Monday, October 15, 2012

Learning from the (type-written) Masters

Once upon a time, my instrument for creative writing was a portable Underwood manual typewriter. (ping! wrrk!)


My mother had graciously granted permission to use her prized 1950's workhorse -- complete with hardcover traveling case -- to allow her aspiring writer of a son the opportunity to produce multiple cringe-worthy stories. Imagine 70+ pages (double-spaced) of junior high sci-fi dreck*, per book. (ping! wrrk!)
*dreck[drek]
noun, Slang;
1. excrement; dung.
2. worthless trash; junk.
In some ways, typewriters made writing much easier. There was only one font. There was no "align right" or "justified" -- everything was "align left". To "center" something, you just kept hitting the space bar until you were centered (more or less). And let's not forget the psychologically-satisfying act of ripping out a page you were frustrated with, crumpling it into a tiny ball, and tossing it into the (usually overflowing) garbage can. (ping! wrrk!)


On the down side, there were typewriter ribbons gradually fading, white-out for correcting typos (even though you could never get the page aligned correctly again), and the remedial surgery required when your feverishly-speedy fingers got ahead of the typebars, creating a mechanical traffic jam (see pic at right). (ping! wrrk!)

Last but certainly not least, there was the dreaded ping! that let you know that your next wrrk! was now required, and the word you were in the midst of typing would neither fit in the space available in that line, nor hyphenate well. (ping! wrrk!)

The following list is a treasure trove of advice and inspiration from some of the modern "masters" of the written word. And, remarkably, most of them used typewriters to accomplish their literary feats. (ping! wrrk!)
  1. Cut the boring parts.
    I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~ Elmore Leonard
  2. Eliminate unnecessary words.
    Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~ Mark Twain
  3. Write with passion.
    Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~ William Wordsworth
  4. Paint a picture.
    Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~ Anton Chekhov
  5. Keep it simple.
    Vigorous writing is concise. ~ William Strunk Jr.
  6. Do it for love.
    Write without pay until somebody offers to pay. ~ Mark Twain
  7. Learn to thrive on criticism.
    You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance. ~ Ray Bradbury
  8. Write all the time.
    Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. ~ Ray Bradbury
  9. Write what you know… or what you want to know.
    If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  10. Be unique and unpredictable.
    I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~ G.K. Chesterton
    Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. ~ Oscar Wilde
(ping! wrrk!)

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