The Classic Typewriter Page




Bill Meissner

A tongue-in-cheek seven-step exercise guide for both the typist and the aspiring writer.

Photo: Christine Meissner

Back in the 1960s, John F. Kennedy proposed that the young people of America needed to be more physically fit, causing a small revolution in calisthenics, playing touch
football on lawns, and the production of skimpy gym class shorts. Today, it’s quite clear that many people across the country, with their razor-thin smartphones and their love of texting, are losing the battle with health and fitness.

     So I hereby propose a new workout program, guaranteed to make you physically fit, and to generate some creative ideas at the same time.  Forget yoga.  Forget expensive fitness clubs, forget treadmills, forget pushups and sit ups and mindless jogging.  It’s time to join the Typewriter Workout Program.

     Before we begin, please drop those weightless cell phones [the feather-light LG K3 smartphone is a mere 128 grams], and let’s get started!


Step One: The Bench Press. 

Lift your typewriter from its wooden or metal case.  It’s best to use the vintage machines for this.  An average 1940s Underwood or Royal manual weighs 35 pounds. So just think:  If you lift the typewriter onto and off your desk every day for one week, you will have lifted 490 pounds.  If you perform this exercise seven days a week for a year, you’ll have hefted 25,550 pounds.  After bench-pressing a typewriter for just one week, you’ll begin to feel the strength in your biceps and triceps. For beginners, and those really out of shape, a small but cute Sky-riter, weighing in at seven pounds, will have to do.


Step Two:  Limbering Up the Optic Nerve.

Once the typewriter is centered in front of you, it’s time for an eye workout.  Study the typewriter.  Admire it.  Appreciate its lines and curves and angles, be it a large black desktop Woodstock, a burgundy 1935 Corona Silent, a blue Classic 12, or a lovely sea-foam green Hermes 3000.  Scan the many shimmering keys. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of words those keys have typed, and what you might add to their minions.  Next, study your font.  Whether it’s bold pica, or tiny elite, or script, enjoy your font.  Love your font. Memorize it.  Carry it in your memory for those times when you might think you have really nothing to say. 


Step Three:  The Ream Curl

Lift a ream of paper from the shelf. You should be aware that a whole ream—500 pages—weighs in at 2.7 pounds.  It can easily be used as a bar bell, and won’t injure you as much as if you’d dropped a steel one.  Next, pry a sleeping blank page from its companions. A page—filled with the right words—can make people laugh, or cry, or think deeply about themselves.  It can have more weight that you ever thought it could. 


Step Four:  Hand strengthening

Now lean forward and type.  Yes, type. Raise a type bar or two; after all, there are 44 of them to choose from.  As you do, know that you’re not just texting with some dainty thumb-dancing; you’re pressing the keys down vigorously, snapping them, pushing out line after line of words like the boxcars of a train, each one connected to the next.  Feel the oxygen rush to your fingertips, your knuckles, your palms.  Feel your hand-eye coordination improve as the words fill the page.  This is true aerobics for the hands; your grip will become stronger, and eventually you’ll be able to grasp anything—a parallel bar, a mountain crevasse, the hand of a child or a close friend—and hold on longer than you ever thought you could.   

Step Five:  The Brain Stretch

     By now, you’re prepared to begin the creative portion of your workout.  For the writer—not just a person who types—these exercises are probably the most important part.  They are the mental exercises, the ones that will fortify and stretch your imagination.  For these, we recommend the lighter, fast-typing portables:  the Royal Quiet De Luxe, the Clipper, or the 1930s Corona 3, like Hemingway used.

A brief back-space:  Admittedly, whoever invented this crazy machine used a quirky mix of keyboard letters—they’re not arranged alphabetically, nor with any semblance of logic.  Until you type the words.  The world comes at you jumbled, like a series of dull empty boxes tumbling toward you on an obstacle course, and your job, as typist/writer, is to dodge the unimportant ones, and to write about the moments that count.

When you’re ready, take a deep breath and lift your hands above the keyboard.  A blank page gives off a blizzard-like whiteness that can blind you, but don’t let that bother you. Don’t freeze.  Don’t be intimidated. Tell yourself that you can create something that’s never been written before. Now dive into the keys.

Type the word ocean.  Let yourself swim in that ocean of words.  Paddle in its cool refreshing water.  Marvel at its multicolored tropical fish.  Feel the rise and fall of its rushing waves. Taste its salt, and let your readers do likewise.

    Type the word mountain. Then climb it, foot by foot, yard by yard. Look around:  Are you in the Rockies?  The Himalaya?  Mount Aetna? When you get near the top, make it erupt. Describe the smoke, the explosions, red lava, the heat on your face, everything.

     Type the word childhood.  Describe its memories, its people, its places. Walk through your old back yard, down its streets, climb its trees, laugh about its delights, cry its tears, learn from it. And always remember to wear decent shoes, in case you need to walk a mile in someone else’s.

Type the name of a person who is important to you.  Then describe that person, ride in a car with them, let them talk, dance with them.  Always use concrete and sensory details to show their character. You can try a similar exercise using a favorite object, or a significant location.

     To add some brain power, wrestle with your ideas. Tackle the unknown and write spontaneously; let your imagination and your feelings emerge through the keys.  Surprise yourself.  Sure, your inventive ideas might overwhelm you occasionally, but use your newfound strength to pin them to the mat.


Step Six:  Extreme Sports

     When you believe you’re finally in excellent typing shape, you might try engaging in a few extreme sports* with your typewriter [keep in mind these are for advanced athletes only]: Do some pushups with your typewriter on your back. Jog with your typewriter into the end zone of a football field, nudge it into the net for a goal, knock down ten pins with it, or slide it, safely, across home plate. Tote it across 18 holes of a golf course. Always remember:  it’s not winning that counts, but that you   practiced, and that you wrote.  Arnold Palmer once said “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”

     Finally, when you’ve finished that letter, story, poem or novel chapter for the day, your workout is nearly complete. Wipe the sweat from your forehead. Rest for a minute or two and allow your mind to drift into a Zen-like meditation, as if your brain has been given a coating of White-out.


Step Seven.  The Final Exercise

For one last exercise, stand from your desk, pick up that typewriter, and raise it up to your chest. Then heft it over your head and high into the air.*  Feel the sense of accomplishment that the muscles in your body have strengthened and your brain is ready to tackle any creative idea.  Let the keys glisten in the light of the words you’ve created today.  Celebrate the fact that you are now physically fit, and ready to try out for the Olympics, or, at least, to type that first sentence tomorrow morning.

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*Not all typist/athletes should attempt these exercises.  If you are in doubt, please consult your personal  physician, or your local typewriter repair person.



Bio:  Bill Meissner's most recent novel, Spirits in the Grass (University of Notre Dame Press) won the Midwest Book Award.  He is also the author of two books of short stories:  Hitting into the Wind, a baseball-theme short story collection (Random House hard cover, SMU Press paperback/Dzanc Books ebook), and The Road to Cosmos, about the unique characters in a small Midwestern town (U. of Notre Dame Press).  In addition, he has published four books of poems, including American Compass (University of Notre Dame Press).  A former university creative writing teacher [and now a writing coach], he is the proud owner of (approximately) 21 manual typewriters, including his surviving 1948 Royal Quiet De Luxe.  If you say “cut and paste” a story, he assumes you mean using a scissors and Scotch tape.   For more about his books and writing, visit his web page, or see his “Bill Meissner Author” page on Facebook:

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