The following is a short list of renowned creative figures who used the typewriter. It is hoped that these figures (both past and present) will inspire admirers of theirs to appreciate just how instrumental the typewriter was to the work and careers of these distinguished creatives, sometimes in ways they themselves probably didn’t even realise!
Saul Bellow’s writing usually focussed on the confusing nature of modern civilization. This is quite ironic when you consider that when he did the bulk of his work the typewriter was the predominant tool of choice for a writer, yet in the final decades of his career, home PCs came into vogue. This begs the question, which did Saul find more befuddling, the humble typewriter, or the advanced, multi-faceted home computer? Put it this way, typewriters don’t have internet access…
Hemmingway was another famous author who made use of the typewriter. His sophisticated writing style, full of visual, verbal subtext and symbolism, must have made good use of the flexibility offered by the typewriter. Just imagine how many times Hemmingway must have rewritten certain lines, whole paragraphs even, in order to effectively convey the exact, intended meaning of his words to his readers? He probably saw the typewriter as a blessing to his professional life as many contemporary writers now see home PCs or laptops.
Like Saul Bellow, John Cheever’s work tended to focus on vanishing traditions in, then, modern society. Again, similar to Bellow, isn’t it ironic that whilst Cheever was writing about the death of folk customs in modern suburbia he used a typewriter for his work? Back in the 50s and 60s (when the bulk of Cheever’s work took place) that would have been considered a piece of advanced technology… no doubt obscuring the tradition of ink and paper.
Again, like Hemmingway before him but this time in a different medium, films rather than books, Hitchcock’s visual, depthy writing style would have benefitted from the use of the typewriter. It would have enabled him (and the writers he worked with) to edit and re-edit a scene, piece of dialogue or direction until its meaning was absolutely clear to the reader.
Hitchcock himself once said: “The writer and I plan out the entire script down to the smallest detail, and when we’re finished all that’s left to do is to shoot the film.”
For this reason, Alfred Hitchcock is another figure who found typewriters invaluable to his working life.
As a figure renowned for writing science-fiction, William Gibson was reportedly reluctant to relinquish his trusty Hermes 2000 manual typewriter in favour of a computer. However a severe mechanical fault eventually forced him to make the transition. The thought of Gibson writing about advanced concepts such as cyberspace throughout the early 80s whilst typing away on what was soon to become an antiquated piece of technology does have a delicious wryness to it, don’t you agree
Harlan Ellison apparently still uses a typewriter for his work. This is a unique perspective for someone who is still active today and is again ironic for another figure whose work includes science-fiction. Ellison’s loyalty to the typewriter is summed up beautifully in the following quote: “I produced every story I’ve ever produced on a typewriter, and that’s what I intend to continue to do.”
Fantasy and satire writer Will Self reportedly uses a typewriter. He has said of using a computer for his job: “I think the computer user does their thinking on the screen, and the non-computer user is compelled, because he or she has to retype a whole text, to do a lot more thinking in the head.” Appropriate words from a writer who regularly constructs fantastical, grotesque scenarios in the minds of his readers.
And then of course there was Mark. Twain was apparently one of the early adopters of the typewriter and for a long time it was said that the first book he produced using this marvellous new machine was a certain book called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). However it was later revealed that Twain’s own memoir: Life on the Mississippi (1883) was in fact the first book to be submitted that used typescript.
Did Twain set a precedent for all those techno geeks who today are embracing new technology and applying it to their chosen professions (creative or otherwise)? It’s a lovely thought…
It must be remembered that once upon a time, the typewriter was seen as new, different and slightly scary… well, that’s hindsight for you.
By Alex Kay, Scriptwriter