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A Quick Story: Writing Machines

“At last, a writers’ tool that promises it allows one to type at a pace that lets the writer think!” That’s what the headline on a small space ad in a mail order catalog says while the copy begins with the promise that the machine will allow you to compose a “well-thought-out” letter.

            The product: a genuine mechanical typewriter!

            This wonder product also uses no electricity and will never crash. Added luxuries include a standard full-sized keyboard with backspace, margin sets, and line spacing controls.

            Colonial writers used pen and paper to record their thoughts. Early mechanical typewriters came into popularity in the early 1900s and endured as a primary writing tool into the 1940s and 60s.

            When I entered Journalism school in the late 60s, School admission included evidence of a minimum words-per-minute typing proficiency. Writers for publication typed.

            In Army headquarters, all clerical workers used a manual typewriter to work. This was particularly horrible when generating typed stencils to use on hand-cranked ink duplicating machines despite electrostatic dry copy machines (Xerox) being available.

Likewise, frequently used documents had to be fully retyped rather than stored on a machine and simply updated or modified to complete. Memory typewriters became available but didn’t seem to catch on.

In my first agency job - writing and producing professionally for clients and client businesses and organizations – my office came with a manual typewriter. I told the boss I needed a faster, more efficient electric typewriter. Request denied. After all, secretaries (as clerical workers were then called) and all the way up to the president used manual typewriters

After a few months of demonstrating my writing skills and using that ability to help save the business of the counseling firm’s highest billing account, I went back to the boss and said, “I want a typewriter that types as fast as I think” and got it.

It was a Smith Corona portable. Months later I was promoted to vice president of the firm and provided with an IBM Selectric typewriter. After I got mine, so did every other person who typed on their job in the company.

The Selectric was and remains the world’s sweetest typewriter. It was extremely smooth and comfortable to use, fully functional with easy-to-work and understand controls. And, type-written copy from the Selectric was clean and beautiful.

A colleague of mine on the faculty of the University of Missouri Columbia School of Journalism introduced word processing to the school and negotiated one of the first computer writing labs to open in the country.

            Today, the keyboard is an extension of my brain. I can’t write without touching a keyboard. Note, however, many of today’s most successful novelists still write books with pen and paper.

Despite most writing computer software not being developed with the needs of the professional writer in mind, word processing allows the pro to produce even faster and with more flexibility.