I am an old writer. Back in the late sixties I started writing stories and poems on school notebook paper in pencil, then in the seventies graduated to pen and composition books and legal pads. Mom bought me a second-hand manual typewriter when I was thirteen, and I used that for eleven years until it literally fell apart. After that I bought a used IBM Selectric typewriter from a yard sale, and used that for writing until 1994, when my husband bought me my very first computer.
I've always thought that my learning to write by longhand and typewriter always put me at a disadvantage to younger, more tech-savvy writers. For most of my life I didn't have the marvels of the modern word processing program to help me write. No backups, no disc copies; just me, the pen or the typewriter, and the single hard copy. I've always felt a bit like the writer equivalent of Wilma Flintstone because of it.
I was explaining this disadvantage to one of my young writer friends the other day, in one of those "be grateful for what you've got" type conversations older writers like to have with youngsters. She was complaining about how slow her printer is, while I'm still riveted by the fact that I can print out an entire manuscript in less than an hour -- something that twenty years ago would have taken me a good two months to type.
"That's why you're able to write straight through everything, isn't it?" my friend asked me. "You trained to write on a typewriter, and you couldn't stop or go back or fix things."
I was surprised, but she was right. It's not easy to backspace and rewrite on a typewriter; with the two I owned I had to use White-Out or correction tape, or rip out the page and start over. I also couldn't review and edit anything I wrote before I printed it out -- naturally using a typewriter = printing it out instantly. Add to that the fact that back then typing paper was expensive, and my mom had a fit if I wasted even a single page of it.
I never thought about it before, but I guess subconsciously I did teach myself to wait until I was clear in my head about what I wanted to put down on the paper because of the limitations of my equipment. When I typed, I wrote straight through the page while trying to make as few errors or mistakes as possible. It's a different way of thinking and writing than what you do when you use a word processor. With a computer, you have an infinite number of chances to correct whatever you write, and you never have to print it out if you don't want to.
I think this may also explain why I'm considered to be such a fast writer. I've never thought I was, but I don't do all that backtracking, editing and rewriting most other writers do. I think if I'd learned how to write on a tool that allowed me to backtrack and edit and rewrite ad infinitum, I'd be a lot less productive. I think it's also helped me be more productive using VRS now, because I'm doing almost the exact same thing I once did on a typewriter -- composing in my head before I try to put down the words by voice.
I appreciate the many advantages the personal computer and the word processing program offer, and I don't think we should go back to using typewriters and carbon paper and White-Out. But now I do think I have a little advantage over younger writers, at least in how I trained myself to write -- on a machine that in twenty or thirty years probably won't exist anymore. Odd to think that mine is the last generation of typewriter writers.
How did you guys learn how to write, by longhand, typewriter or computer? How do you think it helped (or hindered) you as a writer? Let us know in comments.