I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’d like to get a typewriter. An old one, without electric capacity. Clacking keys flying before the dawn. At first this might seem impractical—why buy a typewriter when almost all publishing is now electronic, at least in one stage of its life cycle? You type something out and you’re going to have to “re-key” it for the hegemony of technology. But wait—there is a method to this madness. I’ve heard it said that good writing is just clear thinking. That sounds right to me, but with a proviso: good writing is edited writing. The editor may be someone else, or it may be the author, but the point is that something written, with rare exceptions, improves upon rewriting. Like ordinary stones in a rock tumbler that come out glistening. Type it, then retype it.
Back in college I wrote all my papers out by hand before typing them. (Sometimes three lines of handwriting on each college-ruled line.) “Keyboard composition,” as it was called then, was shorthand for quick, sloppy writing. The uniformity of type hides a host of syntactical sins. I used to see the same thing with student papers prepared on a computer in my teaching days—colorful images and fancy type utilized to mask a lack of engagement. The paper written and rewritten shows itself to be of a higher standard. I (or others) notice more errors on this blog when I run out of time for editing, often because work looms. If I have the time, I edit. And I actually miss writing my thoughts out longhand. What I need is a typewriter.
Reading has always been a large part of my job. Student papers and book proposals aren’t so very different. Many of both come in what appears to be first draft form. It’s understandable—good writing takes time not only to hammer out a draft but to think, mull, change angles, and hammer again—and we’re all so terribly busy. The end result is often worth it. At this point in Nightmares with the Bible I’m printing out my draft so that I can see what I’ve written. The handwritten comments come after the keyboard composition, but they still come. The important thing is that drafts require re-reading. Better, re-writing. The niceties of pleasing writing can be added or enhanced by an editor. When editors write books, other editors edit them. And as I sit here typing this silently on my computer, I’m imagining the satisfying sounds of a manic typewriter early in the morning.