott Fitzgerald.” So, what did he do? Take writing classes? No, he had a better idea. He sat down at the keyboard and proceeded to type out a verbatim copy of The Great Gatsby.

Some of you may have heard this story, from the life of Hunter S. Thompson. He founded the “gonzo journalism” movement which dispenses with the pretense of objectivity. Sarcasm, humor and even profanity abound in this type of writing.

Thompson was apparently well suited to gonzoism, summarizing his life philosophy in this way: “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” Which is, presumably, a personal endorsement, rather than advocacy.

Apparently, typing the same words as literary icons also “worked” for Thompson. He also retyped Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms to learn how to emulate his style.

I wonder what C.S. Lewis and his fellow Inklings would think of this approach to learning how to write. Lewis, of course, treasured good writing and recognized wide reading as a valuable inspiration for successful writing.

Nevertheless, if Lewis and Tolkien heard about Thompson’s exercise, I imagine they would enjoy a good laugh.

Reproducing typed facsimilies cannot be considered writing. Even an utterly illiterate person (or probably even a chimpanzee) could be trained to reproduce an original, key stroke by key stroke. (The monkey would probably benefit from a keyboard tailored to its particularly physiology.)

Emulating is Writing

When a lesser writer seeks to imitate the style of a renowned author, using their own creative skills and not plagiarizing, they are composing something original. There are several considerations to keep in mind.

Copyright restrictions may bar the work from publication. For example, it’s not yet legal for people to publish new Narnia stories.

Trademarks can also limit options for such works. Speaking of which, you don’t need to register a trademark to use TM in the United States, as we at MereInkling(TM) recently learned.

If registered with the USPTO, use the ® symbol after your mark.  If not yet registered, you may use TM for goods or SM for services, to indicate that you have adopted this as a “common law” trademark or service mark.

Works written as an homage—without any compensation or profit—is typically allowed. Thus we see innumerable variations on the Screwtape Letters. I have contributed to that mountain myself.

Basing a piece on the themes or voice of a masterpiece is altogether different from plagiarism.

There is one more critical point to make about a legitimate literary “tribute.” It can be based on the most anointed writing of the most impressive author . . . and still not be worth reading at all.

Which returns us to the typescripts reproduced by Thompson. Assuming he reproduced them faithfully, he is immune at least to the charge that the product of his typewriter is inferior to the original text.

That said, I find the two minutes I just invested in writing the following modest haiku more beneficial to my creativity than the hundreds of hours I might have spent literally copying a book I prize.

Retyping fixed words

Rather than shaping one’s own

Is a game for fools.

Ending ALL CAPS

September 18, 2013 — 10 Comments

gilliganThe United States Navy finally realized what everyone else long ago recognized—writing in ALL CAPS is obsolete.

Only the most novice users of the internet type in all caps. After all, people quickly learn that it is tantamount to “shouting,” and considered rude behavior.

The occasional word or phrase may properly be rendered in CAPS, in order to emphasize it when italics are not available, BUT WRITING EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS IS SURELY TO BE AVOIDED.

The advent of the computer has freed us from the limited conventions forced upon us by typewriters. For emphasis, we lacked boldface and italic fonts (unless one had access to an IBM Selectric or one of its clones).

Back in the “olden days,” we had to be satisfied with unsightly underlining. Surprisingly, many people today seem unaware that underlining is obsolete . . . but that’s a subject for another day.

Returning to the use of all capital letters. Earlier this year, the Navy caught up with the rest of the universe’s practice and changed their official policies which required CAPITALIZATION in internal, official messages.

It was wonderfully fitting that the official memorandum read:

AUTHORIZED TO USE STANDARD, MIXED-CASE CHARACTERS IN THE BODY OF ORGANIZATIONAL MESSAGES.

However, lest any sailors get carried away with this modern fad, the message continued:

RECOMMEND CONTINUE TO USE UPPER CASE IN LINES BEFORE REMARKS.

As a retired military chaplain I love the following (unattributed) quotation from an article on the subject.

“If an ancillary benefit is that sailors reading message traffic no longer feel they’re being screamed at . . . that is a good thing too,” said a Navy official. The official insisted the move was not an example of the service going soft.

Well, we certainly couldn’t have that!

I’m not aware of any places where C.S. Lewis resorts to the use of capital letters to emphasize anything. But in searching for just such a thing, I came across a fascinating passage in the introduction to his English Literature in the Sixteenth Century.

Lewis’ descriptions are always vivid and his description of “ruthless emphasis” does not disappoint.

The rough outline of our literary history in the sixteenth century is not very difficult to grasp. At the beginning we find a literature still medieval in form and spirit. . . . Their prose is clumsy, monotonous, garrulous; their verse either astonishingly tame and cold or, if it attempts to rise, the coarsest fustian. In both mediums we come to dread a certain ruthless emphasis; bludgeon-work. Nothing is light, or tender, or fresh. All the authors write like elderly men. The mid-century is an earnest, heavy-handed, commonplace age: a drab age.*

The use of all caps strikes me as akin to “bludgeon-work.” Not nearly so graceful as occasional italics or the even more skillful manipulation of the English language itself in order to emphasize its message.

At least we can take some small comfort in the fact that the Navy has joined the “mixed-case” twenty-first century. I assume there remain a handful of holdouts in the Admiralty, but eventually these old salts will retire, and the new day of “upper and lower case diversity” will have fully dawned.

_____

* If you are interested in seeing the rest of Lewis’ thoughts about “the rough outline of our literary history in the sixteenth century,” read on.

Then, in the last quarter of the century, the unpredictable happens. With startling suddenness we ascend. Fantasy, conceit, paradox, colour, incantation return. Youth returns. The fine frenzies of ideal love and ideal war are readmitted. Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Hooker—even, in a way, Lyly—display what is almost a new culture: that culture which was to last through most of the seventeenth century and to enrich the very meanings of the words England and Aristocracy. Nothing in the earlier history of our period would have enabled the sharpest observer to foresee this transformation.