Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Rattletrap (the) Typewriter

For as much as I go on about my love of fountain pens and exotic inks, it may surprise you to know that I do, in fact, know how to type. I'm actually pretty good at it. *looks at nails smugly* My computer and I spend a lot of time together, especially my buddy the backspace key (who knows the truth that I'm not nearly so good at typing as I think I am), trying to decipher all those scribbly words in all my scribbly notebooks.

When I need a good refresher in typing precision and my anachronistic streak just won't leave me alone, I turn to my good buddy Rattletrap.

Rattletrap is a 1930's Royal Portable typewriter purchased from a dark, dusty corner in a pawnshop where it was overshadowed by half a clarinet and a stuffed cobra battling a mongoose. Once I got my husband to pull it away from the cobra (I don't do snakes, remember?), I opened the decrepit case and glowed with the kind of instant love I usually reserve for kittens and used books. Rattletrap was destined to be mine, I knew it down to my typewriter-less bones.

When I carted the typewriter up to the counter, the shop owner fed me a story about how it had been in the possession of a ninety-year-old woman who had it sitting peaceably on a table in her hall--the typewriter equivalent of, "She only drove it on Sundays." True or not, I forked over a twenty dollar bill and sauntered out with my new toy under my arm. I did not even notice the stuffed snake on my way out.

I named the typewriter Rattletrap because the keystrokes have such a pleasant kachank sound, which in quick succession smoosh together to sound like a fun, peppy maraca rattle. The "trap" part comes in by the fact that by the time I have this bad boy out of the case, I know that I'm going to be sitting in front of it for a while. It literally sticks me to my chair because it's simply too cool and quirky to walk away from. Anyone who writes knows how important the "stick to chair" part of the process is.

I also call it Rattletrap because--let's face it--it's a ramshackle typewriter from the 1930s that I bought from a pawn shop that sells dead snakes. Even in such only-driven-on-Sundays-by-a-sweet-little-old-lady pristine condition, this ain't no highbrow machine. This is an object that was made to work hard until its keys wear out. (Which, thankfully, they are a long way from doing.)

Rattletrap got a shave and a haircut (or some trumpet valve oil and a new ribbon thanks to Staples' wonderful selection of cash register ribbons), and has been working like a champ. The novelty of it stimulates my brain, getting the stories warmed up to trot out for a walk across the keys, but the added benefit is that it slows down my typing and makes me really concentrate on what I'm trying to say. It messes with the automatic muscle memory I usually use to type and that's a good thing. One of the reasons that pens are good for writers is that you can't write faster than you think like you do with a computer. With a typewriter, you get the same neatly typed text, but it slows you down to a rate comparable to that of handwriting. Throw in some decent OCR software (I use OCRTools for Mac), and you're well on your way. Another cool thing is that typewriters, like pens, are pressure sensitive. If I'm really hammering away at an intense scene, the words on the page reflect the physical tension I expelled when writing it. It doesn't matter much in the final product, but it's a cool meta-writing effect to consider when reflecting on your own work.

It's also worth noting that typewriters don't do a lot of the distracting things that computers do, like, I don't know, GET ON THE INTERNET. This alone makes writing productivity increase a whopping 100%!*

Rattletrap inspired a short story with the utterly creative and original working-title of "The Typewriter" which I will hopefully finish in the near future.

Just as soon as I check my email and finish this game of solitaire...

*Percentage based on the fact that I do 0% work on my writing while email, message boards, blogs, Hulu/Netflix, Amazon, or any other website ever created is available to me.


Stephanie V. said...

I have been scouring the internet to discern whether trumpet oil is suitable for my typewriter. I've read that sewing machine oil can be used for typewriters (and I seem to remember someone saying it could be used in a bind for trumpet valves) ... I was reluctant to apply it until I found someone else that had done it first. Time to dig out the old trumpet ...

Marisa said...

Yes! Trumpet valve oil worked great--I believe we used Binak since it is a little thicker than many other oils. I never really liked it for valves--too slow--but for this, it worked great!