Analog Writing in the Digital World

by Paul Jessup

Believe it or not, I hammered out the first draft of this post on a typewriter. Gasp! Shock! Cue the fainting couch! How could I do such a thing? This day in age? Why that’s madness! And yet, I did it and I will probably continue to write just like this with everything going forward. It’s a beautiful machine, a Brother AX-350. It’s even portable! With a little handle that slides out and a cover to keep it from getting dinged up while moving about. How cool is that?

I know, I know what you’re thinking. It’s like going backwards in time, undoing all of the progress we’ve had in the last few decades. Spell check, autocorrect, formatting, inline real-time editing! What kind of weirdo are you?

The reasons are legion. The most primary and important one is getting away from the millions of digital distractions that exist this day in age and completely focus on the text itself. I put on some music, leave my phone and computer in another room, and just sit down and write. No screens, no beeping social media machines trying to get my attention and keep me up to date on whatever is going on in the outside world.

I can just dig in and escape from everything else. No wall between me and the text. It’s also way more relaxing to write this way. Digital screens give me a sort of anxiety and stress, and since I’m on them all day I like to just shut them off and sit in the silence for a bit when I’m home. It’s also why I rarely read anything that isn’t tattooed on dead tree skin. I need that break from all that internet noise.

And typing gives me that sweet release. Sure, there are other reasons, too. There is a tactile sensation to writing with a typewriter, and the loud sounds it coughs up can be pleasurable in their own way. Like a machine gun with a bell on top. Rat-a-tat-tat, Ding! Rat-a-tat-tat-tat, Ding! Ding!

Another reason for switching over is a desire to change up my writing procedure. I wanted to get back to drafting. Making individual drafts (first draft, second draft, etc) becomes unnecessary in MS Word. And it makes editing on the macro level and moving things about (and changing large portions of text, rather than editing and removing smaller sections) far less natural and intuitive.

Scrivener helps with this chore a little bit. But nothing beats typing up a complete first draft and then re-typing it back into the computer. You have complete control. I tend to make sure each scene is on its own separate piece of paper, to make it a snap to move scenes around and change things up.  I keep chapters in their own folders, for much the same reason. With slots for notes and index cards with characters listed in each chapter, each scene, everything.

So that when that first draft is done I can lay it all out and make some decisions. Are some scenes unnecessary? Where is the plot going? Can I streamline things, change things, delete things, add new bits and bobs? Mix and match characters?

I have complete freedom. And since I have to retype everything back in, I want to make sure it’s where I want it to be before going through all of that work. Since retyping is essentially rewriting every last sentence. That makes it easier to delete sections that aren’t working, or move everything about, or completely changes characters.

I’ve only been doing this since August, but I’m finding it very useful. I know some people would probably wonder why I don’t the first draft by hand in prose, but because of multiple sclerosis and spasticity in my hands, writing longhand is very painful. While typing is not. I’m not sure why that is, but that is the case. And so, I type.

And I will keep on typing. It may feel backwards to some, but to me, it feels like the real way forward. I may change my mind in a few years or so, but for now? For now, I feel excited about every single word I write. And that makes me happy.

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Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed/award-winning author of strange and slippery fiction. His novel Close Your Eyes is currently out from the Apex Book Company. You can visit him at pauljessup.com or on Twitter at @pauljessup.

7 Responses

  1. Joseph Hurtgen

    Typing on an old-school typewriter is great. I wrote my first novel partly on an old-school typewriter and partly with pen in a spiral bound notebook. That novel is still just a mess of typewritten and handwritten pages in a notebook.

    Even though I prefer to type on a typewriter, I composed my next two books on a laptop because it reduces my organization woes.

    I’d love to have an analog electric typewriter keypad that hooked up to a laptop via Bluetooth. Is that a thing?

    1. Paul Jessup

      It is a thing! I get what you mean, but for me that typing back in is part of why I like the process. Anyway, I know there are converters out there that can make typewriters bluetooth compatible, depending on if they’re ribbon or daisy wheel?

      But there’s also the possibility of using an OCR scanner. Most scanners these days have OCR by default, and this can turn typewritten documents into text documents. OCR also works with handwritten stuff, but not as well (some words come in wrong, and need to be cleaned up). I was originally thinking about using this method with a typewriter, when I just fell in love with the idea of rewriting it in. And it seems to work very well so far!

      1. Joseph Hurtgen

        Dictation is also nice. Sometimes when I’m driving I’ll dictate into my phone. It requires major clean up, but I can produce a lot of text this way if I’ve got a multi-hour drive ahead to contend with.

  2. Chryse

    I’m right there with you! My mom taught me how to type on an old Olivetti when I was 8, and I talked her into giving it to me at 37. I *adore* writing on it and get so much sensual pleasure from it. I just wish it was easy to find repair shops for old typewriters, although there is quite a community of do-it-yourselfers.

    1. Paul Jessup

      Chryse-
      That’s so awesome! My mom had an Olivetti when I was growing up, too. I used it so much, it was a portable one, to boot. Too bad she lost it years ago. And yes, writing is so much more sensual, takes up so much physical space when doing it with a typewriter.

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