Writing, Writing, and Typing

I’ve been hand-writing a lot more fiction recently, because of various and sundry reasons. Down at FoolzCon, pen and paper were easy to get out and put away, didn’t need to recharge* or plug in, and could be left unattended without fear of a Small Person accidentally knocking them to the floor and breaking them. At Day Job, I can flip from page to page — lesson plans and test notes to fiction and back — and since I write in cursive, it is a nearly unbreakable code.

However, if I don’t remember to bring my braces, after an hour or so, I start regretting it. I have a bad habit of gripping the pen too tightly, and when combined with carpel tunnel problems, it leads to wrist pain and weakness. If I use a fountain pen, I don’t lock onto the pen as badly, but . . . fountain pens have their own complications, like bleeding through the notepads I use because the paper is not glazed properly for fountain pen ink. It used to be, but something changed. So I use an ultra-fine Pilot™ pen and plot or class-outline away.

I’m also grading papers that are turned in online, and adding my comments and critiques. I can answer students much faster with a keyboard, because I type as fast as I think (almost. I can still lock up wordprocessors when I’m going at full speed.)

On paper, I move more slowly, and leave out considerable description, especially when my wrist gets tired. My mental narration has to slow in order to keep from overloading my hand and losing ideas.** The description and details get filled in on the margins (I use notepads designed for margin notes and citations), or when I transcribe what I’ve written into the computer. I still see the story unfolding in my head, but it is wordier, for lack of a better word.

When I type fiction, I fly, writing hundreds of words at a go. I see the story in my head, in pictures as much as words, and I type what I see. One problem is that often, description gets skipped because I know what everything looks like. I forget that readers are not “seeing” the story that’s unreeling in my mind. Which is why I go back and fill in things like “what so-and-so looks like” or “landscape around Rigi’s house” so readers don’t get frustrated. The end result is the same if I write or type, but what has to be tucked back in varies. The spelling on my hand-written copy is much, much worse, because of my memory problem. I see the errors faster on the screen now, and there’s spell check to flag things if they are really off. Homonyms and the like are still my own fault, especially when I type at speed.

I don’t think readers can tell a difference between “started on a paper notepad” and “started on screen.” That is, if I do the revisions and polishing properly.

*This is why I carry at least four pens in my satchel at all times, two super-fine and two fine ballpoint. Plus correcting pens and a pencil, because one never knows.

**I have a lack of RAM. By the time I remember what I want to say, how I want to say it, grammar and punctuation, and the mechanics of writing/drawing letters on the page, I’m out of processor space. I can’t spell well, to put it mildly, and I can’t talk. I register that words are being directed at me, but I don’t process them and can’t answer unless I stop writing. Even when I sign my name, I have to do that, stop, talk to the person, the finish writing. What saves me is that I was forced to learn cursive by rote, copying copybook essays over and over and over, trying to match the ideal example on the page with my own handwriting. Do that almost daily for two years and more, and you too will learn cursive as muscle memory, not conscious thought. Mostly.

11 thoughts on “Writing, Writing, and Typing

  1. I can’t fiction and talk at same time, but I can take notes and talk at the same time. Especially if it’s something I’ve said so often it’s muscle memory. Although if something throws me, I have to listen to myself to figure out where I’m at, and mentally catch up with the words coming out of my mouth.

    Because my handwriting is so slow, it, too, is incredibly sparse, and expands easily three-fold when transcribed on the screen. AS for spelling… mine actually is better when handwritten, because my hands are so slow my brain has time to recognize and fix things, where typing, gingers tangle, and spaces appear int he wrong places. (just liek that last typo. Which wasn’t consciously done, but I’ll leave it in for example).

    • > spaces appear int he wrong places.

      That is often a sign that your keyboard is reaching the end of its service life, however short it might be.

      If the noise doesn’t drive Peter and the cats mad, try a real IBM PC/AT keyboard. You’ll need a $5 adapter to plug it into a PS/2 or USB port.

      The old “clicky” IBM keyboards came off the DisplayWriter, which was a dedicating word processing machine. It was IBM business equipment, built back when people expected IBM to be expensive, but worth it. The development team worked with IBM’s own secretarial staff, iterating designs to find optimum key positions, tensions, cap shapes, and pressure curves before the product was released to their customers.

      The real IBM keyboards behave a bit differently from the moder “Cherry switch” designs. First, the electrical contact occurs *before* the spring buckles, so once you feel that, you don’t have to look up at the screen to see if there’s a character there. Second, the buckling spring then pulls the key down, greatly reducing the pressure on your fingertips. Some people comment it “feels like power steering”, though maybe “power brakes” would be a closer analogy. The over-center motion and long travel were designed for typists who hammed keyboards all day; it was done to keep them from getting sore fingertips.

      You can get used or refurbed keyboards on eBay. They weigh more than some laptop computers – they have big steel plates inside – and I have some that are 35 years old, that still work perfectly.

  2. I can’t even type a password and talk at the same time.

    I’m sorry to hear about your grip problems, where ‘sorry’ means ‘wince and cringe’. I suppose you’ve tried fat pens and pen sleeves?

    I prefer pencil or pen when composing story because a good keyboard is too fast and a laptop keyboard too distracting. But I’ve started learning shorthand. Even though I’m too slow for dictation, it’s faster than longhand. If your penmanship is good enough for clean cursive, you might try Gregg, which allows you to use a ballpoint or hard-point marker pen. I need Pitman, which is a little more tolerant of imperfection. I learned that southpaws like me need to learn twice, once to get the geometry of the letterforms and once to transfer that to the control of the verbal part of the brain. (I wish grade-school teachers knew this!)

  3. I find it very hard to hand-write anything more than a paragraph. For some reason, I can’t hold a pencil/pen correctly.

    Then there’s the problem of spelling. There are plenty of words that I KNOW but I can’t spell. Basically, I can’t even think of “where to start”. The “funny” thing is that I may not know the correct spelling of a word but what I managed to write looks wrong if I mis-spelled it.

    Oh, I’m not a fast typist but better typing than hand-writing. 😦

  4. Yep, cursive for the win! 🙂 I’ve gone to typing exclusively for manuscripts, to knock the carpal tunnel issues down. I also use a ergonometric keyboard for the same reason.

    • Cursive is *much* easier on carpel tunnel if you’re using a fountain pen.
      There’s significantly less down pressure, the pen lays naturally across your fingers–rather than having to stick up in a more perpendicular fashion, and there’s much less lifting the nib from the page.

      If I *have* to write without a keyboard, I much prefer to use a fountain pen (albeit in a cursive/print hybrid). But, I’m dyslexic. So my typing speed is about other’s handwriting speed, and my handwriting speed is much slower.

  5. I write much better on a keyboard, probably because I learned it early enough that the transfer from brain to fingers is pretty much unconscious.

    I also hand write very slowly and uncomfortably, at least partly because I’m a lefty. My early teachers had abs9lutely no clue and no training in how to teach left-handed people to write. I had to figure out the whole thing by myself, and ended up with a very awkward hand position and painfully hard grip. At the time left-handed pupils were still a novelty — it wasn’t very long after the policy change that allowed students to write with their left hand at all.

  6. Several of the priso… public schools I attended still had the ancient right-hand-only desks, with the half-tops and arm support on the right. And a round cutout for an inkwell.

    There was room for a piece of paper, but not for a piece of paper and a book. You could put the book in your lap and lean to the side to see it, while holding it with the left hand, but then you couldn’t hold the paper.

    As a lefty, it was actually better, I could twist to the right, balance the book on the armrest, and put the paper on the desk. The sharp edge would make my hand go numb in short order, but as “ergonomics” went, it wasn’t bad.

    [ergonomics: the practice of designing products that can be used *only* with the right hand…]

    Whoever designed those desks hated schoolkids, and wanted to make their lives as miserable as possible.

    • I think some of the lecture halls at the U of Redacted had that arrangement. IIRC, the half-desk could be lowered to the side if one was sleeping not taking notes.

      The grad school (Woke University, but they were happy to teach engineering on the side w/adjunct instructors and a small core of tenured profs.) used the slide-in desks, right hand only.

      I found a quirk in my brain–if I took notes, the vast majority of the time, I didn’t need to review them. With my awful handwriting, that was a Godsend.

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