Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How Do You Write?

by Mindy Friddle
I'm diverging from the assigned topic this month. I don't worry about snobbery much anymore. There's too much to DO to worry about people's skewed perceptions!

This is a picture of my grandmother's 1940-something Smith Corona manual typewriter. It is in pristine condition, as is the owner's manual. Alas, the ribbon is not. No ribbons anymore to buy and replace it. The typewriter, itself, can fetch a princely sum on Ebay.

So, for Christmas she got an electric typewriter. Yeah, I know. I didn't think they made electric typewriters either. But they do.

I spent the afternoon trying to figure the #$@! thing out...so my grandmother could type her recipes and lists and sympathy notes. When you get 85, you write a lot of Sorry for Your Loss messages.

I can't imagine writing on a manual typewriter. Or-- let me rephrase that-- I can't imagine editing on a typewriter. My process is fluid. That dancing cursor at the end of each word pulses and guides like a wee fairy. No more White Out.

Does form dictate content? After a visiting my grandmother, I started to think about how writing instruments affect how we think and write. Some writers I know write in longhand, then type up their manuscript on their laptop. I take notes by hand sometimes-- but I usually have trouble reading my own handwriting.Penmanship was never my thang, ya'll.
Think about it, though.



Quills to fountain pens to typewriters to electric typewriters to word processors to laptops. I wonder what and how we'll be writing 20 years from now. It boggles the noodle.


Nabokov chased butterflies
Talk about the gritty work of process... on the cogs and wheels of grinding out drafts...on HOW one goes about writing a novel [and an ode to the usefulness of index cards]:

Vladimir Nabokov, lepidopterist and brilliant writer, left behind an unfinished novel, The Original of Laura, when he died. It was recently published-- the fragments of it, anyway, as David Gates notes in his review in the NYT Book Review.

The most poignant detail is Nabokov's struggle to finish the manuscript, to capture the vivid vision of the novel --like one of his treasured, rare butterflies-- and splay it on the page: I kept reading it aloud to a small dream audience in a walled garden. My audience consisted of peacocks, pigeons, my long dead parents, two cypresses, several young nurses crouching around, and a family doctor so old as to be almost invisible...

The novel isn't even half-baked. Apparently, it's still clumps of dough. But fascinating to scholars and to writers who will seize the chance to muse over the raw chunks, and glimpse, perhaps, how Nabokov worked:
He would customarily 'envisage a novel in his mind complete from start to finish before writing it down' — on 3-by-5 cards, which allowed him to work on any section he wanted to, then place it 'in the sequence he had foreseen, among the stack already written.' A transcription of . . . handwritten notecards (complete with grammatical and spelling errors), [are] arranged in [this novel in] sensible, if debatable, order, but facsimiles of the cards themselves, perforated so they can be detached from the book and reordered by scholars who think they know better, or by general readers with time on their hands.
I think we might be using index cards a hundred years from now. The iCard maybe?

Mindy Friddle is the author of THE GARDEN ANGEL (St. Martin's Press/Picador) and SECRET KEEPERS (St. Martin's Press). Visit www.mindyfriddle.com and her blog, Novel Thoughts: On Reading, Writing & the Earth to read excerpts from her novels, interviews with authors, book reviews, and random musings. Follow her on Twitter @mindyfriddle.

10 comments:

Monda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Monda said...

Bless your grandma's heart. I still write with old manual typewriters nearly every day. Ribbons for that old machine are still available, if she ever wants to get that old Smith-Corona going again.

I wouldn't blame her a bit.

Susan Cushman said...

Lovely post. (I'm old enough that I typed my college papers on an electric typewriter and didn't get a computer until around 1989. Now I love my MacBook Pro.) And speaking of posts, have you seen those Post-it Super Sticky Sortable Cards? You can arrange them on the wall or your desk, creating a movable "story board" for your work. Another "new" tool is the "Smart Pen." If you like to hand-write first drafts, you can use this to download them into your computer. It has other talents, too. Whatever keeps us WRITING.

Brenda said...

I began my career on a Royal (manual), graduating to an Olympia, then on to a Selectric, and finally a Wheelwriter. I'm retired, now, able to write full time, and I do it on my wonderful computer...the greatest invention of all time!

(Love your blog, by the way!)

Mindy said...

Ribbons are harder and harder to find for it...and I was hoping an electric typewriter would be easier on her hands... but now I'm beginning to think it will be easier to track down the ribbons. [She hasn't warmed up to the electric typewriter.]

I love my Macbook Pro, too!

I have a Royal manual in my office-- it's a beautiful machine...to look at.

Linda said...

Love the Smith-Corona! I grew up with typewriters all over the house (my father sold and repaired them), and although I love my computers, I recently purchased a vintage Remington Rand manual and am hunting ribbons. I had forgotten the amount of "striking strength" manual typewriter keys require LOL! It has place of honor in my writing area simply for inspiration ;-)

I agree with your grandmother about the new electric machines (especially the daisy-wheel machines)--the noise and the movement of the wheel drove me crazy and I donated the machine as quickly as I could. On the other hand, when Selectrics made their debut, we students fell in love (no more throwing a carriage LOL).

Sometimes I think my "inner editor" was developed when typing because rather than start over on a pristine piece of paper, I would think long and hard about word choices, spelling, and grammar when writing school papers ;-)

You make me wonder--what will my 10-year old grandaughter use when writing her college papers?

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