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Show HN: Turn your fancy, expensive computer into a stupid typewriter (couchto50k.club)
90 points by eykd 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

I was expecting the graphic to animate as I type, with the ribbon holder jumping up and down, maybe even display the text itself, and hoping to hear that satisfying sound of the letters against the platen. Obviously the shutdown hasn't lasted long enough.

I'm only half joking. I like the concept of re-implementing typewriter constraints on the writing process, but the skeumorphism was lacking. It took me a second to figure out why there were 2 text boxes, and the word-based tokenization is not type-writer like at all.

More importantly, one key aspect of the typewriter was lacking: the immobility of the cursor. In a typewriter, it was the page/canvas that moved, and your cursor stayed fixed. You could type paragraphs even an entire page without moving your head or even your eyeballs by just staring at the contact point of the letters.

Searching for "typewriter simulator" found this which is very close to what I was imagining: https://uniqcode.com/typewriter/

It even recreates the problem of missed letters if you type too fast (though I suspect it's a bug). At least it doesn't jam.

Ha, yeah, you'll have to find your skeumorphism over there. :) That's a pretty neat achievement, I have to say.

But I don't actually want to use a typewriter, I just want to force myself to write without editing.

>missed letters if you type too fast (though I suspect it's a bug)

It states it's intentional:

>Just like a real manual typewriter, you can only press one character key at a tim

I have never used typewriter, but I don't think this is correct, the limitation should apply only for adjacent keys, not globally for all keys. This is the whole point of QWERTY layout, to type faster by spacing letters in words as far as possible to avoid jamming typewriter.

Nope. Letters from almost any part of the keyboard could jam the machine if you typed fast enough. That was one of the reasons that the IBM Selectric typewriter were so popular with professional typists. The ball mechanism had nothing to jam against.

I've been taking a writing class through Second City, and I've found it incredibly useful to write out my first drafts on paper, by hand. I don't think I'm losing any time by having to type my second draft into the computer afresh - you're going to be looking at it anyway, and it's useful to be forced to reread every word. It's easy to skip over parts if you don't need to touch them.

There's the bonus that my notebook had no flashing lights, no notifications, no way for me to switch to my email.

Also I enjoy the tactility of a fountain pen on paper.

Yeah, this is a great tactic for those inclined. I'm afraid I'm too impatient. I can type much faster than I can write long-hand, and there's a better chance of my being able to decipher it later. :)

It depends what you're writing. I find the writing time to not be a big impediment - for creative writing, I have to think about what's coming next anyway. If I were writing other things, it night make more of a difference.

For me in creative writing, "what happens next", tends to appear in large batches of inspiration, and I really want the high bandwidth of a keyboard to make sure I can record all/most of it before it decoheres. It's a personal thing. I always respect those with the patience to draft longhand. :)

Fair enough! I'm writing mostly things of a short nature -- this class focused on satirical writing, so under 1000 words. I've also done some sketch comedy, so perhaps five pages. It might be very different if I were writing anything longer, that didn't require tiny pieces to fit together.

You sound like me.

While nobody makes actual physical typewritters anymore (to my knowledge), they can be had used for very little, so you could have the best of both worlds by writing your drafts on a typewritter.

Once when stuck on how to structure my second chapter of my thesis, and had been procrastinating over it for a week, I was sitting in the library with my computer, and I instead pulled out a pad of paper and wrote out the whole damn chapter in pen in about an hour.

It was all in my head, it just needed to come out. Somehow the words just flowed with a pen.

I find a mechanical keyboard has the same effect on me. My kids hate hearing my model M when they have work to do in the same room.

I definitely think that the worst part about typing on a computer is how easy it makes it to not draft. I write about music on the side, and if I spend 15 minutes planning what I'm going to write prior to actually writing it (for a 500 word piece) then everything turns out much more cohesive at the end. I can pretty much type as fast as I can think, but my thoughts are pretty garbage unless I get a chance to organize them first.

Yes, I'm realizing there are four distinct mental processes to writing:

1. Planning 2. Production 3. Editing 4. Revision

Each one engages your brain in a different way. You can collapse them, but you get degraded performance when you do.

My hand cramps up horribly after writing about a page's worth (and has ever since I was kid), so this never worked much for me.

I’ve been told it’s because I was never taught correct form for holding pens. shrug

This is a concept that comes up fairly often and I must stress that what works for one person may not work for everyone else, whether that's writing longhand on paper, a mechanical or electric typewriter, dedicated word processing device, WordPerfect 5.1 in DOS, Microsoft Word, Google Sheets, Notepad, Emacs, Vim, iA Writer, or anything else.

And though constraints can be helpful in some cases, I don't find the appeal to nostalgia like this site uses to be all that useful. Again, find what works for you.

And I find this particular implementation very hard to use, because text jumps from the input box to another box as I type, which is very distracting. The Hacker News comment input box is easier to work with and use as typewriter than this is.

Shout out to WordGrinder, a word processor (not a text editor) for the Terminal:


I've used every technology you mentioned there. :) Different strokes for different folks, for sure. Use what works. Don't use what doesn't.

This is cool! In the spirit of "an app can be a home-cooked meal", I wrote something similar in the last few weeks: https://github.com/jasonahills/wemustgoforward

Parallel invention! Do you want to be Newton or Leibniz?

I'll be honest. Your typewriter has a better enamel finish. :)

I'll take Leibniz. That said, I think the actual typewriter inventors have both of us beat by a fair amount. :)

How has the "typewriter" changed the way that you draft?

Right now I mainly use it in my morning warm-ups: I'll set a timer for five minutes and get as many words down as I can. It's taken some getting used to, but it's definitely helping me learn to Just Write. I plan to start using it for drafting my WIP soon.

I didn't realize it was such a long tradition! :D

I've enjoyed writing short (mostly ghost) stories for friends and family over the last number of years, but I've never considered going for something like 50K words (and as a runner, I did appreciate the analogy!) until now. Thank you for sharing this!

This might be a bit tangential, but over the last few months I've been working on a collaborative writing project called Storylocks (https://www.storylocks.com) to make writing practice more fun and be able to riff on other writers' ideas. Excited to see more applications in the creative writing space coming out of the woodwork!

It's nice to know someone got the joke. :) Thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

I think that learning to type on an actual typewriter makes these kinds of exercises not as useful for me. Although I learned on electric typewriters that allowed one full line of text, displayed in a LCD, to be typed before "printing", the first half of the class we were not allowed to use this feature.

When I want to put words down without intrusion, I disable spellcheck and generally don't find myself that concerned with mispelling.

I remember that one line buffer during typing class in the 1990’s when I was in typing school. We weren’t allowed to use it either. One kid tried to secretly use it anyway but anyone who’s used that feature knows there’s no way to keep it a secret. That thing sounds like an A-10 firing its gun when it types from the buffer.


I learned how to type on an old PC/AT (old even in 1991) and used a typing tutor program. frf ded sws aqa

But learning to type on the model F keyboard was very useful as I developed great speed. I made extra money in high school typing people's papers. The most important lessons from touch typing courses are: look at what you're typing and don't correct as you go, sit up straight with your shoulders back, don't rest your wrists on the table. When you're dilly-dallying around in powerpoint this stuff doesn't matter, but when you're typing 4000-6000 words per hour, it makes a huge difference.

I eventually moved to using an Apple Extended Keyboard II, which had a lot of great features, and then back to an IBM model M. Now I use a Unicomp model M derivative. How I wish I could have a similar keyboard on a laptop these days.

I bet. I'm in the first generation raised on Mavis Beacon, and I've been writing in malleable text environments most of my life. The temptation to edit as I go can be overwhelming, and I sometimes envy the writers who were forced by their tools to work in actual drafts.

What's whiteout for if not edit as you go? I used so much of it back in the day.

Ha, now that you mention it, I remember my mom using a lot of white-out too.

My first draft of a story is always in pen. Followed by a very cringey typing it in.

The cringe is very real. You have to push through and fix it in the next draft. :)

I would like it more if the "full-screen" mode was almost completely the content written, similar to a typewriter display.

No picture of a typewriter, minimal controls, a small box for the new line, and everything else is what you've typed so far.

Check out my app: https://getcoldturkey.com/writer/

It looks a little like Word, and there's no new line box, but it has the other things you mentioned. You can also set it to block everything else on your computer until you write a certain number of words, or for a certain amount of time. I'm adding typewriter scrolling soon too.

The pro features let you disable certain keys, etc. but you get a lot of value out of the free version.

This looks great. I wouldn't have guessed typewriter-mode from "advanced key controls". For my use case, I needed to disallow any going back and editing. If Cold Turkey can do that, you may have yourself a new customer. :)

For the writing-on-paper crew, of which I am a longtime member-

For decades I have worked my way through a box of Levenger Circa paper a month, writing with Namiki retractable fountain pens- later Zebra Steel ballpoints-

I love thick, tactile writing paper and ergonomic pens but have been able to transition pretty well to writing on a Remarkable tablet. It isn't quite the same, doesn't always engender the same flow, but it is pretty close and I am in eager anticipation for the next round of hardware coming this summer.

If you are looking for a digital bridge for the paper writing habit, check out the Remarkable.

(Just an impressed user, no relationship).


This reminds me of how Jonathan Franzen writes on a giant old laptop with no internet. (Forgot where I read this.) Different dimension of keeping it simple.

Interesting to contrast with the likes of grammarly or google suggestions. I can’t stand having that stuff in my ear while writing. However, I did have a friend who was a non-native English speaker and he liked it because he felt less self-conscious about screwing up grammar elements when writing.

My approach is to do heavy writing in a plain text editor, then I paste into a word doc and format. Having to worry about spell correct and auto-indent doing weird stuff, grammar suggestions, all very distracting when you're trying to brain-dump words into a document.

Drafts (https://getdrafts.com/) was made for this.

Yes. Markdown formatting was a godsend to me. Just give me the text.

Nice. Some people buy old Alphasmarts off of ebay.

Tools like Grammarly are great, but when I'm writing, I need to be left alone with the words. The squiggles come later, when I'm editing and revising.

i bet there is an emacs minor mode that disables backspace and various other editing commands. If not, someone ought to do it.

    C-X C-Z cat > my.txt
-- S'il vous plaît

I've kind of wanted to augment the backspace with some mild swearing while it is being used: "damnit damnit ughh damnit".

This needs to happen. I wish my emacs-lisp fu were stronger, or I'd do it myself.

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