Of all the dozens of classes I ever took in school, the one that had the greatest impact on my life was, without question, typing in seventh grade. I remember the thrill of it, actually, even then, a class I chose as an elective over all the other electives, including ceramics and graphic arts (I ended up taking these classes the following year, so don’t feel too sorry for me)! But typing was the first elective I chose because it seemed like the most absolutely grown-up thing to do. And how it changed my life!
The thing about typing though, which is why it proves to be such a frustration to so many people, is that you have to get worse at it before you get better. When you are first starting to type on your own you can just manage with two fingers and you figure you’re going at a reasonable pace and all and then you learn the asdf type of typing with all of your fingers and you can’t believe how impossibly slow you’re going. It will get faster! you are told constantly, but it seems like such a stupid way to type when you were doing just fine on your own with two fingers. But just wait. Just wait.
One of my coworkers is in his 70s and as I watch him type (a former newspaperman!) with two fingers I feel something like rage. Which is ridiculous, of course. I have also felt something like a crush for a different coworker at a previous job when I first witnessed his fingers flying across the keyboard. Eighty words a minute! It’s so sexy.
As for me, a not-sexy 11-year-old banging away on my mother’s IBM Selectric typewriter, finally able to get down the words as fast as I was thinking them, learning to type the real way was a revelation. I’m not saying I can do 80 words a minute or anything. I’m just saying that I don’t really have to think about it.
And now I never write anywhere but on a keyboard. I know that writing by hand is supposed to be better for your brain, but my handwriting is so terrible and frustrating that it is just pointless for me. Many of the words I write end up having missing letters in them because I can’t seem to get them down fast enough. Unlike some writers, I never carry around notebooks with me. When I interview people over the phone, I just type as it goes along (or I’ll record the conversation and type it up later). If I’m writing about something that happened to me, I like most of all to rely on my unreliable memory. I really don’t like notes.
As for old-timey typewriters (which are so hip! so Brooklyn!), well. I will agree that they are lovely to look it. But my god, the lack of backspace key! That is something I cannot tolerate. Years ago, I worked on a public radio show in New York City and the producer of the show could put a sheet of paper into an actual typewriter and roll out something exceptional moments later. It was astonishing. Whereas I write, erase, write, erase, pretty much constantly. Whether this is good or bad I can’t say. If you love to type on an actual typewriter, if you love to write by hand, you should certainly do what’s best for you. But as for me, if I didn’t have a modern day keyboard I’d probably have given up this writing thing a long time ago, if ever I had started it.
In the ceramics class I took in eighth grade, I spent a long time working on an ashtray that I planned to give to my mother, who didn’t smoke. When it came back from the kiln, glazed a lovely blue color, I was so worried that it would break in my locker that I took it outside with me during lunch where it promptly smashed to the ground. I gave my mother the pieces anyway. She smiled and thanked me, but I could tell that she didn’t truly love it. This memory took me three minutes to get down. I’m so glad I learned to type.