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.
I was reminded of that thought when I stumbled on the following quote from Paul Auster that appeared in an interview with Paris Review:
Because the typewriter forces me to start all over again once I’m finished. With a computer, you make your changes on the screen and then you print out a clean copy. With a typewriter, you can’t get a clean manuscript unless you start again from scratch. It’s an incredibly tedious process. You’ve finished your book, and now you have to spend several weeks engaged in the purely mechanical job of transcribing what you’ve already written. It’s bad for your neck, bad for your back, and even if you can type twenty or thirty pages a day, the finished pages pile up with excruciating slowness. That’s the moment when I always wish I’d switched to a computer, and yet every time I push myself through this final stage of a book, I wind up discovering how essential it is. Typing allows me to experience the book in a new way, to plunge into the flow of the narrative and feel how it functions as a whole. I call it “reading with my fingers,” and it’s amazing how many errors your fingers will find that your eyes never noticed. Repetitions, awkward constructions, choppy rhythms. It never fails. I think I’m finished with the book and then I begin to type it up and I realize there’s more work to be done.
As painful as the fact might be, there really are no shortcuts to producing great literature, music, art–or anything else for that matter. I’m not saying the typewriter is essential for success as a fiction writer; nor am I saying the computer will damn you to mediocrity. But you must know yourself, the ways in which you fall prey to the temptation to take the easy way to mediocrity. In this instance, I think I share Auster’s view of the typewriter as a hedge against that temptation. And Auster’s a guy who produces the original manuscript by hand: with pen and paper. Read the whole Paris Review piece.