Recently I have been reading some articles by and about the great southern humor writer, Lewis Grizzard. If you have never read any of his work, part of it can be found online and it is well worth the read.
Seeing pictures of Lewis Grizzard and his manual typewriter. I’m pretty sure that it is exactly like my old Royal that I have retired to the back of a closet under the stairs. I’m relatively certain my vintage Royal still works if I could find a ribbon for it. Grizzard wrote a column about his typewriter in 1983. Unlike Grizzard’s typewriter, my Royal has all the keys — and will type both an “e” and “u” — at least it would the last time I saw it.
Trying to type an error-free document in the times of the manual typewriter was a nightmare. Grizzard probably he didn’t care how impossible it was and just kept typing. If he made an error, he could not backspace and fix it, though. In the days of manual typewriters, you had to erase your errors with an ink eraser and then retype.
Grizzard had to do his own spelling too or look up the word in a dictionary. Spelling and grammar have vastly improved since the computer spellchecker was born. Now we can even cut and paste and move paragraphs around electronically. In typewriter days, cutting and pasting was literally that. You used scissors and rearranged paragraphs with scotch tape. If you made any serious errors when typing on a manual, an entire page might need to be retyped. I’ve heard that the floors of old newsrooms were littered with crumpled retypes.
Maybe Grizzard had enough skill to avoid excessive errors or enough persistence at ignoring them and muddle through. Or maybe he just crossed them out and went on since he called columns in to an assistant anyhow.
When White-Out came along in a little bottle with a brush like fingernail polish, it became much easier to fix typos. You just had to be careful to let the paper dry before trying to type on it. I can’t imagine a man like Grizzard using a sissy product like White-Out. He would rather retype.
When electric typewriters came along, they practically typed by themselves. We became speed-writing demons at 60 wpm. Lewis Grizzard didn’t like electric typewriters and continued to bang away on the old manual even though the ribbon stuck and the tab didn’t work. “Electric typewriters make strange grunting noises and type faster than I can think,” he said.
When the IBM Selectric came along, the carriage didn’t move, so you didn’t have to worry about setting your coffee cup where it would get knocked over when you hit return at the end of a line. Before that, I had to retype a lot of papers that were the victims of flying coffee cups.
The world of writing has not been the same since personal computers. Grizzard called them Star Wars typewriters. Grizzard shunned computers, saying, “I like to hear noise when I work.” Writers think with their fingers and a lot of creative thinking takes place between the keys and the paper or screen. I sort of miss the challenge of my old Royal and banging the keys hard enough to get them to print. Computers and iPads correct errors and misspelled words for you before you even notice anything is wrong.
Machines are too smart when they fix errors you didn’t get a chance to make. One of these days I may dig that old typewriter out of the closet. I could shine it up and find a ribbon somewhere that I could wind onto the old, obsolete spools. Lewis Grizzard wrote 25 books and 3 columns a week on a manual. I would like to try to write a column on it and see how many crumpled retypes end up on the floor.
But, right now it will have to wait. Grizzard might not have understood computers, but he did understand deadlines.
Copyright 2012 Sheila Moss