We’ve always told stories to each other, starting back in the days when those tales were spun by the fireside and passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. When those stories were written down – traced on papyrus, or chipped into stone, or scratched out by a goose-quill pen, or pressed in ink on sheets of paper – we could wander away from the fire and read stories to ourselves, or out loud to others. But from the very beginning, someone had to come up with those stories, no matter how they were recorded later. The tools that storytellers use have changed over the years, and authors today have the choice of pen or pencil, electric or manual typewriter (yes, they still exist!), computer word processor or voice recorder. Many authors find touch typing to be an essential skill, allowing them to record their words as fast as they come to mind.
One of the faster typists was the author Jack Kerouac. He used a manual typewriter, but instead of using individual sheets of paper, he threaded an entire roll of paper into the machine so that he wouldn’t have to stop the flow of words to change pages. He also didn’t go back to edit those words, which led to a comment from another author of the day, Truman Capote, who said, “That’s not writing, it’s typing.” Kerouac’s work is still popular and widely read, and one of his typewriters sold for over $20,000 at an auction in 2010.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was the first American author to have a typewritten book published; he typed the manuscript for “Life on the Mississippi” (1882) on an early Remington model. Other authors, like Henry James, dictated to secretaries who would type for them. The imaginary author of the “archy and mehitabel” books was a cockroach who jumped onto typewriter keys one at a time. Real-life author Don Marquis used no capitals, because a cockroach wouldn’t be able to hold down the [Shift] key while pressing the letters.
While many modern authors have moved to the computer screen, Harlan Ellison and Cormac McCarthy say that they’re still using typewriters. It’s becoming harder to find typewriters, or people who know how to repair them, and soon all writers may be required to use electronic documents for their work – or go back to pencil and paper.
When there’s no barrier between creativity and creation – that is, when you don’t have to stop and think about how to type the words you want – then you’ll be writing faster. Of course, that doesn’t always mean you’ll be writing well! But the extra time you save by your touch typing skills will give you more time to go back to edit and refine your work. Whether you write for a living or not, good typing skills will help you succeed.
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