A Plea for the Typewriter


HAPPENING in at. the Contributors’ Club in March, I was beguiled for a time with what one Contributor had to say concerning “Typewriter vs. Pen,” but as soon as I had come away I determined at no distant day to take up the matter from another point of view, and here I am. I hope that that other Contributor is where he will hear what I have to say.

He contended that as a literary instrument the value of a typewriter was commonly over-rated. Now it seems to me that a writer must write in the way that is easiest for him if he wishes to do his best, and it is impossible for one man to settle the question as to the best medium for another.

For me, if I have anything to say, it demands rapid expression, and I know of no medium so easy as the typewriter. My use of the machine was gradual, a thing of years, but now it has become so much mine own — and not a poor thing by any means — that I am much hampered if at any time I find myself dependent upon a mere pen for the transcription of thought.

Your Contributor goes on to say that “being a machine, it is subject to all the ills that machinery is heir to.” May I be allowed to differ again ? A good typewriter is not likely to get out of order, — hold, I must not say that; it is a generalization from which we should all pray to be delivered. My good typewriter seldom gets out of order, and as in my kind of writing the affair almost always cries haste, I find my machine the best answerer I ever had. It answers every requirement.

That Contributor has “serious doubts about the ingenious conceptions that have been lost to the world because the author’s pen lagged behind his imagination.”

Now I cannot claim as much for my imagination as I would be glad to have others claim for it, but this much I do know: it so far outleaps my pen that I would have had writer’s cramp long ago if I had not found a speedway in the typewriter on which to exercise my Pegasus whenever I felt he needed exercise.

Not being an expert typewriter (in a commercial sense), I often find that even my machine will not keep pace with the flow of my thought, and a story or an essay that could be well delivered in half an hour must needs be written out less well in a good hour or more.

And now we come to another point made by the Contributor. He says that the real drawback in typewriting does not lie in the unnatural ness of the medium, but in the awkwardness of making corrections while writing. Oh, just Heaven, please listen to him! It’s as easy as lying. You write a sentence or a phrase, and then a better form comes to your mind. Do you throw aw’ay time by erasing or rubbing out ? Why, not at all. It is as if you were reading a piece of music for the first time, and desired not so much the letter as the spirit of it. You would not stop to correct at all if you struck a snag; you would leap over it or scramble through the bars, and finally reach the end after an invigorating rush. Perfection comes later — possibly.

So it is with writing. If your thought is incandescent, and you are not of the toiling, superconscientious, searching - forthe-only-right-word-in - the-English - language kind, you can hit your space-board three or four times to indicate that you have discarded the old form, and then you make another try at the sentence and there yoii arc, as Henry James would say. Or if you’re not there, you type a little note to the effect that this is to be elaborated, and then you jump aboard your train of thought just as her tail lights are coming into view, and the machine is off at full speed again.

May I not wander off the main line for a moment to say something about that search for the right word, the only right word ? The writer who goes in for that sort of thing always finds his word, even if it takes him the whole of a God-given day. And then the irony of it if some carping critic lights on that very word as not expressing quite the shade of meaning intended.

While men have hunted for the right word, there have been other big men hunting all day for — squirrels, and coming home wdtli empty bag. And while our friend hunted for his inevitable wTord, others have been painting imperishable pictures or singing immortal songs.

I have read wonderful essays builded in thatway,— a day to a word, maybe,— but while I am not to be counted in the class of these mosaic-builders, nor would any method set me there, I am free to admit that the more sane sort of writing seems to be the helter-skelter kind that, not finding the right word on the keyboard, drops in any word that comes handy, and rushes on with the tale or the poem, and, after the thing has been put through with enthusiasm, goes to work to remedy its defects in the cool spirit of the builder, the glow of creation having passed.

That is the only way to write — Pardon me, there I am at my dogmatism again. It is the easiest way for me to write, and I am surely to be pardoned for following the line of the least resistance. Certainly for the man who writes in that headlong fashion, the typewriter offers no impediments.

Of course this writing is all preliminary. That is understood. No man who loves his work will send it out without rewriting it. Hold on. There I am generalizing again. Some men will rest content with one writing, and mighty fine stuff they send out. It is so fine that one wonders how much finer it would have been had they rewritten it. But it is not given to me to write such stuff, — and I use stuff in a tenderly loving sense. I can write at white heat, and correct as I run, but after it has all been written, then comes the sober second writing, and now the sentence receives a cut here and a polish there as I read and rewrite, and when the thing is at last ready to go out no editor will think of rejecting it — on the score of illegibility. Candor compels me to state that there are other reasons for rejection at the beck and call of editors, — I could give half a score from my own personal experience, but the remembrance of them is grievous.

The typewriter is the best friend that a writer ever had vouchsafed to him (whether he recognizes it or not), and in course of time our grandchildren will go to school with neat little one-pound typewriters in their straps, and pens will be used only for the purpose of disguising signatures.

Why look here, dear Contributor! The typewriter has only been in use a matter of twenty-five years, but have we ever had such literature before? Were there “six best sellers” or ever there had been typewriters? No. Why, then, the typewriter is the father of real literature, and the time is at hand when no men can hope to be received into the ranks of the erstwhile “ brothers of the pen ” who are not typewriting-men. Only we ’ll have to invent a better word than that. Allow me to submit the portmanteau word, typors.