Are you 'writing,' or 'keyboarding?'

Typing becomes the tool to achieve what your brain desires.

I’ve been rummaging around lately thinking about “writing” which is a fairly common adjective, versus “keyboarding” which we all can do pretty much robotically. Older sages, such as myself, like to comment on kids nowadays having fantastic thumb muscles.

I cannot remember when I started learning typing (the skill that predated keyboarding) but it was probably as a senior in high school. It is a skill I am glad I learned. It is a tool that is still valuable. Writing using a phone keyboard may become a more popular tool than anticipated. There is no way of knowing. But it is still a tool.

I think writing equates with some kind of “creative adventure” versus a re-do/assembling task. I could have the same adventure composing music or painting, for example. Could I suggest that once you’ve learned how to type, you learn no more about typing except to increase speed. If you create, then that determines what you type, not the other way around. Typing becomes the tool to achieve what your brain desires.

I remember an author speaking at campus many years ago (Jane Yolen, perhaps) who confessed to having a drawer full of false starts, this being in the last days of typing. I immediately realized that having false starts was permissible. Now I’d be embarrassed to count up all of my false starts.

On the other side, word processing fosters endless revisions, which seem to end in endless stories, and sloppiness. The author changes something because they can. I was reading a treatment by William Faulkner, “The Country Lawyer,” and in the middle of the thing is a comment to the reader/editor to the effect saying, “Let’s change his name to Bill.” And from then on the name was Bill. Apparently it was OK to do that since someone in the producer’s office would revise the whole thing into a working document. I wonder why we don’t remember the typist.

Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick started on the script for “2001” in a hotel room armed only with an IBM Selectric typewriter, a ream of paper, and great imagination. It took several reams to finish.

I remember examining the papers of Melville Davisson Post, a fairly successful writer from West Virginia. It was typed but full of scribbles and cross outs. Imagine then that someone has to make sense of this and then re-type a copy. The tools that Post had available dictated how he composed.

Writing a story, on a typewriter, from scratch, meant getting it right from the git-go if you didn’t want to start over. And, I imagine, all authors before 1890 would have killed for a typewriter. It really helped if you had the money to hire a typist, as well.

I know that many folks are reluctant to start something they can’t finish. I am like that. But a potential author would be remiss to ignore Jane Yolen’s advice. As long as you feel you can invest more time to start fresh, giving up on one project and starting another is not a sin.

As we age, one piece of advice that recently came across my eyes was not over-think the moment but to look at life and the world and all that stuff through a larger lens, a wider eye. That is the difference between just exercising the fingers and exercising the brain. Something created from whole cloth is not the same as assembling phrases. This view allows a composition that gets past the moment. Think of it as if composing lyrics. We like the beat (in the moment) but we hear the message (about the greater condition).

Novels have, in recent years, become heaps of words. It is as if word count superseded message. Robert Louis Stevenson said that editing is the fine art of removing. I hate to think how many so-called novels could be reduced to a brochure.

Writing takes practice. We must pay our dues. We must practice our scales. We must know a process before we can adapt it to our passion be it cooking, poetry, gardening, or woodworking. And there is no better time to start than now. Rod Serling might not call it a mysterious process but only a process of the mysterious.

First published on February 7, 2021