Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Change for the Better

by Guest Blogger, Lois Lamanna

I frequently think about how it must have been for writers in the past. Where did Shakespeare get his paper? How did he send his manuscript to his publisher? What did he do when he made a mistake? What did he do if his publisher wanted an extra thousand words or a thousand words removed? Did he have a style guide, thesaurus and dictionary? Were any of his works rejected? Did Shakespeare’s children stand over his shoulder and say, “Dad, if you used a turkey quill instead of a pigeon feather you would be able to write faster?”

Growing up in suburbia, post World War II, I recall mobilizing the entire family to search the house whenever we needed a piece of paper and pencil for a phone message. (Did Shakespeare have a junk drawer in his kitchen?)

My first typewriter came from the toy department of K-Mart. I got it for Christmas when I was a freshman in college. It had a transistor radio built into the blue plastic case. I was humiliated when I carried it into my dorm. Everyone else had black manual typewriters, except my roommate. She had an electric typewriter. I’ll admit I lusted after it. When themes were due I pleaded to use her machine. I scoured the dorm for spare sheets of erasable bond paper.

I got an old, even for the early seventies, old typewriter from one of my professors. He offered it as a prize for selling candy for a campus organization. I hustled through the professors’ offices to win. I wrote my master’s thesis using that Olivetti. I pounded out lesson plans in triplicate.

(In spite of what my mother said about cracking my fingers, I think manual typewriters are the reason I have fat knuckles.)

Woe to anyone who made a mistake while typing on a manual typewriter, especially when you made the mistake in triplicate. You had to erase the error, sometimes resulting in a hole in the paper if you rubbed too hard with the little eraser pencil with a conveniently located brush on the other end. To precisely line up the page under the correct key, to type over the misspelled word, was a skill very few people mastered.

The white tape that covered the black mistake was a miracle and I would like to personally thank the person who invented White Out.

I wrote my first manuscript using pen and paper then painstakingly keying the words into my primitive computer each night. I spellchecked it. I grammar checked it. I saved it to disk. I printed it and sent the first thirty pages, via snail mail, to agents and publishers. I got rejected.

Now I get rejected at the coffee shop by way of email, one click of a button.

The writing experience has changed dramatically since Shakespeare’s time, but one thing hasn’t changed. My children stand behind me and say, “There is a better way.”

Backspace, delete, cut, paste. Don’t my kids realize that this is the better way?

Retired from teaching (a subject other than English), Lois Lamanna’s first novel Matrimony and Murder, is being released in December 2011 by Avalon Books. While exploring her other options, she is working at Macy’s, selling jewelry. She lives in Murrysville, PA with her husband and two dogs. When she is not working or writing, she enjoys baking cookies and working in her yard. “I’m glad I am finally going to be published; it justifies not dusting or running the vacuum.”


Annette said...

Welcome to Working Stiffs, Lois.

I remember using my mom's black Royal manual typewriter in high school. My pinkies were never strong enough to hit the "a" and the ";" keys. My typing speed was as slow as the coming of kid's Christmas because I didn't want to make any mistakes and have to try to fix them.

Fun post, Lois!

Gina said...

Congrats on getting published, Lois!
I remember the old days, although my family had one of those big gray upright Remington typewriters. It took a lot of strength to push those keys! My dream machine in those days was the IBM Selectric - the letters were on a little removable globe. You could pull it out and put in another to type in italics!

C.L. Phillips said...

WhooHOO! Way to go! Loved your post. I bet you remember mimeograph machines.

As for the better way, I'm waiting for the Vulcan mind meld. Instant transmission of thoughts and emotions via the fingertips. Wait - that's writing! :)

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Karen in Ohio said...

ingzcalpGroan, I well remember those awful days of trying to erase typing errors without making holes in the paper! Ugh. And I was so slow because I was terrified of making yet another mistake that needed to be corrected.

Along came computers, and et voila! I was suddenly a fairly fast typist. Who knew?

By the way, you can thank the mother of Mike Nesmith, of Monkees fame, for Wite-Out. She was a secretary and invented the miracle liquid that covered all sins. She sure made my life easier until computers, but I still used it for other things, too.

Jenna said...

I learned to type on an old manual typewriter that was old for the 1980s, when my father brought it home. I got a word processor sometime in the early 1990s, and then my first computer in the mid-90s sometime. At some point they might come up with a better system, but for now I'm pretty happy, considering what the past was like. There's no way I would have been able to write twelve books in the past four years on anything but a computer.

Patg said...

My first typewriter was huge. Why I wanted it is still unexplainable as I hated the idea of needing to learn how to type. The assumption that you were in typing class so you could get a job as a typist was the assumption. But I did and never liked it until I typed on my first electric. Dumped all of it when I got a computer, and now regret it.
Did you know that old typewriters are the last fad in collectibles?

Gina said...

This is probably totally inappropriate to mention, but the one problem I had with the electric typewriters we used in high school typing class was that, as my upper body matured, whenever I leaned forward to erase an error my breasts would hit the space bar . . .

Rebecca Bradley said...

I love the technological world we live in. I wonder how many writers wouldn't even be trying if they had to write it all out by hand or on an old typewriter.

There is an award for Working Stiffs over on my blog.

Lou in Murrysville, PA said...

Congratulations Lois -- you are finally published, and deservedly so. From my perspective, the harder part of the process is selling the book to a publisher -- the actual writing seems easier, by comparison. Damage control to Lois' initial blog post: we also have 3 grown children we are very proud of: Kelly, Michael and David (our new son-in-law).

Lou, Lois' husband in Murrysville, PA

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I am so excited for you. Your tale hits home for many of the Babyboomers especially me. Keep writing! It will be your second career to excell in!! I want to buy a signed copy. Cheryl

Lorraine said...

Lois (and Lou) -- happend upon this blog while searching for you on facebook. Congratulations Lois. Knowing you, the book must be fantastic. (Now imagine how life was for me pounding out your husband's words on a Wang Word Processor.) Love to you all. Congrats to Kelly too.
Lorraine & Bill