Thursday, January 16, 2014

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS         

Back in the middle of the twentieth century when I was a senior in high school, I took typing as an elective since I had an open period and I wasn’t a fan of study halls. It was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I made at the age of sixteen (when decision-making can be daunting). “Typing” isn’t something anybody under thirty, or maybe even under forty, seems to understand these days. It’s the same thing as keyboarding, children, only we didn’t have a monitor to look at, we had to roll a piece of paper onto a thing called a “platen” and the keys on the typewriter actually struck the paper and left the imprint of each letter. Sometimes we’d type too fast and more than one key would arrive at the paper at the same time, so we’d have to stop and untangle them. That was for manual typewriters. We were lucky enough to have electric typewriters in my typing class and the clashing keys were eliminated.

We also didn’t have the wonderful ability to backspace and correct as we do on the computer with mistakes magically disappearing ... if we made a mistake we had to erase, backspace, and retype the letter or word. Or we could use something called “white-out” to cover the mistake, and if you used white-out you generally blew on it until it dried and then backspaced and corrected your mistake. Whether you erased or used white-out, it was always obvious that a mistake had been made. So we tried hard to type as accurately as possible. Tests in a typing class consisted of speed and accuracy. I could type ninety words a minute with two mistakes. That was GOOD. No, that was REALLY GOOD.

The ‘Qwerty” keyboard (look at the left hand side of your keyboard immediately under the numbers and that’s what is spelled out) is partial to lefties, of which I am one, so I became a very proficient typist during my senior year in high school. It paid off, because I had an important skill needed for entry level office work. I worked part time in my college office, mostly during registration, and eventually was a secretary for a fine arts academy in Cincinnati after I’d completed the equivalent of an associate degree at the College-Conservatory of Music in that city. I never took shorthand, but I learned something called “speedwriting” which was helpful to a degree; but because I could type fast and accurately, I was secretary to men (back in those days, women were secretaries, men were bosses) who liked to dictate to me as I sat at the keyboard. It saved a step; I didn’t have to transcribe from their dictation. Instant communication, sort of, but we still had to put a stamp on the letters and send them via the USPS.

When I wrote HOW I GREW UP I don’t know how many words I actually put into my computer. I did considerable rewriting, and re-rewriting, and re-re-rewriting. Just ask my kind and patient readers! The completed book is over 84,000 words. I kept files of everything I didn’t use in a “drafts” folder, and I would guess there are another 30,000 or so words on those files.

I don’t know how authors from the century before the invention of the typewriter did it. I find the idea of handwriting 84,000 words totally mind-boggling. I think there are authors even today who prefer to scribe everything. I doubt HOW I GREW UP would exist today if I hadn’t had a computer to write with. I love my computer. I love the Internet; it takes me all over the world, and back in time. Sometimes the “back in time” part doesn’t work as well as the “all over the world” part, but if I dig hard enough I can usually find what I need.


I’ve probably written twice as many words for my current book and I still have a lot of work to do ... that re-writing and making changes thing that happens. But being able to move my hands quickly over the keys on my computer keyboard is something I actually enjoy doing. And from time to time I thank my typing teacher at Oak Ridge High School for inspiring me to learn to type fast and accurately. It’s a skill that’s lasted me a very long time and opened a huge new door for me.