I grew up enjoying writing but where writing meant using pen (not a pencil) on paper. Somehow, I got into my mind that pencils were for drafting, drawing, sketching. Pencils for writing would seem to be useful because it has an eraser that worked. I figure there must have been some teacher or some course requirement that writing had to be done on ink. The lesson I learned was pens were for writing, but I’m guessing the reason for the requirement is that the teacher didn’t want to get pencil-lead smears on her hands or something like that.
Relative to my own life, I was very prolific writing with pen and paper. Certainly for creative writing, I was content. By late high school I became concerned because of stories that I will have to turn on assignments typewritten instead of written. The concern was practical, I didn’t know how to type, and I had no keyboard to practice with. Even if I did, at the time I had hoped that I somehow find a way to not have to type.
This was in the late 1970s and I was in a small rural school. Keyboards were just not a thing back then.
In the last year or so of high school, we have course electives to start to prepare for careers. I chose the electives described as college prep, which in hindsight did little of the sort. The other tracks were segregated between men’s careers and women’s careers. Men could choose the auto mechanics or machine shop, and my impression is that the auto mechanics course was very good for what it advertised to be, unlike college prep. Women could choose practical economics of either home or office varieties. Both involved the economics that it is better to do something yourself (such as cooking for home) than it is to pay others to do it. For the office, the cheaper option was to do your own typing. Becoming a home wife does not necessarily require home economic skills, but it probably would make things easier. Becoming a office assistant almost certainly required some proficiency at typing, where speed tests involved reading a page of text and transferring it error-free onto paper. Eyes-off touch typing was essential.
I recall wanting to take the practical electives but was advised that the college prep was more or less essential for college. The later claim would have been true if the courses were competently taught. I did want to learn machine shop and I was drawn to auto mechanics. To be clear, it is probably better that I did not take those courses because I probably would not do well. I don’t have the discipline to stay focused for the duration needed to complete those tasks.
Even more than auto mechanics or machine shop, I wanted to take the typing course. Again, I was fearful of the warnings that colleges would require assignments be typed. I knew that if asked to type a single letter, I would have to scan the entire keyboard from top to bottom and left to right until I found the key, and then start all over for the next letter. It would be with one finger on one hand, too. I recall actually aspiring to hunt and peck with both hands, one finger for each hand of course.
As an aside, later when I had a real job, I worked with an older person would could hunt and peck, one finger per hand, about as fast as some typists hired for their typing skills. This is measured over the time it took to write a full page, not the bursts possible when typing a single word.
In high school, I saw that it was possible to type entire pages with the head turned always to the page being copied, never at the keyboard, and that all fingers were used in a way that was fascinating to watch. I wanted that skill, so I inquired about the typing course. I was turned down. As a recall, the reason was that all the seats were taken. Typing class had a real restraint, they only had so many typewriter. My lasting impression also was that there was a priority to play the girls in that course. This was a career essential course for women in a way that even high-school auto mechanics was not.
Men can get jobs without prior experience and have something to do, even if it is just keeping the shop clean. They will learn on the job or have opportunity to take training outside of work.
In contrast, women choosing careers other than going to college had one primary opportunity and that was to be an office worker, and in particular an office assistant or secretary. Eligibility for those jobs required some proficiency in typing. Typically the interview process would involve a typing test in front of the manager. To be fair, I think may managers were tolerant of level of proficiency but they were looking for the full hand engagement with the keyboard while not staring at the keyboard and not having more than a couple errors in the page. The expectation is that there would be some improvement while on the job, especially under the pressure that comes from having to start all over when there are too many errors on the page. Still, the expectation was that typing would be a prerequisite for the interview itself.
I may be wrong, but I think I argued that college students also need to know how to type. I recall getting an answer to the effect that college students would pay typists to do the typing for them. Whether that was explicitly said or not, that is exactly my expectation when entering college. I would write using pen and paper, mark it up just the way I wanted, and then hand it to someone who would charge so much per page. I don’t recall the rate, but it was not unreasonable. I never once paid someone to do my typing.
I bought a second hand, and well-worn, manual typewriter and proceeded to do my rhetoric 101 assignments on it. We had that white paint or ribbon at the time, but they left clear evidence of a correction and no amount of paint will hide the impression left by the erroneous keystroke. Typing became a real chore. Even with hunting and pecking I would make mistakes because my concentration was so much on finding the key I would forget what word I was trying to type. That said, I was stubborn and expected I would spend all night typing.
Just now, all these years later, I finally figured out the mystery of why the individual dorm rooms were separated by full concrete blocks and heavy doors. It really never occurred to me at the time, but I recall when I was sleeping it was amazingly quiet when it should have been a racket of others typing their assignments.
There were typing services available and I kept a list of possible ones to call, but when crunch time came, I typed myself. Probably a good reason is that I would have my essay prepared only hours before the assignment was due while the typing service needed at least a day in advance, for obvious reasons, and probably was overwhelmed at times.
This may seem odd, and it was odd even at the time. I went to a large university where most students came from large suburbs of a large city. They all learned how to type during high school. It was part of college prep for them. My inability to do even basic typing put me in a minority, but a sizable one.
What really embarrassed me was midway into the semester for a course that had a computer lab. On that day, I had to make an appointment with the administrator so he could set me up with my own account. He set up my account and then handed me the keyboard, telling me to type in a password. I don’t recall at the time, but I think the password was displayed in clear text and only needed to be typed once. I recall him turning the monitor toward me and him looking in the opposite direction. He said something to the effect of telling him when I was done. He then asked if I was done yet. I was that slow. Finally when I was done, just typing a password, he clearly jerked the keyboard back and finished his task. At the end he said I should not have been admitted into the class if I didn’t know how to type.
From that point on, I made it a point to learn touch typing, on my own, in my free time, while taking a very aggressive course schedule that my advisor warned me would be overwhelming. I typed at every opportunity. It took a while, but eventually I was so comfortable typing that I stopped writing with pen and paper.
A part of me regrets that transition. I learned typing, but it was during the time of typing directly to paper with indelible ink and white-out tape or paint. Ingrained in my psyche is the dread of making a mistake. This in turn clouded my thinking. Writing with pen on paper, there was no embarrassment to cross out words or even X out and entire paragraph. I was free to concentrate on my thoughts and those thoughts would emerge as I wrote, I didn’t know in advance what I was about to write, even if I had a carefully planned outline with lots of notecards.
Eventually technology improved. I replaced the cheap manual typewriter with an expensive professional electric typewriter. This was mostly because the cheap typewriter had this habit of the keys gets stuck together when I did manage to type fast. The electric typewriter did nothing for the errors, however. If anything it made errors more plentiful because I was typing faster. I spent a lot of time on this typewriter so I got my error rate down and my speed up. I eventually replaced that typewriter with an electronic one, one that had a line or two of text on an LCD display to correct before typing. I quickly replaced that with another model that could store an entire page in memory and displayed something like 6 full lines at a time.
At first I was pleased to not have to correct the paper as much, but deep down I felt something was wrong with having an electronic intermediary between myself and the paper. This was before the introduction of spell checking or even grammar checking. I was annoyed by the simple fact that the typing did not immediately leave an indelible mark on paper. This comes from what I mentioned at the top, from earliest age I was taught that proper writing was writing pen on paper, and implicitly that meant your mistakes are permanent on paper, at best crossed out with lots of pen strokes. This mistakes were part of the record of the writing.
I took some time off between undergrad and graduate school so technology advanced while I was contentedly typing on my typewriters. In graduate school, I was shocked to learn that every incoming freshman had as a requirement to purchase a personal computer. Needless to say, graduate work especially in technology presumed some familiarity with personal computers. I had some exposure to main frame computers where we had dumb terminals but that was strictly for very simple programming that I hesitate even describing as programming.
I acquired a computer after a couple weeks into my graduate school, and I did end up writing my thesis on the computer using a word processing program and a daisy wheel printer that was very busy for the last few days before I had to turn it in. For many reasons, I am not proud of that thesis. It was not a great example of research, but more fundamentally it felt like it did not come from me. It is the only published thing I wrote, it is still in the college library I suppose.
Going back to typing, I remembered my first job in an engineering setting. It was a summer internship between college semesters. I worked in what was described as an engineering bullpen, it was a large room with standard sized desks placed next to each other without even a divider. Each engineer had a desktop with some paper and phone. There may have been drawers but all the important papers were in the wall of cabinets. Our desk job was to write on paper and talk on phones. The engineers had work elsewhere in the factory and that is where they spent most of their time. In my case, I was spending a lot of time in a lab where I was trying to measure something.
Except for the start and and of the day, the bull pen was fairly vacant. The one seat that was permanently occupied was the secretary. Among her many duties was that she had to type all of the correspondences, including internal office memos. The engineers had to give her hand written paper and she had to decipher that and type it up. The typing would have typos from the Secretary, but even most of them were likely faithful transcriptions of misspellings or at least illegibility from the engineer. In most cases, the engineer would return the sheet with mark ups often revising the message, and she would have to type all that all over again. I’m not sure how the secretary felt about this, after all this was job security because there was a prohibition against engineers doing their own typing. She was rarely idle, there was always something more to type out.
I recall being very annoyed to the point of staring occasionally at the secretary to see when she would get to my pages. Part of the reason for returning to the lab is to avoid that awkward waiting. Truth was this was an internship, it was more an educational experience of what an engineering office was like than it was about me doing anything productive. The memos I wrote were simply part of that education, not that they contributed anything. There were other interns that did accomplish something meaningful, I was not one of them. It is interesting that the primary thing I remember about the experience is the typing, and the waiting for typing to be done.
Since graduating from grad school, I do almost all of my writing on keyboard. I still take notes using pen and paper, and I occasionally will write longer with pen and paper. My problem now is that my penmanship skills have atrophied. My hand cramps quickly, and my writing is barely legible. I think something was lost when introducing an electronic intermediary, even with spell checking turned off. What ever that is, it is probably lost for ever.
I should be content that more recent generations have not had that experience of having to write on paper using cursive. They may have a course introducing the concept, but I don’t think any course would even accept an assigned essay or story written in cursive. They primarily understand typing to a computer and the computer fixing their typing before it is saved to disk or sent over the Internet.
Personally, there is something relaxing about writing. It is not the content of the writing. It is just the mechanics of writing, and the experience of the translation of a thought in my head into finger motions to end up with something my eyes can see and the mind to read. In my experience, what my eyes see is different than what my mind originally thought over the span of a paragraph. The mind had a complete thought that takes at least a paragraph to write down, but the serialization of that thought into a sequence of keystrokes delays the expression of that thought. During this delay the mind thinks something else and the paragraph ends up missing its original point. Reading back the written paragraph exposes a thought I don’t think I even had. I read back some of what I write and think “I never thought of that before”, as if talking to a different person.
When I was younger, back in the pen and paper days, I imagined there was a separate mind that resided in the hands. The brain talked to the hands and the hands wrote what they thought about that what they heard. I very definitely feel like I am in an conversation while writing. Someone else is between my conscious and what ends up on paper. That is when I was writing with pen and paper. Now, there may be a few more in the form of the electronics and the associated spell-check and grammar checks.
In a recent post, I described different levels of writing. Writing as I am doing here, is one dimensional. Drawing or painting is two dimensional. Constructing things are three dimensional. The process of constructing things is four dimensional. I was specifically talking about the preservation of the record so that someone else can read it back. Reading back text is simple. Reading a painting is more complex and also richer. Reading through reverse engineering an artifact is even more complex and rich. I have no idea what life reads to do what it does in four dimensions.
My mind needs a technology for four-dimensional writing in order to capture a full thought in an instant and yet in a way that can be accurately recalled by reading back the writing. I envy the visual artists especially when they capture something very profound, but even they have to spend hours or sometimes years expressing this message. I am not saying my ideas or profound, but I sense the loss of intricacy and coherence when transcribing my thoughts to paper.
For example, this is not why I started writing this post.
The fundamental inspiration for this post was my marveling at how I can remain motivated writing in a blog I have no intention of ever reaching any audience besides myself. What exactly motivates me to write, and in particular to write in the rambling fashion as I do in this site.
The site belongs to the category known as a blog. The term blog originally had a humble meaning of merely capturing ones thoughts he is having at the time. I use the term that way now. However, more recently blogs have become more professional. People use blogs for original research or for promotion of products or services. In that sense, I’m embarrassed to be included in that space. They usurped the meaning of the blog so I need another word. A diary may be more appropriate, but in my mind a diary is supposed to be hidden and private and yet this is public, discoverable by anyone on the planet.
Even a diary does not really capture the motivation I have. I do not think I am writing thoughts at all. Thoughts are merely a convenient raw material for me to write about. The real motivation and joy is the process of writing itself. If I didn’t write, my thoughts would be inconvenient annoyances.
Maybe I am missing something and this is a genuine attempt to express some ideas I have. If so, I will be first to admit I’m awful at doing so. I have no preparation, no outline, no argumentative plan. I have no intention of ever doing that for this kind of writing.
This is not a blogging site. Instead, it is a site I use for typing. Instead of throwing typed paper into a trash can, I throw it out to the Internet, and lately even feed it to some AI to vocalize. The Internet is my trash can.