That amazing Selectric Typewriter

Every once in a while, I come across a writer who composes his/her stories on a typewriter. Growing up, the sound of a manual typewriter was the most constant sound in our house. Dad was an author and typed everything on a Royal. When IBM introduced the Selectric in 1961, I wanted Dad to get an electric typewriter.

He never would. Perhaps it was the initial cost. Or perhaps it was the fact that repairs on Selectrics–like similar typewriters made by other companies–cost more than fixing that old Royal. I used a Selectric while in the navy and at my first civilian jobs. I liked the ease of typing, when compared to a manual, and I liked the typeballs because they made it so easy to change fonts.

And, if you liked the sound, the typeball hitting the ribbon made a sound sort of like the keys on an old Royal or Underwood–only faster. And, you still had the profanity that occurred when a writer made a mistake on a clean copy while ripping the sheet of paper out of the machine and throwing it (the paper) somewhere on the floor near the trashcan. (Yes, there was a “Correcting Selectric” but if you were typing with carbon paper, the correction made the carbon copy worse.)

The good news for me was that my wife-to-be was a journalist and owned Remington’s version of the Selectric which worked just fine. Maybe that’s why I married her.

But then computers came along and people started swapping out their electric typewriters for computers with so-called word processing software. (I disliked the term intensely, but couldn’t say so because I worked for a computer company that made the hardware and software.) At that point, we not only swapped out our typewriters for early computers but traded the celestial sound of manual keys for the hideous noise of dot matrix printers.

No, I can’t go back, though if my wife’s Remmington still worked, we might use it for typing notes and addressing envelopes. My Dell computer is quiet. But sometimes I wonder if it would help my inspiration to play a sound-effects audio file of a Selectric burning ribbon at 125 words per minute. Yeah, I’d be cooking with gas then.

Malcolm

When I found my agent for “The Sun Singer,” the manuscript was typed on a Selectric-style typewriter. Seems like the dark ages now, even though I think the contemporary fantasy novel still reads fine in 2020.

Author: Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of "Sarabande," "The Sun Singer," "At Sea," "Conjure Woman's Cat," "Eulalie and Washerwoman," and "Lena."

4 thoughts on “That amazing Selectric Typewriter”

  1. Isaac has a keyboard that makes typewriter sounds when you type on it, from the keys to the space bar. I didn’t realize I’d missed the sound until I heard him typing on his.

  2. My computer growls while it warms up. It shouldn’t. It’s something to do with the fan. My computer doctor says to leave it alone as to fix it will be expensive.

    I have to say I don’t miss the sound of the old typewriters, manual or electric. I had a Silver Reed portable electric, which was always on the point of bolting and always cut the middles out of characers like o, b, 6 etc. Obviously something was on too eager a setting, but I could never work out what. If I wanted a good copy for something I had to pad it with two or three sheets of paper underneath. Whenever I revisited early writing drafts a little drift of letter-middles fell out of the box like dandruff …

  3. Sounds like the key pressure was a lot higher than necessary. I had an Underwood portable that worked fine, though I did notice that some of the older manual typewriters in university classrooms did what your typewriter did. Really annoying.

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