I was born wanting to write. Or at least I was born with my head full of stories. (My elementary school teachers used to write on my report card in the category then called deportment, “Marion dreams.” It was not a compliment.) I didn’t begin actually putting words on the page, though, until I was released from the drudgery of pencil on paper by learning to type.
What magic! It was like someone who struggles to walk acquiring wings!
The first typewriter I ever owned was a 1956 manual portable Smith Corona, my high school graduation gift. It was a sandy beige with white keys. I found it utterly beautiful! And nearly twenty years after receiving the gift, I wrote my first two or three novels on it.
I graduated eventually from my manual typewriter, which seemed capable of lasting a lifetime, to a new electric one. At first it drove me mad by sitting there humming, “Write! Write! Why aren’t you writing?”
That first electric typewriter I owned broke down so often that the typewriter repairman was a familiar fixture in our house. (He used to refer to me as a “heavy user.”) Once, when he arrived and sat down in front of the crippled typewriter, our eighty-pound German shepherd ran into my study, climbed into his lap and licked his face. Apparently she thought he was a member of the family who had been too long away from home.
Eventually, I moved from an electric to an electronic typewriter as did the rest of the world. That typewriter came provided with a ribbon divided between black and white. When I saw a typo as I worked, I could flip a switch and type backward. The words I had just applied to the page would be whited out as I typed over them in reverse. I got so I could type backward as rapidly as I could type forward. It’s amazing the skills the human brain—and fingers—can master.
And then came a word processor. Not a computer. The only thing it would do was gather and store words and send them to a printer. When I was shown this expensive machine, the saleswoman also showed me an even more expensive version. It came with a spell check! I was utterly in awe, but couldn’t afford the leap.
The first time I bought an actual computer I was convinced I was back to my 1956 manual portable Smith Corona. After spending that much money, surely the thing would last the rest of my career!
Anyone capable of reading this knows what a misguided hope that was.
I can’t even count the number of computers I have owned since or the number of times my son-in-law has rescued me when either the computer or I hiccuped.
Oh . . . but talk about struggling to walk! It’s my computer that has truly given me wings. More than anything else, it has given me wings for revision. The ease with which I can now polish and smooth, add and delete—one hundred times, one thousand!—couldn’t have been believed in the old type-your-manuscript-triple-spaced-to-leave-plenty-of-room-for-making-changes days.
And nothing is more important to the final result than ease in revision. After all, that’s where most good writing happens, in the revising not in the first draft.
How did Dickens and Melville ever do it?