Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tricks and old dogs

What a fun trip down memory lane we are having on Type M this week. Typing and typewriters. I can relate to so many of the stories! Back in the mists of time when I attended high school in the early '60s, students were streamed into academic or commercial (and within academic, into Latin or science, the former being more prestigious). There was flexibility to mix some science into Latin, which I did, but there was no room in the day to fit in typing. It was strictly for those heading to the work force after high school, rather than university.

Although I never took the classics in university and instead focussed primarily on science and psychology, I have never regretted those agonizing two years I spent learning Latin conjugations and struggling to translate Virgil under the fierce glare of Latin teacher Mr. Marcus (I kid you not). Not only is Latin the basis of so many languages, but knowing the Latin root and the connections between words is very helpful in enriching understanding and vocabulary.

I have often had occasion to regret that I never took typing, however. Like Aline, I learned to type haphazardly on my mother's very old typewriter that banged and clacked and regularly jammed into a tangle of keys if I typed too fast. The ribbons were two-toned - red on the top and black on the bottom - to allow for more interesting presentations. I became quite proficient at the hunt and peck technique and also at the liquid white-out that was supposed to correct mistakes. All the way through university I typed up papers on the noisy old machine, usually at 3 a.m.

When I first worked as a psychologist, I wrote my reports long-hand, and these were typed either by someone in the "typing pool" or by the secretary down the hall. Both approaches involved much back and forth to correct errors and edit text. At home, however, I was writing my first fictional masterpieces first on that old typewriter and later on an electric typewriter. I recall the sheer joy of typing my first manuscript on a computer word processing program. No more white-out or correct-o-tape. No more typing pages again and again to edit and re-edit material. Word Perfect was a dream.

Sometimes I long for the simplicity of that early word processing program. I told it exactly what to type and it did it. If it did something peculiar like double-indent a piece of text, I just selected "reveal codes" and I could see exactly what code I needed to delete. It did not attempt to anticipate my formatting or insert sneaky codes that I couldn't see and couldn't delete. It was not full of complicated  options that I would never figure out how to use and would never need anyway. It was a very sad day when Word Perfect was discontinued and I had to switch to MS Word.

I think we are products of our time and become comfortable with what has worked for us well for decades. I still write first drafts in long-hand, and I do not use any of the fancy writing and editing software available to writers to help them organize their ideas and keep track of story points. I just write and keep lists. Like hunt and peck, my technique is laborious and certainly not efficient, but it works for me.

However, I do wish I could touch-type, so maybe I will hunt down Mavis Beacon and give her system a try.


Susan D said...

I LOVED Word Perfect. And yes, Reveal Codes was my lifesaver. (It also was my gateway drug to coding websites). And the absolutely invaluable Undo. You could Undo up to three (3!) sets of keystrokes. (Of course with Cntl Z, you get infinite indulgences, but still, it was three more than a typewriter.)

Rick Blechta said...

Barbara, it should only take a month for a clever person like you to learn how to touch type. Believe me it makes working on a novel so much easier and enjoyable, especially when you're transcribing something you've written by hand — which I know you do a lot.

Ten to fifteen minutes a day with Mavis makes it all pretty painless. I used to have a cheering gallery of two whenever I used the "car race" function. It was really quite hilarious as my sons cheered on their dad, typing away furiously to stay ahead of the other car. Perhaps your pooches can cheer you on!