Typing Skills

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Paul Whybrow

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Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I've never had any training in how to type, so am what is known as a 'hunt and pecker'...which sounds rather rude, now I think about it! :p

My primitive technique entails using one finger on each hand to hit the keys. I think that other fingers may sometimes get involved, but only when I'm in full flow. I'm of an age to have once used old-fashioned mechanical typewriters, which was an ordeal owing to the pressure needed to depress a key. I dare say that writers of old had stronger fingers than modern authors, who are spoilt by soft touch computer keyboards.

Typewriters were so heavy! I was given a Smith Corona desktop cast iron model, that weighed 35 pounds. It felt more like a potential bludgeon than a tool to help me write.

As is the way with obsolete technology, typewriters have become collectible. Tom Hanks, of all people, recently published a collection of short stories, each story written on one of his favourite typewriters.

I briefly knew a secretary, who'd been trained to touch type, and her hands were a blur. She averaged 75 words a minute, and eerily, knew exactly where she'd made a mistake when she finished typing. When I'm in the groove, I can churn out 40 words a minute, with only a few mistakes. Looking at the keyboard slows me down, though I'm always surprised that my fingers have any sense of where the correct keys are when I concentrate on the screen.

My writing method starts with making copious notes on my laptop about everything from forensic details, to characters' motivations, to words and phrases and conversation snippets that I want to use. I don't compose a formal plan of where the plot will be going, preferring a pantser approach by letting my characters' actions propel the action. I write direct to screen. Any speed I have in typing has been slowed with this WIP, as I've changed technique and have been staying on one chapter for several days, backtracking and reworking.

I've known a couple of authors who write the first draft in longhand, using their lucky pen, before typing it out on a mechanical typewriter. They spent much time scanning and printing out their novels. Strangely, both of them own computers, but don't like using them for creative writing. They like the racket that an old metal typewriter makes, and they're proficient at typing, making few mistakes...which might be a benefit of this way of writing, as errors are harder to correct.

How do you write your stories?

Are you a trained typist, or is one finger on each hand blunted and calloused?

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I took typing class in high school--most useful class I ever took, though it was frowned upon for college-bound students to take it. Why would you need it--you'd have a secretary to do your typing (my school was still in the 1950s, though it was the 80s. I was discouraged from entering a career in science because of my gender--I ignored that advice, too). I enjoy writing stories out long hand, and most of my short stories start that way. But when it comes to speed, I can't beat typing. If it's in my head, ready to write, typing is the fastest way to get it down for me. If I need to think about it, paper and pen (or better, pencil) is the way to go. Thinking, planning, and plotting all happen on paper.
 
I learned how to touch type, but no longer use the method.

The first draft of my first novel was started on a portable typewriter. You may be familiar with the sort I'm talking about - they weren't very robust and always had a wonky letter 'e'. If you made a mistake, or wanted to change something, it was back to square one, a bit like playing snakes and ladders.

I knocked out the rest on a first generation word processor. All work was saved on a floppy disc, then printed on paper which came as a continuous roll.

Modern word processors are so easy by comparison. I might not have persevered if they hadn't been developed.
 
Just two (or sometimes 4) fingers here.
Not very fast, not nearly fast enough to keep up with the thoughts racing through my head, which is why I do my first drafts with a pencil on paper:eek:
I used to know a secretary who was very fast at typing. Even more amazing was she could look at me and hold a conversation with me without even slowing down what she was typing. It was very disconcerting to watch.
 
I learned to type on a smith corona manual. The last ever class to do so in the college. I touch type. Fast. The down side was the jobs I was able to get. The upside is that I make loads of mistakes and don't care. I'm doing what I love.
 
Perhaps I should get an old-fashioned mechanical typewriter, following Will Self's advice that, “Writing on a manual makes you slower in a good way, I think....“You don’t revise as much, you just think more, because you know you’re going to have to retype the entire thing. Which is a big stop on just slapping anything down and playing with it.”

Returning to Analog: Typewriters, Notebooks, and the Art of Letter Writing - The Millions
 
I am a computer programmer by trade. At first. I used a punched hole regulator. Back in 1982. You would convert your cobal progra. Ibto punches of card using a keyboard with 8 keys...very simple. But if one of the holes was out of place...in a sequence of 100 lines. The prigramme would fail. (The punched cards where fed into a DEC PDP 11 44 - similar to bill gates first computer).. i was glad for a qwerty keyboard. It made lifecso much easier...now thiugh. I strufle with singl key presses on a phone keyboard. Especially after acstupendous night of good food. Company and revelry
 
The thing about a manual typewriter is, you don't make *necessary* changes, either, because you have to type the whole thing again, so changes that would have tightened the script, made it better, weren't made because it was simply too much work.

My first computer WOWed me. Editing became a right pleasure. the writing program was WordPerfect 5. Easy, simple, no nonsense, but you did have to learn the keystrokes. Now the writing programs are just irritating as they make all sorts of decisions for you that you don't want... You have to be careful. Also happens at the publishing end. One of the episodes of a 12 part fictional soap I had published in the Cork Echo a couple of years back ended up with an accidental 'cut and paste' near the end, making nonsense of the punchline - and that was not me, but someone at the newspaper. And as for spell chequing, one of my published novels 'checked' by an editor ended up with a stupid mistake published.
 
I am a computer programmer by trade. At first. I used a punched hole regulator. Back in 1982. You would convert your cobal progra. Ibto punches of card using a keyboard with 8 keys...very simple. But if one of the holes was out of place...in a sequence of 100 lines. The prigramme would fail. (The punched cards where fed into a DEC PDP 11 44 - similar to bill gates first computer).. i was glad for a qwerty keyboard. It made lifecso much easier...now thiugh. I strufle with singl key presses on a phone keyboard. Especially after acstupendous night of good food. Company and revelry

My mother had a keypunching business and I remember the boxes of cards well. I don't know if typing is genetic but she didn't teach me a thing and I picked up typing like it was the easiest thing in the world after doing everything I could not to learn how because it was close to what my mother did.

She was a left handed keypuncher. They told her she couldn't do it because I believe that ten keys ... or however many she used ... were on the right hand side. Left-handed people weren't supposed to be able to do it. Weird.
 
I genuinely enjoy the act of typing. When I was on the dole, my Gran offered me a small sum of money, which I spent on a touch-typing course. I knew I wanted to be a journalist, so dipped out once the course moved onto the finer points of how to set out a typewritten letter and correctly address an envelope.
I write straight to screen – years working as a journo have conditioned me to that approach. And likewise, I love being able to throw the inspiration onto the page any old how, then nip back and tidy up afterwards. Word processing ROCKS, as far as I'm concerned.
 
Interestingly when the first typewriter was designed, the inventor did lots of analysis to produce the most efficient layout of the keys. However the key layout he came up with turned out to be too efficient and too quick to use. Once typists got good at it they could type so fast that the letter hammers would frequently get stuck. So he revised the layout to the QWERTY layout we have today in order to place the keys in positions that not only slowed down the typist but also ensured that there were less collisions.
 
I did an elementary Pitman’s course once and was certified capable of 40 wpm, but I’ve lost all the skill since through neglect of proper habits.
It’s true that mechanical typewriters needed more forceful key presses, but I found basic electric typewriters frightening. You’d gently touch the carriage return key, and WHAM! the carriage, this huge hunk of metal, would be thrown back with terrific force, almost taking the whole machine off the desk with it (or so it seemed).
 
I did an elementary Pitman’s course once and was certified capable of 40 wpm, but I’ve lost all the skill since through neglect of proper habits.
It’s true that mechanical typewriters needed more forceful key presses, but I found basic electric typewriters frightening. You’d gently touch the carriage return key, and WHAM! the carriage, this huge hunk of metal, would be thrown back with terrific force, almost taking the whole machine off the desk with it (or so it seemed).
Yes! I remember that. My parents bought me an electric typewriter as a HS graduation gift and it scared the crap out of me, after learning on manuals. I remember how thrilled I was--it was 'portable'! Came with a carry case and everything! Must have weighed 10kg. Now I grumble about my 1.4kg MacBook Pro.
 
I've taught myself touch typing from the age of 11. My father built PCs for a living and our family had a bespoke IBM built by him. I remember a touch typing course on a floppy disc that I used and spent hours and days on end just typing and testing and pushing my typing skills..took a few weeks until I stopped making mistakes. So, like driving, I don't have to look at the pedals. Despite this I still like to write using the good old pen on pad process then type it out. Not always the case. It all depends where I am. But typing my notes up after gives me the benefit of editing as well as I run through it a second time.

As for speed - I thought I'd use this programme to test it:

Typing test

71 wpm. Not bad if I do say so myself.
 
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