I know a whole generation of young people, including all my grandchildren, who can’t imagine life without a computer. For something that has so completely revolutionized our lives, the computer hasn’t been around that long. In fact, in my early adult life I worked for two publishing companies who were still setting type by hand, one letter at a time. Even though I lived seventy percent of my life before computers came on the scene, as a writer in today’s world, I have trouble imagining life without them.
I think the most amazing difference between writing on a typewriter and on a computer is the ability to make changes without having to retype the text you’re not changing. When we wrote terms papers in those olden days, if you found a mistake on a page, you had to retype the whole page—which ran you the risk of making some other mistake in the process.
If you decided you wanted to add a sentence, you would not only have to retype that page but an indefinite number of pages beyond because all the text would have to move forward to make room for the new sentence. The testimony of one of our organization’s early Bible translators was that, in the process of translating the Scriptures into one of the minority languages in Mexico, she typed the entire New Testament twenty-seven times. How many of us have even read if twenty-seven times?
I wrote the first five pages of my Tangled Strands novel on a typewriter in the summer of 1975. I wrote the rest of it in the late 1980s, and by that time I had a computer. I thought what that WordStar program could do was pretty terrific, but it was amateur compared to what I can do now.
The truth is, I have enormous respect for all those people who wrote books before the advent of the word processor. I can’t help thinking of Grace Livingston Hill, who turned out dozens of books in the ‘40s and perhaps earlier—all on a typewriter. I have a personal theory that it is harder to get published these days simply because computers make it so easy to write a book that many times more people are doing it. And there is no way I would be reworking my story the way I am if I had to retype a whole page for every little polish or improvement I make.
However, typewriters had something wonderful going for them. They were not subject to viruses and “crashes.” I’m thinking about all these things this week because the hard drive of my main computer left home by UPS three days ago so that experts in another state can try and solve its problems. Thankfully, I have a laptop, but it isn’t the same because I don’t have access to all my files and resources.
So my hat is off to those stalwarts who wanted to put words on paper and get published enough to manage it on a typewriter.