Tap, tap, tap….ping. Tap, tap, tap…ping.
Oh but I cannot begin to describe the walk down memory lane it has stirred for me – the end credits, confirmed recently as the final British typewriter rolled off the production line.
On the basis of “use it or lose it” I make no case for complaint. Haven’t used a typewriter in years. Don’t even have one in my house (sadly). But the memories, folks.
When I first started in newspapers, I couldn’t believe the noise. It really was - tap, tap, tap… Ping. Tap, tap, tap… Ping. ALL DAY! Most of us had manual typewriters with the snazzy electric models reserved for the copytakers on headphones (taking dictation from reporters in the field).
Back then most newspaper journalists were pretty nifty on the ol' keys too. Classes in touch typing were a compulsory part of my pre-entry course in journalism and - thank heavens. Forget writer’s block. On a deadline, you need to get the words down fast.
We had to turn in several copies of each story and so the Kent Messenger newspaper group (where I trained) bought in huge rolls of multi-sheet paper with continuous carbon woven through. You just threaded the end of the giant roll into your typewriter and ripped the story off when you’d finished. One copy to your newseditor. One to the group newseditor and one onto your “spike” for reference. (Yes. Health and safety – you heard me. We had proper sharp spikes on our desk...)
It wasn’t until I transferred to Thames TV that the first computer system appeared in the 80s. It was called BASYS. How the yoof would roar. Big, chunky system which at the time we considered the bee’s knees. You should have seen me – tap, tapping at my giant computer, then rushing out with a HUGE shoulder pack to charge my not-so-mobile phone.
Then when I transferred to the BBC in 1990, there was a techno time-slip. To my horror they were still on typewriters in Plymouth so for a time it was back to hand -typed autocue with corrections by tippex (I kid you not).
All this personal history means I am genuinely staggered when other writers and authors say they write by hand. Pen and paper? Seriously? Having tap, tapped away my whole writing career – it just wouldn’t occur to me. Quite apart from anything else shorthand completely ruined my handwriting. Pitman New Era was also a compulsory part of my training (100 words per minute or you couldn’t get your Proficiency Certificate) and once I learned to notate that fast, I never had the patience with longhand. Sadly my handwriting, so lovingly nurtured through my schooling, paid a terrible price.
Now, of course, I am wedded to my laptop. Love the convenience. Love that I can store all my work on a tiny pen. Love that I can email an entire MS to my agent and love that I can so easily transfer material from one computer to another.
But for all the neatness and convenience of a computer manuscript, I still feel a sad pang at the thought of a typed one. The letters ever so slightly out of alignment. The slow fade as the ribbon wears down. And come to think of it, I realise now that I owe much of my discipline as a writer (ipso facto my tendency to get cracking first and edit later) to those early years as a journalist when it was so darn infuriating to make corrections.
Whenever new and aspiring writers ask me for advice, I always remember that lesson; that the most important thing is to get going. To trust your “voice” and to get the words down as they flow. Don’t make the mistake of talking too much about your writing, I say. Don’t overthink it, either.
I find this especially important when starting something new. A big mistake to spend hours and hours honing the first paragraph just because a computer makes it easy to do so. That’s just a recipe to lose confidence. I prefer to write a good chunk first. Honing is for later.
If it helps, pretend you are back there in the ol’ days with a typewriter which will leave a record of every single crossing out. The solution? Don’t cross everything out.
Write now. Today. Lots.
Let it flow.
(PS And by a timely coincidence, I now find myself assigned to the role of copy typist for my younger son who has trapped his hand in a door! Tap, tap, tap.....Are you sure they set this as homework??)
Teresa Driscoll - journalist, author, mother of two and lover of great coffee.