I keep getting my wucking fords muddled.
In my head, I hear the words I mean to say, only, when I type, ‘like’ becomes ‘light’. ‘Worse’ becomes ‘woes’, and ‘sublime’ is now ‘sunshine’.
I blame my mother. Mum taught me to touch-type when I was about seven years old. I wanted to lean learn because I was going to be a writer, and writers have to be able to tap type.
So now I’m a tough touch-typist. That means I use all my fingers, except the left thumb. When I type, I mean. And I don’t have to look at the keyboard except to produce the irritatingly complicated €. To achieve this you need to hit three keys simultaneously. You only need two keys to type the $ or the £, mind you. There are two keys on laptops for the +, one on the number keypad and the other above the =. Do we need both? Couldn’t the latter be used for the €? Are all the keyboard manufacturers Greek?
I’m pretty fast. On the keyboard. I average around 60-70 words per minute, with occasional gusts of 80-90. The downside, though, is somethings sometimes my fingers and my brain slip out of sync. When that happens, my text can become almost indecipherable. It would take Turing’s Bombe to decode what I meant, even for me.
The odd thing is most of my typos are real words. They’re just not the real words I meant to use. It’s my version of Eric Morecambe’s piano playing: these are the right words. Just not necessarily in the right order.
I catch most of the snafus straight away. That’s one of the advantages to being able to read the screen while I’m typing. On the other hand, it doesn’t half interfere with the flow of the work when you have to keep stopping to make concessions corrections.
I shouldn’t grumble, of course. Being able to write quickly—in physical terms, not necessarily in terms of knowing what I want to write—is usually an advantage.
Generally, my brain and my fingers work pretty well together. Then there are days like today when it all goes a bit pure pear shaped.
Is it good for my writing, for the quality of the work, I mean, when I write so quickly? Would my prose be more measured, more insightful, if I worked at a slower pace?
What would the Ten Commandments look like if Moses hadn’t needed to chisel away on stone, but could have just typed on a Toshiba laptop? Would we have ended up with eighty-two commandments instead?
Some days, like today, when the words are sticky and the flow more closely resembles hiccups than Mozart, I put the laptop away and pick up the pen and paper. This forces me to slow down, to work at a different speed. My brain, crafty beast, had this planned all along. You may think you’re going to whiz through this piece, it says, but I’m going to force you to slow down. Think!
Brain knows what it’s doing. This week I’ve been working on a short story. It is a literary piece, quiet, introspective. Crafting every single word is far more important than reaching some arbitrary goal of 1000 words. (I’m not knocking the word-count goal; I follow it with almost religious fervour when I’m writing a novel.) Literary work, though, requires a much more measured approach. The goal here is just one perfect paragraph. Don’t mock. You try writing one perfect paragraph and see how easy it isn’t.
I saw Ben Okri being interviewed during the recent Hay Festival in Kells, and he said when the world work feels too staid, he writes with his non-dominant hand. There’s sense in that. The right side of the brain, where creativity resides, also controls the left side of the body. I can understand how writing with my left hand might help me tap richer, deeper waters. This is what I want from my literary fiction. I don’t know yet if Mr Okri’s approach works; I’m still experimenting. I‘ll get back to you.
When I slow down, I become much more aware of my environment. The great thing about writing mystery stories is the plot carries you along. Thousands of words and whole days vanish and you’re immersed in the story, so you don’t notice things like the rain, or the silence. But there are long silences in working on a literary piece. It can take half an hour of staring into space before I settle on one specific word. Tight instead of cramped. Small instead of wee. Sometimes the sound of the silence becomes oppressive, but I find music can be distracting when I need to concentrate deeply.
During one of these silences during the week I started remembering that period when when I was learning to write, that is to say, type.
I loved the clicking of the keys. Tapping in longer bursts, with fewer and fewer interruptions, told the world I was getting better, faster, more accurate. Like the sound a couple of well-matched tennis champs make as the boy ball passes back and forth in a long volley. Bliss. I wondered what impact that sound would have on my creativity. Even now, I find myself thrilling to the sound of a typewriter’s keys. It immediately sends a message to my cerebral cortex telling me to write.
I’m not the only one who finds the sound of the typewriter musical, either. I love this:
This looks a bit like the Remington Portable on which I learned to type / write. It was old, even then, and I adored it. The Cat Sat on the Mat. The Quick Brown Fox Jumped Over the Lazy Dogs. Shakespearean soliloquys. Blisters on my fingers, muttered oaths with every mistake, oceans of white-out, but I still miss it.
I miss it because as I was learning to type, back then at the age of seven, I was also learning to write. When I ran out of quotes or silly phrases about foxes and dogs, I started to come up with my own sentences. In time, these grew into stories.
Sitting at the kitchen table, with my Remington before me and a bundle of crisp white paper, the world was mine, not merely to conquer, but to create. During those hours, I was a writer. My goals were simple: One perfect sentence, perfectly written. It’s a habit that has stuck with me, the predictive text in my head notwithstanding.
I’ve been giving some thought to installing an app that mimics the sound of the typewriter as I use my laptop, but I haven’t found one that fits the bill. There are several available, but they all seem to have fairly mediocre reviews. Maybe I’d be better off investing in an actual typewriter. Can you still buy them? What about ribbons? Further research is needed, clearly.
In the meantime, I’ll stick with pen and paper for my short stories. When I use the laptop, I’ll amuse myself watching the weird bloopers appear on the screen in front of me. At least at the moment, I can write longhand, and I don’t need to use the laptop, except to write my blob blog.