Time travelling through a typewriter

Meet Betsy.  She’s an Underwood Standard Portable, circa 1930, and she was my birthday present from my sweetheart.  Some may think it a strange gift, but others may remember over the summer I came across a conversion kit for typewriters on Etsy.  I.  Was.  Smitten.  I have always loved typewriters.

I am a child of Generation X; I learned to type on an electric typewriter, owned one in high school, and from time to time I’ve missed the spontaneity granted by a typewriter.  When you sit down to work on a typewriter, unlike at a computer, there’s immediate, tangible proof of your progress.  There’s the sound of typing, the act of progressing down the sheet of paper, pulling a full sheet out and rolling in the next.  It’s a specific sort of experience, and one that many in the current era have never experienced.

When I saw those conversion kits I immediately wanted one.  Why?  One, manual typewriters are really quite amazing little feats of engineering.  With very little elbow grease and next to no time I took Betsy from being rather clunky, with sticky keys and a dry ribbon to a smoothly operating machine.  Two. she requires no electricity, only paper, ink, and me.  In a culture of being perpetually plugged in this is a rare and valuable thing.  But, I do live in that world.  Which means what I write on a typewriter will likely need to be transmitted digitally at some point.  And this is where the beauty of the conversion kit comes in.  All it does is add contacts and a means of transmittal to the typewriter.  It doesn’t change the way it functions.  So I can sit down to the typewriter, plug it into my laptop(or iPad), insert fresh paper and open a blank text document and off I go.  I can ignore what’s on the screen and concentrate on the paper, but I also have a soft copy of the hard copy I’m creating.

I admit, I obsessed about the idea of this for a good week or two solid.  When I wasn’t working on something I was browsing the internet looking at old machines, researching, reading, devouring the sight of them.  Then my ardor for the idea cooled to something a bit, well, healthier, and I just tucked the wish into the back of my mind.

Cue my birthday and a partner that listens to what impassions you and my present is a beautiful typewriter and the kit to convert her!  Betsy was dusty and needed a little love and attention.  For me that’s the perfect gift in this sort of situation.  I got to know my typewriter as I cleaned her up with the aid of tweezers, compressed air, and an old toothbrush.

I read up on some of the mechanics, the history(which is fascinating by the way), and took my time.  Then yesterday I took the plunge.  The conversion is, to be honest, relatively simple, thanks to the brilliance of the kit’s designer.  It is a little time consuming, though I’m not sure exactly how long it took me as I worked on it over the course of the entire day and between doing other things.

And here she is! I imagine, were I so inclined, that I could have mounted the circuit board on the back where it would be out of sight.  I like the look of it though, the straddling of almost a century by the sight.  I’ve not typed extensively on her yet, but don’t worry, I will.

I will say, I’m eager to note the difference in the experience of working on the typewriter and on real paper again.  I’m a pantser, so far as my plotting goes, which means working in a word processor is perfect since I pop back and forth in my work often as I find I’ve introduced a plot element that needs to be threaded backwards.

I found a quote from Will Self on wikipedia about this…

“I think the computer user does their thinking on the screen, and the non-computer user is compelled, because he or she has to retype a whole text, to do a lot more thinking in the head.”



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