The Making of Type Something: Part 1

Corona 3 Typewriter

On making my chapbook, Type Something

I have an old Corona typewriter from the 1920s. Since I’ve owned it, only a few things have been written on it. Otherwise, it’s gone from shelf to storage, as my wife’s antique typewriter (a newer model) has become the vintage typewriter on display in our home. Sometime last year, I was wondering what it might have been like to write poetry on a 1920s typewriter. If you’ve used one, you know how slow the process can be. Unlike typing on a computer, or even on your phone (where I write most of my poems), there’s no rapidly tapping away at the keys. Doing so tends to cause the typebars, or strikers, to ram into one another, effectively jamming the machine. For this reason, I imagine writers of yore, if they did their drafting via typewriter, and not by hand, typing each line at a pace that would make it impossible to not deliberately consider each word. There’s also no delete button so, if you make a mistake, you have to strike it out and start again with the mistake in plain sight, or grab yourself a clean sheet of paper.

A blank Instagram Stories type function

A blank Instagram Stories screenshot

I find using the type function on Instagram Stories to be somewhat analogous to typing on an old typewriter. While you can delete as you type, the immediacy with which you’re putting your thoughts out into the world creates a similar sense of anxiety. Once the words are out there, you can’t take them back. This awareness is why I (and I’m sure others) have developed the habit of creating Instagram Stories and then deleting them without posting them. I do the thing where I have an idea or a thought that, in my head, is salient or clever (or sometimes just something I want to share), but after I type it, I second-guess my intentions. Who cares what I think? Aren’t we all busy living our lives, trying to survive a pandemic? Don’t we all have enough things demanding our attention all the damn time? And so on. This is why I tweet maybe twice a year.

One morning, I wondered what would happen if I saved the things I wrote using IG stories instead of just deleting them. Furthermore, what if I used IG stories to write poems? How would the interface alter my writing? Even though I knew I wouldn’t share the poems immediately, would the interface cause me to censor myself on a subconscious level? Also, I find that the interface, while giving you the ability to write, really emphasizes the act of sharing. Would writing in such an interface mean that I’d spend less time trying to perfect the line, thus leading to poems that felt more spontaneous, or would they end up just being bad poems?

Then came the question of editing the poems. Once they’d been written, all that existed was a screenshot. The solution I came up with was arduous, and kind of dumb considering the ability to save drafts in the Stories interface, but it forced me to slow down. It forced me to rethink, reshape, or completely abandon poems because they just weren’t working. I retyped the entire poem from the beginning, sometimes marking up the screenshots using my phone’s markup tool. It wasn’t unlike working with a printed draft. Ah, to do analog things digitally only to find that you’re kind of actually doing the same thing that’s always been done.

Screenshot of an edited story poem draft

Screenshot of an edited story poem draft

I’d also been thinking about the fact that everything I share on social media ultimately becomes a product of this immense data mine that’s built to enrich oftentimes huge corporations. I play the game and honestly, I don’t hate social media or the use of folks’ data if that data is willingly shared, but I sort of resent that one of the methods available to share my work plays this dual role of dissemination tool and data siphon. I thought it would be a teeny tiny whisper of a “fuck you, BIG DATA” to use IG Stories, which was designed to create ephemeral content that disappears in 24 hours, to make a book that would be printed and would, hopefully, last a little longer.

Thus began Type Something.

In my next post, I’ll share the process of putting the book together, selecting which poems made the cut, moving from IG Stories to InDesign, and finally sharing the work publicly.

Posted on February 2, 2022