The Typewriter: The only tool for the Writer?

Peter B. GiblettStarred Page By Peter B. Giblett, 29th Dec 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/cz-n4z1r/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

Is it the tools that helps us tell the story or the story that makes us use specific tools? Well for the writer the tool to convey any story that needs to be told could arguably be the words used of the device on which the words are written down, how we tell a story really matters most to the reader.

The Old Writer

An old writer told me the other day that the typewriter was the only tool that a writer should use, the reason was clear - his notion we must toil over every word then we will choose our words correctly, making sure we select the right one before putting it down on the page, trouble is coming from a generation where using the computer is the natural first step, the keyboard may bear a striking resemblance to that used on a typewriter, but that is where the similarities end. The logic of the old writer is affected by a man who experienced much austerity during the course of his life, even if now he lives in the lap of luxury and wants for nothing at all, but if I point out the fact that we save on paper by using the computer he would still resolutely support that view, in reality the challenge of writing is probably the same, being imaginative, finding the right words and using them to describe exactly what you need the reader to take away from the work.

To me the computer is simply the start of a series of typing capabilities that stretches as far as the imagination can go. I don't think I agree with the old writer because it is possible to select the words as accurately from a smart-phone as he would from an old fashioned typewriter, in fact it can enable the writer to put a story together, to me it is the words that matter, not the tool that was used to create the stories.

How do you describe the summer sunset as seen from the heart of a Tuscany villa from the edge of the vineyard, or walking down the steps of the Eiffel Tower on a chilly autumn afternoon, these are the reasons why a writer has words at their disposal, to pick them, combine them, then craft them into sentences, to give an impression of everything that is happening. There is of course one advantage the old typewriter has over any computer device and that is because it works even if there is a power cut, but in all honesty I have continued to use both the laptop and tablet, even when the power goes down.

Using the Right Words

One of the challenges any writer faces is knowing which is the right word to use in the right circumstance and not only selecting the right word but the right tense (past, current, or future) where we must use "saw", "am seeing", or "will see" and of course for most words in the English language there are perhaps a dozen alternatives that allow us describe something that the reader can experience or more correctly imagine but a key factor is to be able to describe the sunset over the beach in such a way that even the reader reading those words at the exact location you describe will enhance their enjoyment of the very location described and make the reader feel part of the story in a way they can see the action unfold in front of them.

Using the right word at the right moment is an all important part of the writer's craft, but words on their own are simply snippets of information, to make words have meaning requires the building of sentences and of course the greatest of works require great sentences in order to explain ideas and tell stories.

I was listening to a lecture by a Professor of English and he was saying that great sentences are the foundation of great works of literature which in turn is the foundation of modern society, but according to another writer the fact that twenty first century writers are devoid of imagination is because of the crisis that society faces right now especially since there is so much controversy over how to improve the lot of the average person, truth is words when linked form phrases and sentences which is the basis of getting other people to understand everything that you have to say.

Writing the Sunset Through a sentence

Of course it is said that a picture paints a thousand words, but much of the skill of writing is about putting together a story using several thousand words, each constructed into sentences and paragraphs, somehow this conveys feelings and experiences that can go beyond mere pictures, they paint pictures of things that don't actually exist in a unique way, such as the trans-warp space ship waiting between Mars and Jupiter for you to book an intergalactic journey, your problem is how to get to it; and that is part of the joy of using language to tickle people's imagination, the point is that a good writer will use words to paint a picture such as the the sunset bringing an end to the day shrouded by the hills surrounding that idyllic Tuscany village, it shines the last rays of daylight and gives the writer the opportunity to describe the impact of its rays on each of the villagers and their curious visitor, which brings a point to the whole tale being told and these words should stand the test of time and in painting those words they do so without the aid of visual cues.

Sentences in the English language can be as flexible and artistic as the writer wishes them to be, but they are the heart of the writer's craft, this is a fact that there can be no doubt about, the writer needs to have command of how to build sentences in order to convey the precise ideas that are the point of their tale. Please don't for one moment think this is simply about the application of the craft of writing from the point of view of fictional works, the ability to paint a picture applies as much to the factual writer as it does to the fictional one, of course fiction requires the need to take the imagination to new heights, but the factual writer also has a duty to tell a compelling story and spur their reader to action, that is the purpose of putting a string of words together in the form of phrases, propositions, sentences and paragraphs - to provide a message.

According to Professor Brooks Landon from the University of Iowa "Sentences are shaped by specific context and driven by specific purpose, so no rules or mechanical protocols can prepare us for the infinite number of tasks our sentences must accomplish" and "whether short or long, sentences are the most important building blocks of prose, the foundation of written communications, and always the essential units of... style." Sentences must do more than merely convey information, the way it unfolds its meaning is of vital importance and what is key here is the propositional content, all of the information, that must be presented in meaningful and powerful way, and more and more we must give both information and ensure the reader derives some pleasure from what is said.

Selling your Words

Even factual pieces must provide excitement, when I was talking to that old writer I talked of earlier, an author of several successful factual books and at least one novel, and he was keen to share some of the ingredients to his success. Firstly even if you are writing something factual you are still telling a story, look at the sports reporter who is telling the story of Didier Drogba's goal, they must convey the excitement of the action and sum up the finale just as if scoring this particular goal was the summit of this player's career, but unlike the typical sports writer do so with full command of the English language, make the reader - whether they know nothing about football/soccer or are an ardent fan want to read more, it is that desire to read more that will bring the reader back.

The piece you submit today is selling the piece you write tomorrow, perform badly (that is pepper it with typos, spelling, and grammar mistakes) and the reader may decide that next time your work should be bypassed, particularly on the Internet where posts about a particular subject are available by the bucket load, every writer has a duty to sell their words and in doing so they must put their best foot forwards. Even in the days of the typewriter it would be rare to be able to type a full page without error (unless of course you were a professional copy typist, accurate even exceeding 100 words per minute).

With electronic devices you have two aids, firstly spelling checkers that can highlight your work with that dreaded red squiggly line, then secondly the ability to go back and edit what you have written and in truth editing is such an important part of writing because no matter how great an idea you may have the galaxy is going to be deprived of it if you cannot use your creative talents in order to firstly write the story then edit it and ensure it both makes sense and conveys all the meaning in the writer's mind - describing that Tuscan sunset loses it power when the imprecise words are used, yet at the time you originally put pen to paper the bad-word may have been the only one you could think of, it is during editing that you must correct this error. Submit it, without correction, can leave the resulting article as lacking finesse, it is all about the words and sentences.

Image Credits

  • Manual Typewriter Keys by Peter Giblett
  • The Importance of Words, Word Cloud by Peter Giblett
  • Tuscan Sunset by Karen Winters see karenwinters.com
  • Selling your future writing, Word Cloud by Peter Giblett

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Comments

author avatar viewgreen
30th Dec 2014 (#)

Great article and interesting issue to share. Thank you for sharing this information.

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author avatar John Watson
30th Dec 2014 (#)

Fantastic page. Very nicely done.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
30th Dec 2014 (#)

I like to use music to tell a story. I have also told stories through art, paintings, and drawings.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
30th Dec 2014 (#)

I like all these accompaniments.

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author avatar C.S. McClellan
30th Dec 2014 (#)

The Old Writer might just as well advise going back to the quill pen. If I was forced to use a typewriter these days, I wouldn't be writing at all. My hands couldn't tolerate it. My ideas would be gone out of my head before I could get them written down. I would give up the task of trying to organize and edit long works because it would mean literally cutting pages apart and pasting them together.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
30th Dec 2014 (#)

C.S., if I had to write by a quill pen the no-one would understand me, which would never help in getting published. The point here was that to me it is the words, propositions and sentences that are the real tool for the writer.

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author avatar Retired
31st Dec 2014 (#)

Many words exist to convey what the writer wants to say, but only one conveys it precisely. Finding that exact word can come through the help of the online dictionary, something that typewriters never had.

I wanted to throw mine out the window in school upon retyping term papers ad infinitum and into the night. Word processors, then computers, were a godsend.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
31st Dec 2014 (#)

Yes and when I am using my smart-phone to type it often predicts the word that I need so I can type faster and more accurately than with any old-fashioned typewriter.

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
31st Dec 2014 (#)

Those were the days when the real writer didn't rely on pc's word to correct the words and paragraphs, that old typewriter, I do remember mine, Happy New Year 2015 Peter !

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
31st Dec 2014 (#)

I have always had a typewriter and still have one in the basement and earlier in the year nearly acquired a grand Underwood typewriter.

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author avatar snerfu
31st Dec 2014 (#)

It is hour that matters, the situation where one needs to write that makes the writer different. And I need to tell you something.
Have a Merry Merry New Year!

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author avatar tafmona
31st Dec 2014 (#)

keep up the good work, may you have a happy new year ahead

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author avatar Ptrikha
2nd Jan 2015 (#)

Quite an insightful article. Till early last year, I was in the habit of first writing some of my thoughts in a diary with a pen, but it made my effort double, and I now instead prefer to sort of "templatize" my writing on my laptop, and make bullet points to expand later for detailed writing.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
2nd Jan 2015 (#)

That is more or less how I started, today I have an app on my phone that allows me to take notes anywhere so I can always jot down an idea and expand on it later.

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author avatar Ptrikha
4th Jan 2015 (#)

I too recently used Text to speech on Android based phone and though not so perfect it can come in handy to capture thoughts when traveling or in transit.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
4th Jan 2015 (#)

A great help isn't it?

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author avatar Ptrikha
4th Feb 2015 (#)

And in fact this tool performs better with technical software terms.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
4th Jan 2015 (#)

I cannot imagine using a typewriter as computer gives us so much flexibility. I always wonder how great artists were able to produce such timeless works without modern tools and before electricity was invented. Of course, they had more time in their hands and less of distraction - siva

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
4th Jan 2015 (#)

When I was called to the bar in London I was researching some of the famous members of the Bar from yester-year and some of those people were pretty incredible, doctor - lawyer - judge - and member of parliament all in one person.

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author avatar ElicBxn
6th Jan 2015 (#)

I find that I actually enjoy doing my first drafts by hand. That old paper and pen method. I have written stories on the computer, but I get a lot of satisfaction doing it by hand.

I also try to not go back and edit too soon. That's one of the joys of doing it without the computer. I find myself editing while I go and that interrupts the creative process for me.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
6th Jan 2015 (#)

I agree that there are two stages to the writing process, the creative part and the editing part and each have their place and each are necessary for the final piece.

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
7th Jan 2015 (#)

Peter, excellent article. I learned to type on a manual way back when and I sure don't miss those days. I love to create articles on my computer. Spell check is a wonder. I spent many years using white out to correct a typo. Thank goodness those days are gone. Happy New Year.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
7th Jan 2015 (#)

Yes I also learned to type properly on a manual typewriter but was already using computer keyboards at the time, I was one of the few computer programmers who could actually type (with 10 fingers).

The spell-checker is another matter as most have errors in them, particularly when it comes to some valid UK words.

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
7th Jan 2015 (#)

Peter, I didn't know that about spell-checker. I can definitely see where that would be a problem. Smiles to you today! It is so cold outside today stay warm. We've got 12 degrees right now and the temperature is dropping.

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author avatar Judy Ellen
10th Jan 2015 (#)

I remember those days when I would use a typewriter for writing letters! However, I had the knowledge and skill to be able to use shorthand which helped me create my first draft before I actually sat down and typed. Nowadays I use the computer and never send out any of my articles, emails or posts without going through spell check and sometimes even the thesaurus which I find to be very handy writing tools. However, the most effective tool I use is my voice when I read my articles out loud to myself! This can make all the difference in the world and helps me catch any mistakes in grammar! Thank you for this very helpful information.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
10th Jan 2015 (#)

To me reading aloud is such a vital part of the editing process, but, since my scare with my eyes last year, I use software to do it for me and it is surprising how that helps spot problems.

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author avatar M G Singh
14th Jan 2015 (#)

Very interesting post. Reminded me of the great Kushwant Singh who never even used a typewriter, but wrote with hand.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
14th Jan 2015 (#)

There is a place for every type of creative writing, but on-line writers do have to understand the difference between the creative moment and the need to ready a piece for publishing.

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author avatar Charlie Kuchinsky
16th Jan 2015 (#)

I write a lot of different ways but I do miss my old typewriter.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
16th Jan 2015 (#)

Charlie, thank you.

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