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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Patrick Pascale

William Gibson: Physical Writing Process

Updated: Jun 24, 2018

This picture made me realize William Gibson and I share the same birthday

The Cyberpunk Future was Written on Hemingway’s Typewriter

Hemingway and his typewriter

In my abandoned, unfinished novel RPGs Aren’t Censored, a character says, “The cyberpunk future was created on Hemingway’s typewriter,” which is a direct allusion to William Gibson. Speaking of Neuromancer and the other books in his Sprawl trilogy in an interview with Playboy, he said, “The typewriter that I actually wrote that stuff on was a Hermes 2000, which is like a very Ernest Hemingway sort of war-correspondent-for-the-Spanish-Civil-War machine, from my wife's step-grandfather who was a journalist. I still have it, but it doesn't work. I was hunting around to find somebody who could fix the machine when this little mechanical part finally broke and they no longer made that part. So I eventually gave up on it and got an Apple II. One of the guys in the typewriter store said, ‘Well, I can order you one of those. They still make it. It's exactly the same machine, it just has a different case or a molding around the mechanism.’ But he said it would cost more than a computer.” Just because the words in the novel evoke images of a bleak future where technology has penetrated into all aspects of human life and people access cyberspace with gloves and goggles, doesn’t mean that the words had to be created using any type of technology other than the human mind, but it felt like an unexpected contrast to me since typewriters seem antiquated in my mind. At the same time, it sounds cool because I have a romanticized idea of writing with a typewriter, having never used one myself. That’s why I think this iPad hack looks like it’d be fun to lug into a café:

However, as it turns out, Gibson may have had a fantastic vision of the future and the ability to share that vision with others through his words, but he certainly wasn’t living in the future. On his blog he explained that it wasn’t antiquated at all for him to use a typewriter at the time:

“As anyone knows who's ever looked at any bio notes on me,Neuromancer was written on a typewriter. This is often presented as evidence of weird lotek eccentricity on my part, but in 1981 I didn't know anyone who wrote on a computer. All the hotshit professionals had the IBM Selectric, which turned out to be the endpoint of typewriter evolution.”

I'm not sure if Gibson switched to writing on computers at any point (it sounds like he did when that part broke), but he certainly uses them now as he has a large online presence. He kept that blog a while back, and he currently runs an excellent Twitter account @GreatDismal. One of the projects he was recently involved with on Twitter was the #Quakebook, which was created using Twitter posts from the terrible earthquake that struck Japan on 3/11/11. In an interview for the project, Gibson called Tokyo, “one of the capitals of my imagination,” and said about his contribution for the book, “[it’s] this strange meditation on the profound restlessness I was feeling after the quake and the tsunami, which made me feel I should go there, I should do something. I don’t even know if it was an urge to help. It was an urge to make sure one of my favorite places was there.” The book is for a great cause, all proceeds go to the Japanese Red Cross.



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