Adding Another Analog Writing Tool, Maybe

Somewhat near my house is a used typewriter sales and repair shop. Mesa Typewriter Exchange is a longstanding local business. This past Friday was the first time I ever stopped in. To say that there was a few typewriters on the display would be an understatement. The customer area in front of the counter is overrun with typewriters of every description and vintage. It was reasonably well organized, but it’s also clear he’s quickly running out of room.

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I stopped in not because I wanted to buy one, but because I wanted to use one as a prop for when I shoot the cover for my book. Visiting this almost-museum got me thinking about whether a typewriter would fit into my workflow. I felt like I was approaching dangerous territory. I’m already doing all of my non-email writing off-line.

So, do I really need another analog writing tool?

Right now the answer is no. Between the fountain pen writing and using the MacBook’s built-in voice recognition to dictate my chicken scratch into digital text, I’m pretty well set.

If I want to do portable off-line typing I can use the AlphaSmart Neo. Plus turning off the Wi-Fi on my iPad Mini renders it mute enough to avoid most online distractions. But there’s something about the way a typewriter renders text to the paper with immediacy.

But I have to admit the impracticalness of the whole thing. Type written pages are only as good as the OCR software you have. The sad truth about text is that it’s not real until it’s digital. There’s just no place for handwritten or typewritten pages in the online world.

So the battle becomes one of finding out how much analog can be stuffed into the digital pipeline. Along the way I also have to find out how much digital can be removed to make room for the analog.

I feel that I’m pushing the limit now. My longhand to dictation writing process has about as much analog as I can handle and still get the words out the door in digital form. But I’ll keep my daily writing journal purely analog, there’s simply no point and having that in digital form.

I also have to consider if a typed draft based on my hand written manuscript pages is any better or worse then printed pages that came from my dictation of the same manuscript. The dictation yields editable text without the need to OCR the typewritten pages. Not to mention that the whole reason for my hand writing to dictation workflow was to minimize my typing time. Now, here I am considering adding typing back into my writing process.

There’s not a single use case where I see a typewriter replacing the tools already have. The only possible time I could see it having a place would be if I needed to put text on something like an envelope or a form. I can also say that I can’t recall a single time I’ve needed to do that in this century.

So a typewriter would only be for directly creating typed manuscript pages when I had no other way to do so. That might be the case if the printer died, but even then copy shops and other places with printers exist.

I also won’t be swapping my pen for a keyboard even if it is on a typewriter. Writing with a pen just works better for me and my process. I’m fine with using digital tools for editing. It’s the creating part where digital has no place.

As I’m about to engage in a 21,000 word stress test of MacOS Sierra’s dictation software, I might wind up changing my mind about dictation. The goal of using it is to cheat and combine an out-loud read-through while the computer does the typing for me. The success of this project depends on how well the voice recognition likes me. This will also be the longest piece I’ve ever tried to dictate. So far it’s worked well enough for blog posts and similar items. So once the book is dictated, I’ll know exactly how interested I’ll be in using it for the next project.

If it’s a failure, then I’ll have to reevaluate my plans. The software could work just fine. I may turn out to be the weak link. I’ve never actually dictated that many words before. I have no idea if my voice will even hold up. But the manuscript is written, now I need to turn that stack of ink soaked pages into something that resembles an e-book.

The funny part is that even after all this analysis, I think I still want a typewriter.