If a beginning writer were to ask me for advice (hey, go ahead and ask me!), I would answer:

  1. Read, read, read;
  2. Avoid workshops that require you to share unfinished manuscripts; and
  3. Learn to touch type.

I learned QWERTY in a summer-school typing class between seventh and eighth grade. We clacked away on sturdy black Royal manuals; electric typewriters may have been in a prototype phase somewhere but were nowhere to be found in that stuffy classroom on the second floor of Urbana High School in 1964. (Nor were any boys to be found — only girls were encouraged to learn to type, as a secretarial position was one of the job options we were told we could aspire to, along with nurse, teacher, and housewife.)

I started using my new touch-typing skills right away, as a reporter and editor for school newspapers. My college term papers I typed on a chic portable Olivetti, so lightweight that it skittered across the desk top if you slammed the return lever with too much vigor. As a cub reporter for The Decatur Herald and Review and later, The Champaign-Urbana Courier, I cranked out stories on half sheets of newsprint fed into a manual Royal and made corrections with a pencil. The news editor would add his pencil edits (the society page had the only woman editor) and then slip the copy into a pneumatic tube container to shoot it down to the typesetters in the basement.

I took the Olivetti with me when I went to Japan after college and used it to type short stories, a family history, and some free-lance articles. But what joy, when in 1980 my father bought me an IBM Selectric, to help me with an ambitious translation manuscript! My co-translator mentioned that some secretaries in her husband’s office were using something called a word processor that easily managed corrections and additions — should we ask them to type our manuscript? Naw, sounded too new-fangled, and hey, I had an electric typewriter with a correction key! What more did one need? Farewell, messy White-out!

But a few years later I used a writer’s grant to buy a “fancy” Kaypro computer. Its clumsy word-processing program used function keys, but I was in manuscript-creating Heaven. Now I could blast away at almost 100 words a minute, quickly correcting mistakes and revising with that wonder of the modern age, cut-and paste.

My skill with QWERTY helped me with my writing projects but also provided office day-job income for many years; one particularly unique gig involved transcribing taped interviews of couples discussing their sex lives, for an academic study of Americans and sex.

Computers are so friendly, one can “keyboard” well without touch typing, but I am grateful for my QWERTY skills every time I sit down at my writer’s desk. When tapping out a rough draft, I feel like a virtuoso pianist who never looks at her hands, my fingers confidently finding every letter and creating words almost as quickly as my imagination offers them.