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Royal Typewriter

My silent Royal ....

A Quiet De Luxe, it is, banged together by a worker preoccupied with discovering the subconscious mechanism by virtue of which his recurring nightmare of The Battle of the Bulge accommodated the delicate gesture made every day by the newspaper guy he passed on Farmington Avenue, a beseeching and weary opening of the hand that so often wrecked the worker’s heart on those peculiar, pointillist afternoons so common during the Hartford rush hours of late August. I stare at the keys and feel the iron dust in my lungs: the dust of Royal Typewriter, Hartford, Connecticut. And I daydream about all the other fingers that must have played over these keys….

–from Flicker in the Porthole Glass

I recently came across a compelling article written by Patrick Nathan for the website Xenith: “An Impractical Solution for an Impractical Era.” Nathan’s article takes up the writer’s necessary solitude and the many ways in which the tool of choice for most contemporary writers–the computer–erodes that solitude. Email, chat, the web, music, and even just other files stored on the hard drive all conspire to crash the writer’s solitude and steal his or her attention away from the work at hand.

Nathan, I realized, was spot on. Indeed, similar thoughts have crossed my mind over the years. It got me thinking about my first novel, which I wrote on a Royal Quiet DeLuxe [pictured above] that I purchased for five dollars at a Goodwill store in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. I fell in love with that machine, which impressed itself so thoroughly on my conscious I practically made it a character in the novel. I would type the draft on the Quiet DeLuxe, edit the paper manuscript, then retype the second draft into a Microsoft Word file using a computer. The original, marked up manuscript looked like this:

heavily marked manuscript page

The art happens in the revision.

It proved a very good way to work. In fact, despite all the “improvements” in writing technology, I don’t think I’ve quite found anything that replicates the productivity I experienced when working on the Royal. As Nathan notes, the typewriter frees you from the distractions enabled by a networked computer or laptop. What he doesn’t mention, however, is that the word processing program on your computer is itself an impediment to productivity. How so? Ease of editing: word processors make it far too easy to instantly correct a mistake or revise a sentence, paragraph, page, etc. Because editing is so simple with word processing programs, it’s easy to quickly bog down in the editing process. With a typewriter, correcting an error or revising is very, very painful. So, you just shrug it off and forge on–which is exactly what you need to do when producing that first draft.

So, as I get ready to launch my fall campaign on Housebreaking the Muse, I’ve begun the search for a new typewriter. Years of work at a keyboard have taken their toll, so I won’t be breaking out the old, manual Quiet DeLuxe–I’m not much interested in bringing on a case of carpal tunnel syndrome banging on those stiff old keys. Somewhere, though, I know there’s a classy old Smith Corona Coronet with my name on it.

Update – August 24, 2011

Just purchased a Smith-Corona Coronet Deluxe: http://twitter.com/#!/MaxFiction/status/106432499512651776/photo/1