The Classic Typewriter Page

Typewriter Tributes

Luddite Dreaming


Matthew Smeal

I'm typing this on a typewriter. It's obviously undergone some format changes since, but the original copy was drafted on a good old-fashioned typewriter. And not just any typewriter: an Olivetti Lettera 32, the same model that could be heard chattering away in any news office, bureau, trench, cafe, foxhole, airport, bar or hotel room throughout the 60s and 70s; the 'laptop' of the era and machine of choice for many journalists.

So why in 2006 have I chosen to use such an antiquated -- by today's standards at least -- piece of equipment? I don't know really, is the short answer. I have a computer, I also have one at my office; there is my old laptop gathering dust in my shed somewhere but, being a mid 90s model, it won't start up. Even if it did, it would be dreadfully incompatible with any computer currently operating. Funny, my 35 year old Olivetti works fine. Perhaps therein lies the answer.

Admittedly there is something beautifully simple about taking my typewriter wherever I like, sliding a piece of paper into the carriage and just writing. No need to worry about power, waiting for software to load, formatting, screen reflections, crashes, saving or getting the software to stop doing what it thinks you want and letting you do what you want.

As a journalist, and one who, like most others, will one-day write a best-selling novel, I can't hide the certain romanticism of writing on a typewriter. There's a wonderful imagery of sitting in a quiet upstairs room, overlooking a lake or seaside, gentle breeze blowing as page after page flies from the carriage to the ever-heightening pile of literature destined to inspire and mesmerise generations of readers. It is easy to think of Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Michener and Kerouac and humbly seek admittance to their seemingly shrinking circle.

The image also signifies a simpler time: one of hard work and diligence to be sure, but without the distractions. No furious-paced multi-tasking, just good writing. Compare with a modern platform: red underlines on misspelt words, green underlines on grammatically incorrect sentences or punctuation (not always correct themselves, by the way), annoying prompts asking if you need help writing your document, auto-formatting spontaneously decides to change your body copy into a heading and so on.

All these writing 'tools' ironically seem only to distract the writer from getting on with the job. It's nice to sit down and write; getting thoughts onto paper. As any good writer will tell you: write first and edit later. The important part is to get writing.

I bought my typewriter only recently, on something of a whim but with serious writing in mind. In part it was because I couldn't afford a laptop but I secretly loved the idea of owning a piece of journalistic history. Plus $50 was a lot easier to part with than what was needed to replace my desk-bound iMac.

I also truly believed that a typewriter would make me a better writer. How so? By making me think. With a computer I often send forth a volley of verbosity knowing that I can, and will, edit later. With a typewriter, more thought goes into what I'm writing at the time I'm writing it: sentence structure, what points to make and when, flow and style. I've found that editing pieces that originated on my typewriter is easier and quicker than those from my computer.

My preference now is to draft on my typewriter and edit on screen. As my piece is going to be emailed or dropped into a design program anyway, it does have to get onto a computer somewhere along the line. So, draft on the Olivetti and edit on my Mac. By the way, it's also nice to have a printed draft as I go without having to send it to print and worry about all associated printer problems. Quite simply, it's nice to write.


Matthew Smeal is a journalist and photographer from Sydney, Australia. See more of Matthew's work at

Read more about Matthew Smeal's Olivetti.

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