Why I write Early Drafts with a Manual Typewriter

  1. No screen. Maybe I wouldn’t mind an e-ink screen, but there is no practicable option out there.
  2. Manual typing flows similarly to writing pencil to paper in cursive: contemplative flow of thought is uninterrupted … oddly not even by carriage returns and paper swaps. And I don’t have difficulty reading it after.
  3. It is the tool so many computer apps and keyboards try to emulate. They do it as well as tofurky and other fake meats emulate slow cooked BBQ ribs. I have a rule: no posers, and realized the computer is a poser in the writing process up until minor edits and publishing.
  4. A computer for all steps of writing means all stages of writing are trying to happen at once. The rough draft is being edited as I try and write it, even in focus mode. Edits are never done. There are always distractions. The typewriter has clearly defined steps, new drafts, tangible progress and this oddly results in …
  5. I write more, better, faster, for less than the million dollar man (a very dated reference) because of all the above.
  6. For full flow of thought, pencil to paper in cursive still wins by a smidge, and I do love it. Writing double spaced allows for editing before typing it as a second edit.

Worthy of noting: If you’re daft enough to write on a typewriter, testing a “beater” or anything less than a fully refurbished machine may give you a basic idea of how you might like it, but if possible don’t spend much on this stage. You can’t learn how you like writing for hours per day, days per week, week in and week out until you do that, and you can’t do that well on a beater. Save up for a fully torn down, cleaned, rebuilt, fully tested typewriter with new platen and other rubber (or plan to learn how to do this yourself). For brands, there is Hermes and then there are the rest, way behind. But these are 60+ year old machines. Built to last way beyond most writing tools built today (except a Yard-O-Led pencil. If they still make those. Mine’s twenty years old now.) I recommend TypewriterTechs.com.

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Thanks for the explanation and for the insight into your process. It’s always interesting to hear how others get it done.

Have you looked at the Astrohaus Freewrite? It has an e-ink display, a mechanical keyboard, and it syncs your writing to the cloud. As it has no competition in its little niche market, it’s an expensive device.

Best,
Jim

I love learning about the wonderous variety of creative processes. Everyone is different.

Something implied but not articualted in your post are the mental associations that come with using these kinds of tools. I expect that you have many years of history writing in cursive with a pencil and typing on a manual typewriter. Sitting down and working with them probably causes your brain to shift gears into a very creative state of mind.

How do you integrate Scrivener into your workflow?

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I grew up on Apple II keyboards, actually, and had to relearn pencil in cursive from early elementary school. I made the pencil to cursive shift about 20 years ago, and to typewriter this year.

Scrivener is where I clean up my typos and OCR scan, share near end drafts with editors, enter edits, and then export for publishing. I use Vellum for self publishing.

I’ve never used a typewriter, but I can strongly relate.
That for myself is why I consider longhand writing/rewriting so important to my creation process.

That void, the absence of anything other than me, my pen, the paper.
That level of focus I never reach sitting at a computer. Too much for the eyes, too much for the fingers to do… (If I had to be skeptical of the typewriter, the “too much for the fingers to do” is where I’d be.)
That level of focus I could only compare to “falling asleep”. In the sense that you (I) only realize having reached it when coming out of it. At the moment it “happens”, while it is, nothing else than the act of writing and the content matters. And it matters not by comparison to everything else, there is no everything else.

After a good bunch of unsatisfying attempts at writing a novel using solely the computer;
after a good bunch of unsatisfying attempts at writing a novel longhand exclusively;
(each “failing” for its own reasons – nevermind whether I am too hard on myself or not);
my approach to writing became a mix of the two.
I’ve been going about my creation process this way since then, …so far so good.

Step 1: Computer draft → Ideas, ideas, jumble, anything and everything.
Step 2: Longhand/printout → Make sense of it.
Step 3: Computer → Further development of these ideas that are now “going somewhere”.
Step 4: Longhand/printout → Refine the transitions between ideas.

Of course, that is just a very rough portrait of my composition process, but the main idea behind it is depicted here.
I compose longhand, I organize using a computer.

This said, if a typewriter sets you in your “zone”, it can only be a good thing. :wink:

This concept, combined with the challenge of finding a typewriter that worked well enough to test, is why I didn’t try a typewriter sooner. I was very surprised that the contemplative flow of thought was so similar to pencil. I wish I’d tried it sooner.

I like typewriters a lot. But i am surprised no mention yet of Typewriter mode in Scrivener.

Typewriter mode with line focus is quite close.

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I haven’t tried a typewriter, although I have a lovely Underwood I inherited from my grandparents that I’d like to have tuned up so I can try it.

I lean hard on my writing notebook and fountain pens for first drafts. If I try writing a first draft on my computer, the editor side of my brain starts tearing apart the prose before I even get into a creative flow.

My pens and notebook give that critical side of my brain my poor penmanship to critique. Once the editor is occupied with some nonsense to fuss over, the more creative half of my brain can sink into a flow of writing and see where the words take me.

I transcribe that first draft and do some light editing as I go. I’ll then approach the deeper edits with a mix of handwritten edits on a printed draft and typed revisions on my computer depending on what I’m working on.

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Thank you, @RuthS, @highlander, et. al., for the view of your processes.

It’s unlikely in the extreme that I will use a manual typewriter ever again in my life for Reasons (including but not limited to being extremely sensitive to noise. When computer keyboards and printers went nearly silent it was such a relief!)

But even (mumble) decades ago when the World Was Otherwise, work did not start on my typewriter. It started on cheap notebook filler in pencil. I wore holes in the stuff with erasers (yes, plural. The eraser on a pencil lasted me about a quarter of the life of the pencil.) Only when I was confident that I’d only need to re-type it two or three times, tops, did I drag out my Royal manual and have at.

I’ve been trying to recapture that workflow with iOS handwriting-to-text apps, third-party handwriting keyboards, Apple Scribble, Apple Notes without Scribble, and even handwriting OCR software (so as to be able to use paper,) but the experience was always more or less frustrating. It wasn’t until this thread that the true problem and therefore the solution dawned on me.

There is no transcribing software that can do a good enough job to satisfy me. Only I can transcribe my handwriting to my own satisfaction.

I spent my fiction writing time today drafting in a notetaking app on iOS, then splitting my iPad screen so that I could look at my handwriting and hand-type into iOS Scrivener.

The experience was smooth as silk. I lost myself in my story for the first time in ages. So thank you, fellow Scrivenati! I’m truly grateful.

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I am so glad that you found a way to sink deep into the writing again, @Silverdragon! That is a wonderful feeling, isn’t it?

I boggle at your burning through multiple erasers per pencil. I’m left-handed, so writing with a pencil results in graphite smudges from my elbow to my little finger and an illegible page.

I go for quick-drying fountain pen inks. Swapping colors each day helps give me a sense of making progress in my notebook. And, the slower speed of the fountain pen means I can mostly read what I have written.

Whenever I’ve tried OCR tools, they haven’t handled the irregularly slanted writing that those of us who are southpaws often use when we write.

(And, as an aside, may the sadistic person who invented spiral-bound notebooks with that horrible little coil of wire on the left-hand side be afflicted with boils in delicate places.)

RuthS - I completely agree about the ills to be wished on spiral notebooks. My left-handed solution when writing drafts longhand (Pilot Capless) is to use the verso page only until the end of the notebook and then turn the book over and write on the recto (now pseudo-verso) on the way back.

I use Europa notebooks which have a relatively small spiral and this method always keeps it out of the way of my writing palm.

You soon get used to having upside down writing on the facing page (which, being unreadable is also non-distracting).

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LOL! :laughing:

Yes I’m right-handed, so many of the travails of a left-handed writer in a right-handed world are only theoretical for me. Nonetheless, trust me, after using multiple erasers my pages were almost as illegible as you describe.

Regarding wire-bound notebooks: I agree with you! Wire binding on either side means being unable to write on one side of the pages, though it’s worse for lefties. My southpaw Hubby writes in them from the back to the front. I seek out notebooks with the wire binding at the top so I can use both sides of the pages (and so if Hubby and I both have to write in them, we don’t have to fight over which side to start from.)

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I can still remember the name of the middle-school teacher who insisted the entire class had to use a specific spiral-bound notebook for every assignment we did for her class that entire year.

She then graded me down for my illegible writing and all the smudges I left as I wrote. That was (mumble) years ago, but I still wince when I see that particular brand of notebook in a store.

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@Silverdragon … sweet! It is amazing how seeing the same tools in a different light, from a new angle, with a painfully honest assessment of friction points can reveal a whole new way to use them in a new workflow that eliminates the friction points.

Noise sensitivity: Och! That’s no fun. I handle the base sound of the typewriter fine, but I can’t take the rattles of something being off. I wear Apple Headphones in noise canceling mode to block out sound town sounds, and it does a decent job of diminishing the typing sounds, and they are close to gone when music is playing (if you can listen to music).

A few thoughts for the pencil and spiral notebook folks. Like you, spiral notebooks drive me round the bend, though I’m admittedly already in the bend. I use use loose leaf paper (numbered per project) and folders to organize them, and a leather folio to hold them (doubles as a lap desk to write on in the field) when I write in the wilds. Double spacing allows for edits, same as typing, so I can get a full edit in before I type it and then I don’t need to type more than the usual 2-3 rounds of drafts before I OCR.

No. Not even close. It is barely a mirage of an 'omage.

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I don’t know if this will help you, but it made a big difference for me. I stopped using note-taking apps on iOS and changed to Concepts, an iOS drawing app primarily for architects. It has a free version that has all the features you need.

The big benefits for me are: great pens, infinite canvas and fluid selection. The pen/pencil tools offer a lot of control, including smoothing your line if you want. It just feels better than most note apps as you write. The infinite canvas means you can put as many thoughts, references, drawings, inspirational images – you name it – all on one page. the selection tool allows you to rearrange your writing like it was on post-its. You can also change the color and stroke of your writing after you’ve written it.

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The only issue I am having right now to implement writing early drafts on a manual typerwriter is where in the world can I get a reliable and trustworthy dealer to sell me a decent typewriter? The idea is very nice though.
I have searched on many sites for online and in-store typewriter shops that are available in Australia, but to no avail. Are there any brands that I should look for? Thanks in advance!

I have also come to that conclusion. Handwriting recognition does okay with my printing, which I use for notes, but has no chance against the cursive I use for first drafts. (Which, to be fair, my husband views as securely encrypted.)

Having embraced that reality, though, I’ve come to appreciate the portability and simplicity of paper.

My search has been more involved than I’d hoped. There’s just no going to the typewriter store. I’ve tried too many, sent too many back (all but a few), and found one really good guy to work with. I had to get past the name Acme, but Chris Mullen at https://www.acmetypemachines.com is fantastic to work with. If I had it to start all over again, I would contact him by email and follow up by phone, tell him I do a lot of writing, where I write, and how I play to get there (I writer in the field as well as at home), and that I’m happy to wait for the right machine, and then let him guide me from there. (I’ve tried MrMrsTypewrtier in England, TypewriterTechs in Florida, ClassicTypewriter, and others. Chris at Acme is the only one I’d buy from again.

Generally speaking, Olympias are excellent and reliable as a place to start for a hearty typer. I prefer the SM2 and 3 and 4 … after that they feel way too plasticy and the keyboard feels much smaller. Hermes are great, but the “it” typer at the moment and so not a great value. Other West German brands are worth considering as well. Hope that helps!

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Thank you so much for all the info! I have put typewriter on my wish list a long time ago, but as I mentioned before, it was really difficult to get a good, solid typewriter. I don’t want to waste more than half of my time trying to fix the flimsy, half broken typewriter. Thanks once again!