My New Typewriter

Feb 17, 2020

A few weeks ago I bought a typewriter. It's a beautiful machine. It's an Olivetti Letter 22, repainted a bright, tomatoey red. It has black keys with white letters and a low, sleek profile. I love it.

My new bright red typewriter

It is not my first typewriter, but it is the first typewriter I picked out for myself. I have a 1950s Royal and a 1970s Royal and they are both in great condition. One was a gift from my husband and the other had belonged to his great-aunt. They are both special in their own ways, but I wanted a typewriter that looked and felt more like me.

After days of talking myself into and out of and then back into spending money on an analog machine that could very easily end up as more of a decorative piece than a functional device, I decided to go for it. It arrived a week later wrapped in voluminous amounts of brown paper, cradled in more brown paper, with a red ribbon tied around it. Inside the layers of paper it was wrapped in several more layers of bubble wrap. I excavated it, leaving piles of packing material strewn across my kitchen floor, put a piece of paper in it, and began to type.

I had been inspired to buy a typewriter by an article I read on The Millions about how analog tools slow our brains down. They make us think and work differently, something I am familiar with as I often write by hand.

The first thing I discovered, though, is that I am not very good at typing on a typewriter. I have to press the keys really hard and my pinkies and ring fingers are not always up to the job. They are weak and I find myself retyping the letters "a" and "s" and "l" over and over. The scenes in movies where people are typing on old typewriters using only their index fingers make a whole lot more sense now.

I also discovered that the keyboard is laid out differently than what I am used to. When I bought it, I knew that it was coming from The Netherlands, but it did not occur to me that this might mean it would have a German keyboard. Instead of a QWERTY layout, it has a QWERTZ layout, with the "y" and "z" keys transposed. It also has a few extra letters: ö, ü, and ä.

I am not bothered by any of this, however. The whole point of using this machine is to slow me down as I'm writing, giving my mind more space to work as I type. I am not trying to type up finished copy, it is for rough drafts and thinking. If I have to think a little extra every time I have to write a "y" or a "z", so much the better.

I wrote this essay on it, actually doing a first pass on the typewriter, a second draft by hand, and then a third draft on the typewriter before typing it up on my computer. It felt oddly calming, even though my fingers were exhausted by the end of each session. I wasn't in a race to type as many words as possible as quickly as possible—there is no way to be fast on this thing, at least not compared to typing on a computer. It was fun, too, learning a new-to-me tool. I'm excited about the things we'll write together.