Instruments of Torture –

21 Jan

Instruments of torture –  (Inspired by a note from a multi-published author in the UK. )

“It’s strange, but after reading so many historical novels when I was younger, and then suddenly having my attention riveted by Richard III, I (quite literally) sat down and wrote a book. I had just found my vocation. Looking back, it seems like a split second, and in the grand scheme of things, it really wasn’t much more than that. My father gave me the little portable typewriter, a pile of paper and carbons, and said, “If you can do better, get on and do it.” And that was it. My fingers have rippled over numerous keyboards since then.

“I remember my worst moment was my first full-sized office typewriter, an Olympia, and I battered the poor thing so much that the head of the ‘r’ key flew off. I tried sticking it back on with everything I could think of, to no avail. So I had to go back to my old portable typewriter. Talk about hard work! I eventually managed to get the ‘r’ repaired, but then came my beautiful electric typewriter, another Olympia. After a few years, the time was getting on toward electronic typewriters, then the early computerised one where you could see two lines on a little screen. Sheesh. Instruments of torture. Thank gawd for computers and Word!

“Hey, did you ever do a blog about this? From the old sit-up-and-beg ten-ton manuals that gave you a hernia to move, to the dainty laptops and tablets etc. of today?”

Okay, pal. Thanks for the suggestion and here it is.

It’s amazing to think that one Will Shakespeare wrote (at least) 37 plays, hundreds of poems and sonnets, and who knows what all else – with a feather. Think about that for a moment, then be grateful for your current writing instrument.

Believe it or not, the first typewriter was just invented in the 1860s, so it’s now some 150 years old. They were a rarity then, as now, although in some areas of the world, their popularity has never diminished, and they’re even making a come-back!  The noted QWERTY keyboard layout followed in 1874. There have been other attempts at a keyboard layout, but none of them have lasted.

Typewriters intended for use with languages other than English may use different keyboard layouts, mostly in order to accommodate the use of accent marks, symbols or dipthongs.

Of course, moveable type printing presses date back to even before Shakespeare, and aren’t we happy about that?

There are those of us who remember learning to type in school —  on a machine with no letters on the keys! Eeegads! Indeed, first off we had to learn the placement of the keys in order to be able to type anything other than gibberish. And at speed! How many words one could type in one minute became the standard measurement for a secretarial candidate. Without errors, too! It was a dreadful experience. Heaven forfend one would accidentally start out on the wrong key, and end up with something like this: O vsm yu[r 8- eptfd [rt g,omiyr eoyjpiy s ,odyslr/ (Translation: I can type 80 words per minute without a mistake!) Hah. Not even on my best day!

As time marched along, the big old clunky office models were re-designed for home use, and some of them were really gorgeous. Consider the Olivetti  which earned a place in MOMA. (I’m not real sure of the name of this model, but I did have one in the late 70s. It had a type ball, and rounded off edges and was wonderfully quiet, as I recall.)

After the long lever type letter thingies, (I don’t know what they’re called but they had the letter or number on the end of a 3-4 inch long lever, activated by striking the keys) someone invented the typeballs, with changeable fonts! Oh, my word! Didn’t we all go nuts over that? And not long after that were the daisy wheels which accomplished the same thing. I had several of both kinds.

IBM’s Selectric, Selectric II and Correcting Selectric II changed the face of corporate America’s business letters and other papers. They were an incredible engine of change, doing things never before imagined for an ordinary small office.  Another new option was proportional spacing, so we’d never again have to suffer the boredom of Courier font.

Then came small electronic word processors, with funny type fonts embedded in them. These weren’t very useful for business-type correspondence. Or for serious writers, either with their goofy-looking fonts.

By the end of the 1980s, however, computers were gaining ground and along with them came the evolution in the printing industry. At last, writers were able to make corrections without having to retype umpteen pages in the process!

And thus, the Instruments of Torture, became easier to use, but still frustrating to those of us who don’t necessarily speak computer.

Next time (in two weeks) is another post about getting started on your book. You won’t want to miss it! In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, please write to me at:


2 Responses to “Instruments of Torture –”

  1. viscountessw January 21, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

    You know how easy it is to ‘justify’ the text on a computer? Just press an e-button at the top of the page, and bingo. Well, when I was just sixteen and moved to Holland, to work at Philips (electrical) in Eindhoven, I was presented with an enormous—absolutely!—typewriter that had a wheel contraption on the right-hand side with notches, marked with letters of the alphabet and figures from (I think now) 1-10. The department I was in published little scientific booklets, not through a professional publisher, but in-house. Initially, I would type whatever was needed, and at the end of each line I’d check the notches and make a note of what it was, say B7. I’d go through the whole article like this, line by line. To retype in final form, I would set wheel for the first line at B7, and type to the end, then the second line to C5, and so on. Right to through the article. The typewriter would adjust the lines by stretching or reducing the spaces between letters and words, so that each line ended at exactly the same point as its predecessor. The result was a perfectly justified page. To the best of my memory’s knowledge, I haven’t seen one of those machines since. I certainly hadn’t seen one before!

  2. Site Admin January 21, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

    Wow! I don’t think we had anything like that over here! What a wonderful notion! Thanks for telling us about it. Kelly

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