Waxing Sentimental

Yesterday on the Ruby Slipper blog, I was commenting on a post about typewriters and I recalled what it was like when I bought my first electric typewriter. I was in junior high school and I remember eyeing a box at the local Gemco (or was it K-mart) that was for sale for $99 dollars. I saved up the money to buy it myself because I knew it was a luxury that I couldn’t ask Mum for.

I wanted that typewriter because it was my key to being a writer, of course. I couldn’t submit if I couldn’t type out my stories. I did submit my first story on that typewriter. It as a short story that I sent to the MZB Sword and Sorceress anthology. It was rejected with personalized comments and I wouldn’t submit again for almost another twenty years.

Describing the experience of typing on that typewriter brought me back somewhere. I’d have to carefully dab on whiteout to every mistyped letter and wait for it to dry. It brought me back to how painstaking it used to be. How careful I was in the very act of putting down words.

I had to look down at the third finger on my right hand. I have a little bump on my first knuckle that’s never gone away. My writer’s callus. I used to grip those big blue pencils so hard when I first learned how to write. The fat pencils without the erasers.

Very shortly after I learned how to string words into sentences, Mum told me you can make up stories and write them down. If they were good, people would pay you money for them. I was so excited! The prospect of making money as a child doing anything was such a dream. I think I’m going to admit that if I ever get interviewed about writing. I wanted to become a writer for the money.

All this got me thinking. These little sensations are what memories are made of. The smell of whiteout, the whir and click of my typewriter. The pain in my hand when I wrote so much that summer when Mum told me people could make money writing stories. I was worried when I woke up and couldn’t bend my finger because it was so swollen. Mum just had me soak in ice water and said, “You wrote too much.” I think she knew from experience.

I think all this was why I cried in the elevator when I knew I was going to be published.

I wonder what are the little sensations that make up memories now, when people start by typing on a computer and it’s that much easier? Or do they still have those fat blue pencils somewhere?


  1. Kristi
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 08:15:05

    Is it easier on a computer? My only experience with typewriters was Freshman typing class, and even half of that was taught on a wordprocessor.

    Not that I”m so much younger than you (Dont’ know that I am at all), but my dad was a computer buff so we had them in the house from early elementary. I remember writing games on a TI computer that was the same era ast he Atari, but our TI had a keyboard (I learned to program in Basic on it). By the third grade I was typing papers using WordStar on a state-of-the-art computer that had the dual 5″ floppy drives and an internal hard drive (maybe 20mb?).

    I definitely have fond memories of sitting in our basement, writing things on our computer, black screen with white letters (we had a color monitor! state of the art!). And was it ^B around a section that made words bold? ^i for italic.

  2. Lisa
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 10:30:38

    Oh I love hearing about how my fellow writers got their start. I can’t imagine writing without a computer. Just think of how much easier the internet and the computer have made it to write a book. I’m not sure we’d ever have been able to do this without them. Of course, I guess in the past maybe the sheer challenge weeded some people out. Hmm…

  3. Dara
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 11:07:52

    I wrote the first half of my first “novel” at 11 on an electric typewriter. It even had a little screen that showed you the first three or four words per line that you were writing so you could backspace if you needed to.

    I think that old Brother typewriter is in my parent’s attic somewhere…

  4. Jeannie Lini
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 12:35:54

    Kristi – We had a computer, but no printer! All we did was play games on it. I handwrote all my high school essays (they still allowed it) and typed my college essay on that same typewriter. Imagine my delight when I discovered WordPerfect!

    Lisa – That’s an interesting point. Only the strong survived. I imagine there were a lot less queries when they were all done through snail mail.

    Dara – That’s lovely! You should keep that typewriter. Stephen King’s typewriter is worth a bundle.