One afternoon, while typing an important scene for my novel, I ran out of ink. I had to drop everything, get into the car, and drive through heavy snowfall, to reach the closest store that had a compatible ink ribbon for the typewriter. It was a one-hour drive to get there and another hour to come back.
In the meantime, I had the chance to reflect on the scene that I was writing a bit more. Particularly, I had the chance to think about it in a different environment—there is something inspiring about driving through snowfall during the late afternoon, with the sky becoming progressively darker.
By the time I got back, I had changed my mind about the scene and decided to write it in a different way. I was much happier with the newer version.
Anyone who has worked with long texts will feel horrified merely by the notion of having to edit on a typewriter—I could even say “quill and paper” instead, but I don’t want to sound too cruel.
And yet, having used a typewriter to write a couple of my early novels, I feel that the experience has taught me a thing or two. Perhaps the most important lesson is about writing patience.
I can’t count how many times I pressed the wrong key, how much slower my typing became, and overall how different the whole experience was. I won’t lie, in many aspects it was extremely frustrating. But when it comes to writing patience … To say I learned to be patient is an understatement.
In the era of “now, gimme, I want it,” patience is in short supply in all aspects of life. We live in times when mobile gamers that can’t be bothered to level up through effort simply pay their way through. Or, as someone has aptly said, before you marry someone you should first see them reacting to slow internet.
In the era of instant gratification, this lack of patience directly affects writers and the process of writing. Therefore, it is important to both recognize it and push against it.
Writing is a long and arduous endeavor. The amount of work an author has to do is often monumental. From point zero—that is, conceiving an idea—to the final product being ready for sharing with an audience, the writer needs to dedicate a lot of time to many different processes.
A blog article that can be read in 10 minutes requires days of authoring, editing, formatting, and overall polishing. A novel, which some readers can complete in a few hours, has probably required months if not years of the author’s time and effort.
In other words, seeing the final product requires time and the patience to see it through. Writing patience, then, becomes an imperative element of success. Sadly, compared to the days of typewriters, writing with patience is no longer a given.
When an author is too preoccupied with the final product and writes impatiently, the goal is no longer the production of the best possible work. Rather, the goal is to simply finish the task as soon as possible.
Inevitably, this lack of patience has a devastating effect on the quality of a text. Few things, if any, are better when you’re hasty, and a process as cerebral as writing could not possibly be the exception. Indeed, slowing down and reflecting on your text can be pivotal in achieving quality results.
It is an undeniable fact that the emergence of affordable computers and the internet has greatly simplified the technical aspects of writing. A writer rarely needs to go to a library—let alone travel anywhere—to discover information. It can almost all happen online.
At the same time, a writer can type without having to worry as much about errors, ink or paper running out, or anything of the sort. Correcting a typo is as simple as pressing Delete or Backspace.
As for editing? Well, that’s a walk in the park from a technical standpoint, as neither the editor nor the author needs to struggle with paper masses of scribbled notes and corrections. It’s all so easy from a technical standpoint.
I’ve used the term three times already to draw attention to a fact that is very simple, yet perhaps so simple that it might pass unnoticed: The computer and the internet have simplified things from a technical perspective, but they have done little to alter things from a creative perspective. In fact, they might have even made things worse.
At best, not having to worry about the technicalities allows an author to focus on the content. Realistically speaking, however, the mere fact that writing has become so easy also means that some of the benefits of writing on a typewriter are no longer present.
Writing patience is something a writer can develop and improve. As with so many other things, not everyone can become excellent, but everyone can become better. I developed a lot of good habits using that typewriter, mostly having to do with patience and being careful when typing, but also with perspective in a more general way.
I learned the importance of letting your manuscript breathe while you do something else. I also learned that writers need to experience before they write. As the occasion of running out of ink showed me, life and its experiences can provide unexpected inspiration.
All the lessons I learned using that typewriter were a result of being forced to slow down, take it easy, and be very concentrated while typing. Having to retype entire pages to get at some major edits that were too big to white out was not something I enjoyed. And so, I learned to have a coherent text in mind before I began typing the sentences.
Is it necessary to use a typewriter to learn the lessons? Of course not—though if you have access to one, I challenge you to try it!
What’s more important, in any case, is to understand why writing patience is an asset. Equally important is to know ways you can improve it. And so, here is a list of three useful tips on how to develop your writing patience.
Authors who write impatiently tend to focus on completing the task, which is writing. Doing so, they often ignore approaching their text from the reader’s perspective. It’s amazing how reading one’s own text, patiently and meticulously, can reveal all kinds of issues, from simple typos to more structural problems.
What works well for me is to read away from the word processor and the computer. If you have an e-reader device, send your manuscript there. You can still highlight passages and take short notes if you need to, but you can’t actually be tempted to resume writing.
It’s a bit like reading the chapter you just completed on a typewriter. Just as you couldn’t resume typing from a particular point on a printed page, separate the two processes—reading and writing—from each other in the digital world as well.
In our deadline-dominated world, some writers might think that slowing down is a waste of time. The exact opposite is the case: When authors are not hasty and take their time to focus on their text, they make fewer mistakes and produce more coherent texts.
This means that less time and energy is required later for editing. Not to mention, writers who don’t feel pressured to produce a certain amount of words per day tend to be more efficient in expressing themselves coherently and effectively.
Any time you think you might be wasting on being patient and careful, slowing down and taking your time, you will later see as an investment.
And so, it’s important for writers to focus on maximizing the quality of their work, regardless of the time it takes—of course, within a realistic framework. It’s a matter of planning and balancing a writing schedule.
To repeat the typewriter allegory, imagine that Delete and Backspace are broken on your keyboard. Think of each sentence before you begin typing it. “Hear” it in your mind, or even speak it out loud, and then go ahead and type it.
There is a rule in chess that forces players to move a piece once they touch it, making it imperative to first think and only then touch the intended piece and move it. It’s the same with writing: Think first, type afterward!
This justifiably sounds confusing, so let me unpack it. Most authors are bombarded with ideas daily, some good and some perhaps not so good. That’s nothing out of the ordinary; it’s just part of the creative process. Problems might begin once a writer becomes impatient with their ideas.
In our digital era, it feels easy to simply run to the computer (or open the lid of the laptop) and begin typing. Few authors would do that with a typewriter, because it’s difficult to create anything worthwhile, devoid of typos and sentences in need of modification, without the idea first having settled.
So why do it with a computer?
The question is of course rhetorical. Authors nowadays don’t think about this aspect because it’s trivial to go back and make corrections. But being impatient with the process of writing forces the ideas out before they’re properly ready.
Going back to correct an idea is something that happens with every writer, and always has, but you can actually help the process become smoother by dedicating just a bit of extra time in allowing the idea to settle.
Instead of being impatient with typing, authors can instead “write” in their consciousness, all the time. Whenever I have an idea, I start to play with it in my head for quite a while, developing it, changing it, thinking about all the what-ifs. Only when I have the most crucial details formulated do I begin to actually type.
One of my hobbies is photography, and I’ve used all kinds of cameras—first film and only later digital—ever since I was a child. There’s no question that I prefer to use digital cameras, and yet I feel grateful for growing up with film. You learn to slow down and take your time, making every shot count when you only have 36 of them.
Writing is quite similar. We have grown so accustomed to the wonders of modern technology that we occasionally neglect some of the fundamentals, becoming sloppy. The reason is that it has become relatively easy to correct our mistakes, at least from a technical standpoint.
Technical aspects such as fixing typos or deleting entire paragraphs with a mouse click are trivial to take care of. But perhaps exactly because of our reliance to such easy fixes, we might become too carefree with the creative aspects of writing.
Just because writers are no longer forced by a typewriter to slow down and take their time developing their ideas, it doesn’t mean they don’t have an obligation to themselves to do so. Completing a writing project is important, but writing a complete project is perhaps twice as much.
Chris Angelis has a PhD in English literature from the University of Tampere. Besides his academic research in Gothic/horror & science fiction literature, he is also a writer of literary fiction, and the owner of a literature blog, Home For Fiction. Furthermore, he develops programs focusing on literature, writing, and texts in general. Chris is a senior content editor for Craft Your Content.