When new technology holds a writer back

1894 photo of Mark Twain in the New York City laboratory of his good friend, Nikola Tesla.

1894 photo of Mark Twain in the New York City laboratory of his good friend, Nikola Tesla.

Happy Birthday today to perennial FAB favorite Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain).  For those techno-geeky folks out there, Sam was the first person ever to write a novel on a typewriter. The year was 1883, the book Life on the Mississippi.

Of course, he’d owned the thing since 1874, and found it more trouble than it was worth, writing to the maker (in longhand!) in 1875 saying,

Please do not even divulge the fact that I own a machine. I have entirely stopped using the typewriter for the reason that I could never write a letter with it to anybody without receiving a request by return mail that I would not only describe the machine but state what progress I had made in the use of it, etc, etc. I don’t like to write letters, and so I don’t want people to know I won this curiosity-breeding little joker.

He’d paid the whopping sum of $125 for the Remington No 1 and claimed to have traded it to a friend a few years later for a $12 saddle, thereby “cheating him outrageously.” But one suspects, since he wrote a Life on the Mississippi on a typewriter, he gave up his early model No 1 typewriter in favor of a new and improved Remington No 2 which appeared in 1880 and had the impressive futuristic feature of . . . a Cap Shift Key.


Image number: 10308297; Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library; Date taken: 12 January 2004 22:33;Image rights: Science Museum

The Remington No 2 was the first commercially successful writing machine, selling over 100,000 units. And yes, that’s Remington as in rifles (So, one could say Remington covered its bets by producing both sword and pen!). Remington began making firearms (a metal and wood product) in the 1820s.

In 1873 Remington began the new venture, producing typewriters. Remington sold the typewriter business in 1886. The new owner, the Standard Typewriter Manufacturing Company, bought the rights to continue using the Remington name, and the firearms business became Remington Arms Company.

interestingly, because the type bars strike the paper from below, the writing on early model typewriters could not be seen until the carriage was lifted. The ability to see what one was writing as one typed had to wait until 1908 and truly wasn’t perfected till around 1920! Some writers continued with longhand not least because with longhand one could see what one was writing. (JK Rowling still writes her books in longhand, we’ve heard.)

Many well-known authors have used Remington machines. Dame Agatha Christie used a Remington Portable No 2 and a No 5. Raconteur Quentin Crisp preferred the No. 3. Nobel Prize winner in Literature Rudyard Kipling pecked away on a Remington Noiseless model in his later years. And a Remington Portable No.3 was one of the typewriters of choice of Gone with the Wind novelist Margaret Mitchell.

So how ever you choose to create your next great novel — traditional longhand or something cutting edge, remember, it’s the words that count, not how you get them on the page.

writers block
StiK – Cow Writer’s Block from a presentation on Writer’s Block Sometimes it’s the technology that’s holding you back!

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