I used to stay up all night to write term papers in college. I’d mentally plan out the flow of the paper, but it wasn’t until the sun was down that I would feel ready to actually pull together all of the threads of my thoughts and bang out the full paper. Back in the days when I was in school, which wasn’t so long ago, but technologically was still in the dark ages, one would sit at a type writer to write a paper. People are no longer used to using typewriters, so most don’t remember that it would actually take more physical work than it does to type on a computer. The manual keys were hard to press down enough to make an impression on the paper, so each keystroke was done with force and made a loud “clack!” noise. The automatic versions were easier on the finger joints, as the keys were rather sensitive, and would react to the slightest pressure.
When nervous or overtired, I found over the years that I have an involuntary finger twitch, in my right middle finger, and occasionally my finger would just jut out and push the “k” key without my trying to. This weird little quirk caused me hours of extra typing over the years.
When you had to type papers, it was already important not to make any typos, so that you wouldn’t be marked down for them, but also because making corrections after you had typed something consisted of various degrees of tedious fussing. If you made a typo with a manual typewriter, you were basically screwed. Either you typed the correct letter over the wrong one over and over again, trying to make the error less obvious, or perhaps you tried to erase the typo. Usually, trying to erase it with a pencil eraser would lead to ripping holes in the paper. Remember, White Out was not in common usage until later, so that wasn’t even an option. You could put a carrot (^) in front of the typo and write the correction above it in pen, but teachers/professors back in the day did not take kindly to this shortcut. You would actually have to admit defeat, pull the paper out of the typewriter and start all over again.
I had an especially tedious torture device that came with my electric typewriter – a correction cartridge. If you made a typo, you would have to pop out the ink cartridge, pop in the correction one, hit the backspace key, type the mistake again so that the correction tape would remove it, then pop in the ink cartridge to type in the correct letter, and continue on. It would work out something like this: Typity type type type…crap! Push the button, pull the thing out, put in another one, hit backspace, type, push button, pull the thing out, push other one back in, and have a 50/50 chance of having a complete mindfart and typing the wrong letter again, CRAP! Starting the whole thing over again. It was such an inconvenient convenience.
White Out, oh dear sweet White Out. I was released from my cartridge-switching hell – only to enter a new one. When making mistakes, I used the white out, and it worked just fine. Only trouble was that it took longer to dry than I had time for, so I’d use my hairdryer on it to increase drying time. I didn’t have time to wait, because there I always was, banging out that paper in the wee hours, projecting to finish only in time to hand it in before the end of the class time, factoring in time to drive to school and time to park, hoping that the professor doesn’t leave class early, or I’d have to visit him in his office.
If you had to use footnotes? Just add a huge degree of difficulty to the problem. If the teacher was merciful, and let you put them at the end of the paper, all was good. However, some sticklers for certain formatted writing styles would insist that the footnotes went at the bottom of the page. With a computer that would be no problem, but before computers, what a friggin’ nightmare chore. I hated some professors for adding to the pain of the paper by demanding those miserable footnotes. Those professors got flipped the bird more times behind their backs than they could ever dream.
Still, sometimes I admire the look of old typewriters. They take me back to a time in my life when I was young and carefree, except for when I had a term paper deadline looming. I could stay up all night working on my literary masterpieces, and the work, once done, felt like a real achievement. It was hard won, that final product, and there is still something about that feeling that makes me nostalgic for when simply fixing a typo was a complex project.