Out, out damned spot


Writing stories can be hard work. Eons ago, all that was available was paper and ink and the paper was very expensive to create. Then technology advanced and paper was much cheaper. Part of this advance had to do with the printing press. The demand for more paper and the possibility of selling more paper interwove to create a better paper source. Books were now able to be mass produced but that meant paper was needed. But with more books sold, it became economically feasible to produce more paper.

Still time moved ever onward. Books were now ubiquitous and because there was so much printed material, it spawned ever growing numbers of literate consumers. All these various readers demanded more books to be printed so they would have something to read. And that meant more books had to be written to meet the demand.

Eventually, new ways of producing the written word were introduced and they had nothing to do with writing. Instead, one needed to type. The machines were clunky and the mechanics were such that fast typing could actually make the keys jam. At least that is the story behind the letter placement on a standard QWERTY keyboard. Slow typing down to make it possible for the mechanics of the time to keep pace, goes the standard wisdom.

The basic problem remained. As every writer knows, there is a bit of a problem with deciding WHAT to write. No matter how good (or bad) the method of documentation was, the issue of what to document continued to haunt authors.

The owner of the typewriter could start with a stack of fresh, crisp, pure paper. There was nothing there but space on which to write. The method of creation remained forever the same. Think of something to say and then say it. Learning to type quickly without looking at the keys meant the writer could focus on the words placed upon the page rather than the method for placing them there.

What words? That was and remains forever the problem. With typewriters, there was no backspace key and once a word or even a letter was typed, it was forever there on the now no longer pristine paper. Therefore, accuracy was even more important than it is for today’s authors. With enough mistakes, one could rip the page from the machine and start over. This led to crumpled sheets of black smudged paper lying around the workspace.

As can be seen in the picture with the crumpled paper, mistakes were made. The process of editing was even more onerous and the whole work would then have to be retyped before one could present it to the end-reader, whoever that may have been.

The most intriguing part of the picture remains a haunting mystery. There is a stain on the wall. It is a dark red stain. Where did it come from? How did it happen to appear so close to the author’s workspace.

“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler

Ah, an answer.