The writer and the typewriter

I have been doing a little more work this week on the play Famous Five Adventure.  In the auction lot were two copies of the typescript for the play – a top copy, typed in red and black ink, and a carbon copy in black ink.  Both drafts were quite literally stuffed with pins, with lots of revisions and new pieces of text pinned into position.  Although the two drafts were identical when typed, one being a carbon copy of the other, I couldn’t be sure if the revisions in both were the same.  The only way of knowing for certain was to literally go through them both, page by page, side by side, comparing each annotation and revision.

This was, of course, quite a time-consuming process.  Not to mention a little confusing at times!  But what it revealed was that every piece of cutting and pinning in the top copy was matched exactly in the carbon copy.  And nearly every ink annotation was also matched, although there are some very minor discrepancies between the two.  I was suddenly struck by how labour intensive a job it must have been to make alterations to a script after it had been typed.  I’m of the computer generation, where documents exist in an easily altered, electronic format.  Changes can be quickly made without having to retype the whole document, and once you’ve revised it you can print off as many copies as you like at the press of a button. 

Enid Blyton, working in the 1950s, didn’t even have ready access to a photocopier.  Having typed a complete draft, automatically creating a carbon copy as she worked, any changes she made had to be scribbled in the margins.  Or, in the case of more substantial revisions, laboriously retyped and then attached to the first draft using either glue or pins.  And all changes had to be made to both copies of the typescript, going through both page by page (much as I did when checking them), to make sure they matched up.  Of course, she could have just retyped the whole thing from scratch, but that would probably have taken even longer.  And would, in a way, suggest a certain waste of labour (not to mention paper) in producing the first typescript. 

It makes me wonder if perhaps authors like Enid Blyton were more careful, more considered, about each word as it was written, in the days before computers.  Was there a greater sense of permanence, of meaning and value in each word as it was thumped out by the typewriter, than there is with a flickering cursor on a screen?  Do we take for granted, these days, the ease with which we can create and disseminate the written word?  I wonder what Enid Blyton would have made of the age of the personal computer.

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One Response to The writer and the typewriter

  1. Gill James says:

    Maybe Blyton completed some drafts by hand first.
    I think two things now happen:
    1. We writers are much more careless with the first draft. Many writers just like to get the story down. This is not without merit.
    2. We’re much fussier with the editing and redrafting – we don’t show our work to an editor until it is pretty polished.
    Our wonderful computers don’t save us time: no more than dishwashers or the cotton mills did. They give use more time and product.
    I think this new tool pushes up standards, on the whole.

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