I have yet to find a great deal of fame or fortune as a writer. (In truth, I don't care about the former, but the latter might be nice.) Still, writing is something that occupies a good deal of my time, so I'm willing to call myself a writer, in the same sense that I occasionally call myself a singer; that is, I am one who writes, and occasionally I am one who sings.
Every writer, I imagine, comes up with their own way to write. Some writers don't really write much at all, but rather wait until they are hit with inspiration, and then rush to record it in a single sitting. I am more of a writer who deals in perspiration; if I create something, it usually comes into existence somewhere around the third draft or later. The second and all subsequent drafts happen on a computer, but the first draft almost always begins with my old friend, the typewriter.
I love typewriters. Even before I was born, my mother worked in a clerical capacity and learned to type. The first several years of my existence came in a house that also contained a huge black Royal 10. I remember my mother lugging it to the kitchen table and showing me the keys. You had to work to type on that monster; as a kid I couldn't lift it, and it hurt my fingers to press hard enough to actually make a mark on the page. At that age, my favorite thing about a typewriter was simply listening to it, the ways the keys click-clacked under my mother's graceful fingers, the sound of the bell when she came to the end of a row, the large thunk of the carriage return as she moved on to whatever line was next.
My high school offered typing and shorthand classes, and I took both--not because I envisioned a clerical future for myself, but because most of the people who took those classes were girls, and as a young man who had no clue how to meet women, I figured that was as good a place to start as any. I don't know why such statistics stick in my head, but I very clearly remember that at the end of Typing 1 I could type 55 words per minute, and at the end of Shorthand 1, I was clocked at 80 words per minute. (I still wasn't dating anyone.) I took no further training, and eventually abandoned the shorthand entirely. But I kept typing, and my speed improved, and now I'm closer to 80 words a minute there, too, as long as those words contain no numerals; the mystery of the numbers and symbols at the top row of the keyboard were reserved for Typing 2.
I can still remember the first typewriter I bought for myself, a Smith-Corona portable, made when Smith-Corona was manufacturing some of the ugliest typewriters known to man. The first picture in this post shows a Smith-Corona Electric of a similar vintage; take away the electric and make it a manual, make the body of it a sort of dark babyshit-brown and put olive green keys on it, and you'll have a mental image of my first typewriter, purchased at a secondhand store for five dollars. It was ugly as sin, but the rise was just perfect, and the clickety-clack was quite soothing, and the bell gave a sharp ding! that let you know it might be old, but that typewriter meant business. I wrote my first short story on that typewriter, and my second and third. I didn't even realize that typewriter was turning me into a writer, nor that it would spark an interest that has never really gone away.
I wish I could tell you what happened to that typewriter. I suspect it was merely abandoned, as I was a young man who moved a lot, constantly in search of cheaper housing, since money was a constant lack. With no typewriter, I did no writing, but at the time that was OK, because I was dating, and eventually engaged, and then married. I got a job managing an apartment complex, which gave us a little bit of money and free place to stay, which seemed luxurious after some of the places I had lived. The head of maintenance at that apartment complex had just discovered this new website called eBay; he and his wife spent their weekends going to auctions and secondhand stores, hoping to find things they could sell on eBay for profit, and he asked if my wife and I might like to come along. We had nothing going on, so we did.
And there it was: A typewriter case, sitting on top of a dusty nightstand, waiting to go under the hammer. I opened the case and saw a drop-dead gorgeous Remington 3 portable, white keys with nickel-plated rims set in a frame of two-tone blue (just like the one in the picture to the left). Comparing it to the babyshit-brown Smith Corona of previous days was like comparing Cinderella at the ball to her ugly stepsisters, and I was every bit as smitten as Prince Charming. After a brief round of bidding, I bought that typewriter for fifteen dollars.
And that began a love affair that still hasn't ended. At that time, more and more people were buying personal computers; typewriters were things of the past, and could be procured relatively cheaply, and I soon came to a place where I owned 90 of them. My wife and I eventually moved out of our rent-free apartment and bought our first house, and one entire room was dedicated to typewriters. Some I used (I was writing again) and some I just looked at; I could have done that for quite some time, except that I had decided it was time to stop having jobs and start having a career. I wanted to go back to school to become a Social Studies Teacher. Doing so would mean I would have drop down to part-time work, which meant I would have to come up with some money from somewhere.
I had a weird-looking, huge old standard typewriter with "Daugherty Visible" written across the top. It was old; so old, it sat on a wooden board, and the case that came down over the top of it was solid metal. I had found it in an antique store, buried under some other stuff in the back corner (pro tip to typewriter hunters; they're heavy, so they tend to be on the floor), and paid fifteen dollars for it. It didn't work, or didn't work well; I had only bought it because I hadn't seen a typewriter quite like it, and it was cheap. But I needed money, and it took up a lot of space, so I took some photos of it and put it on eBay, just to see what would happen. What happened was that seven days later the auction was complete, and I sold it to a guy in Germany for over a thousand dollars. It turned out, I had been ahead of the curve, and typewriters were now collectibles.
If you're curious, shipping typewriters is a colossal pain in the ass. Just finding boxes big enough is a challenge, and then you need enough bubble wrap and packing peanuts to make sure it mostly arrives in one piece. Then you lug it to the post office or a shipping company, where you discover the sheer weight of it makes for an expensive package. Still, that was what I did, over and over again, selling almost everything, including the two-toned blue Remington 3 that had started the collection. Typewriters, therefore, made me what I am today; I made enough money selling that collection (and pinching pennies everywhere else) to complete my teaching degree, which has been my livelihood ever since.
And, now that I'm fifteen years into a teaching career, I'm writing a lot more. My typewriter collection began again, once I had enough money saved up. It's a smaller collection, and it ebbs and flows. A number of my former students have shown interest in my typewriters, and several have therefore become gifts; it's always good to spread dorky joy whenever you can. As it stands, I think I have about 35 (some are in the storage unit, so an exact count is impossible at this moment). I don't own anything too valuable or extravagant, because I'm not really a typewriter collector as much as I am a writer. I want a machine that is ready to go to work, and not just one that looks pretty on a shelf.
Someday, perhaps some of that writing will reach a broader audience. Someday, I'll post about typewriters again, and explain why all of my first drafts happen that way. Mostly, as I age, I find I miss the sound of a typewriter in another room, just as I miss the mother who used to type on it.
All hobbies are screwy to those who don't share them, but this hobby is mine, and my life has been better for it. If you think you'd like to try it, let me know, because I probably have a few typewriters I could bear to part with, and dorky joy is still joy. Thanks for reading.