The craft and business of writing and self publishing

Five Things I Learned in the Age of the Typewriter

By Barbara G. Tarn

Next year I’ll celebrate 40 years of stories. I stopped counting before the indie revolution and I was already over 500 titles, with less than 10 unfinished.

Before you ask: yes, they suck. No, I will never publish most of those stories, although I did throw the very first in a couple of books, because I wanted to show bad writing and I didn’t know how to show that except by using my own beginner writing.

I’m not even rewriting most of those stories, just keeping them as background or world-building if it’s SFF, especially if I wrote them last century. Of course all were unpublished, since I started putting my work out there only in 2011 and joined KWL at its inception in 2012.

Barbara’s global sales via her Kobo Writing Life Dashboard map #KWLMap

 

So, what did I learn at the time of the typewriter, when I wrote in my mother tongue (Italian) and wasn’t a very strong reader? When my main inspiration came from TV series and comics? I learned the following five things that I can still rely on today in my digital publishing.

1) You’ll never run out of ideas

Writing is like muscles, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. I used to write at school (that’s probably why I didn’t do very well in my secondary education and never went to university), at home, wherever, whenever. Notebooks filled with one-draft stories.

2) Sometimes rewriting is okay

Some stories I loved so much that I kept rewriting them. Which meant that I learned the beginning by heart, so in later years I started reading only the last scene/paragraph before going on. But then, at that point I also started typing in a word-processor…

3) Finish what you start as fast as you can

Just pour it all out as it comes, you can worry afterward about edits.

The few unfinished stories I have are because I probably lost momentum and forgot what I wanted to write about. I never outlined, I just sat down and wrote the scenes playing in my head.

To be honest, I always did my very first draft longhand until 2015. Making corrections is a hassle and makes everything messy, so if you think this might help in finishing what you started, write the first draft longhand.

I’m a typist (had to learn the skill to find a day job) and I learned to type with ten fingers on an electric typewriter, therefore moving to computer keyboards was a piece of cake. But it didn’t feel like I wrote it. That’s why I stuck to handwriting the first draft (I called it Draft Zero) for so long.

Some of the notebooks used for longhand writing over the years

4) Be your own fan

Until I found someone willing to read my stories (and I was in my 20s by then), I wrote to entertain myself (hence the one-draft stories, they worked perfectly fine for me!). I used to read and re-read my stories quite often, and not only to write prequels or sequels to them.

Now I don’t do that anymore for lack of time. I sometimes get to re-reading something only when I translate it back into Italian . . . and usually go: “Yikes, this sucks! Oh, well, let’s see if I can make it sound a little better in Italian…” Perks of doing your own translations (and no, I don’t actually rewrite the whole thing, but sometimes I do tweak a sentence or a paragraph that sounds too clunky)!

5) Don’t worry if it’s crap

You’re done, yay! It sounds like the best story you’ve ever written, double yay! And then you go back to it after a week or a month and OMG this sucks! Not. Remember: writers are the worst judges of their own work. Besides, it’s practice, and practice never hurts.

You know the theory of “one million words of crap”? I wrote those and more, before I came out of my writing cave, wondering why publishers weren’t knocking at my door. It was the era of the typewriter, therefore no internet. I sent out my very first manuscript in 1993 and it was rejected unread (it was also very unprofessional, but I didn’t know the rules of submissions).

 

So remember this very basic fact: Writers write. If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. So go back to your laptop or notebook and just write. Stories will come. Your craft will improve. Life and the universe will conspire and one day you’ll wake up and be a professional writer with an actual career.

This won’t happen if you don’t write.

 

 

 


Barbara G. Tarn had an intense life in the Middle Ages that stuck to her through the centuries. She prefers swords to guns, long gowns to mini-skirts, and even though she buried the warrior woman, she deplores the death of knights in shining chainmail. She likes to think her condo apartment is a medieval castle, unfortunately lacking a dungeon to throw noisy neighbors and naughty colleagues in. Also known as the Lady with the Unicorns, these days she prefers to add a touch of fantasy to all her stories, past and present – when she’s not wandering on her fantasy world of Silvery Earth or in her Star Minds futuristic universe. She’s a writer, sometimes artist, mostly a world-creator and story-teller. Two of her stories received an Honorable Mention at the Writers of the Future contest. She writes, draws, ignores her day job and blogs at: http://creativebarbwire.wordpress.com.

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15 Responses to “Five Things I Learned in the Age of the Typewriter”

  1. Vincent Mars

    Enjoyed this. Do you think that a young writer today could benefit from switching to a typewriter, or is he better off on a computer?

    Reply
    • Barb

      I know of a younger writer who wrote his first novel on a manual typewriter and collects them… Or you can gave a writing computer with no internet…

      Reply
      • Barb

        I meant “have a writing computer”… sorry was writing on the phone. Or you can write longhand, like I used to and Audrey still does! 🙂 Anything that keeps you off the internet…

  2. Sharon E. Cathcart

    Reblogged this on Sharon E. Cathcart and commented:
    Sometimes I think I’m the only one who still writes anything longhand! I find it helpful when I’m stuck, because the thought process seems to be a little different than when I’m at the keyboard.

    I agree with every bit of advice here!

    Reply
  3. charlotteharter

    I loved reading this! I’m only a teenager, but I have a vintage typewriter in my room because I completely agree- sometimes it’s just better.

    Reply
  4. Louise Foerster

    Was talking about typewriters and card catalogues in libraries the other day — remember typing so fast (as in point # 3) that the keys would jam!

    Reply
  5. Audrey Driscoll

    Draft Zero in longhand — great way of describing it. I still do that too; it helps me keep moving ahead with the story instead of fiddling around with the beginning.

    Reply
  6. Richard Murray

    I have to quote this: So remember this very basic fact: Writers write. If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. So go back to your laptop or notebook and just write. Stories will come. Your craft will improve. Life and the universe will conspire and one day you’ll wake up and be a professional writer with an actual career.

    This won’t happen if you don’t write.

    Reply

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