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March 02, 2004

Tactile

This is going to sound silly, but I'll tell you that one of the things that I like best about writing is the typing. Recently, after years and years of two-finger typing, I suddenly developed Mad Typing Skillz. I still type with two fingers on each hand (actually, it's more like three fingers on my right and a single finger -- my middle finger, as it happens -- on the left), but I can type incredibly fast and I don't have to look at the keyboard anymore to do it. I've joked before to people that one of the great things about my typing speed is that I typically type as fast as I think, but I don't seem to be out-typing my thoughts these days, which means either I am thinking faster than I used to, or (more likely, I think), my brain automatically downshifted whenever I sat in front of a keyboard, and has to do less of that now. In any event, my brain and my typing are still in lockstep -- here's hoping that both are more efficient.

Typing is the most natural way for me to write, I think primarily because that's how I do almost all of it. I hardly ever write with a pen or pencil -- mostly I use that method to take notes at a business meeting or if I'm in the mood to write short things, like song lyrics or (brace yourself) poetry. But for anything longer than a paragraph, typing is they way to go, if for no other reason than it's faster and my writing is astoundingly illegible to the point that sometimes even I can't decipher what the hell it is I wrote. People have noted that typing has lead to the downfall of handwriting. I don't think this is true in my particular case, as I've always had atrocious handwriting (if you look at my elementary school report cards you'll see "A" after "A" in every subject except penmanship, in which I regularly earned "Cs" and "Ds"; I was relieved in junior high when they stopped grading me on it), but I think in a general sense this is probably correct.

But handwriting is -- sorry -- terribly inefficient, whereas typing, even with the ergonomic nightmare that is the QWERTY keyboard, is well-suited for the mass production of the written word. And there's the tactile sense of typing which is so satisfying; I love to press the keys on my computer keyboard and feel the click that lets me know the data has made it to the screen. My favorite keyboard in the house is the one on my Toshiba tablet laptop, on which I am writing at the moment. Many people find the keys on laptops too shallow, but for me it has a perfect throw, and the slightly-smaller-than-scale keyboard is perfect for my slightly-smaller-than-scale hands.

I type the fastest on this keyboard, even though I use it for longer pieces only infrequently, doing most of my work on my desktop, and its perfectly sufficient Microsoft basic keyboard. My other laptop -- we are positively infested with computers here in the Scalzi household -- has a terrible keyboard: Its keys are mushy and you feel like you're typing through mashed potatoes. This is opposed to the crisp, punchy return of the Toshiba. Yes, I know I'm going deep into typing geek territory, but look -- I type for a living. Mechanics have their favorite tools. So do I.

For the best tactile typing experience, however, nothing beats an electric typewriter; say, one of those cast-iron IBM Selectrics from about 1976. Manual typewriters were too much work -- you really had to whack at them to drive the keys home -- but an electric typewriter required only just a certain amount of pressure to get going. And there was a complementary physical reaction to your typing action, namely, the mashing of the key (or the type ball, which ever) through the ribbon into the paper with a whack! that you could feel through the whole machine. Add in the constant vibrating hum of the typewriter when you turned it on, and what you had, my friends, was a festival of touch.

I don't get nostalgic for typewriters -- the idea of not being able to go back into your document and change it on the fly is flat-out terrifying for someone who started writing in the computer era, and I'm always tempted to go back to authors who wrote their books on typewriter and ask them, "How did you live through such barbarian times?!?" -- but I will allow they offered the definitive typing experience, against which the computer, for all its other advantages, provides only a pale simulacrum.

I've written an immense amount in the last couple of weeks, between finishing the novel and working on a series of articles for the Uncle John's books, and ranting about gay marriage and writing here in the Whatever. I regret to say that I haven't been taking fabulous care of my wrists in that time (even now, as I type this, I'm doing it from a reclining position on my bed, the keyboard propped up on my leg -- ergonomic experts, start your screaming). It's not debilitating, but I'm a little sore, and I've given some thought to getting some of that voice-recognition software that lets you write by speaking into a microphone. I've avoided it so far because I'm cheap, but also because I do think my writing "voice" would change by switching the medium through which it makes it to the screen. This is my voice when I type. It's similar to my voice when I speak, but there are differences. Both of them are "true" voices -- which is to say one is no less me than the other -- and I'm loath to silence one of them out of mere convenience.

So I suppose I better take better care of my wrists. Very well; I'm stopping typing now.

Posted by john at March 2, 2004 12:09 AM

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