How she got so good at typing

How she got so good at typing? She practiced. She took a typing class in high school, when she was 15. It was taught by a woman who also taught Business, which, now that she looks back on it, was shorthand (which they didn’t teach) for Secretarial Skills.

That photo to the right there is not what her class looked like, but it does seem to exemplify a class on Secretarial Skills.

The class was full, mostly girls but boys too. The typewriters were heavy, one per wooden desk. The keys clacked, loudly.

There was a book of some kind that the teacher passed around, a book full of typing exercises. She began by memorizing the keys, by touch, with simple little exercises that spelled out words. When she’d mastered them she moved on to sentences that incorporated punctuation, beginning with the three that you see in this sentence.

Longer sentences followed, ones that incorporated all the letters. “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” Then came paragraphs, short, circumspect paragraphs about the weather, various holidays, food.

Letters followed, letters that usually, in her memory anyway, detailed brief business transactions. Someone had ordered something. Where was the something he had ordered? Might it be arriving soon?

The teacher taught them the correct spacing after a period –two spaces– and how many times to hit the Enter key after a paragraph (twice). She had to unlearn that correct spacing after a period rule once computers came to rule the world, and it was not an easy task.

She loved to type. Her goal was words that appeared on the page as fast as she could think them, and a typewriter was a vast improvement over a pen. Clack clack clack; her fingers leapt about the typewriter, and the sheet of white paper inched itself up from the roller.

Make a mistake? White-out. Daub it on with the little brush, let it dry, roll the paper back down to the correct line, re-type the letter. Or the word, or the sentence.

When she went to bed at night, age 15, she typed herself to sleep in her mind. She would think up sentences and paragraphs, tiny stories even, and close her eyes and imagine her fingers on the typewriter, clacking out the keys.

That right there is how she got so good at typing. Imaginary typing. Typing that didn’t involve a typewriter or a ream of paper or any sound at all other than what she heard inside her head. She went to bed practicing her typing in the privacy of her own mind, and when she woke up in the morning, she was a faster typist.

She got to be incredibly fast, and incredibly accurate. In fact, when she moved to Boston after college and embarked on her life as an unpublished writer, she supported herself by typing papers for students. $1/page, whether it was a paper on Jane Austen (yay! no symbols!) or a math Ph.D. thesis (yikes! all symbols!).

Later, in the years of babies and tiny children, she would write her stories in snatches of time during the day. She had moved on to a computer then; all she cared about was speed and ease. She had not changed since she was 15. She still wanted the words to appear as fast as she thought them.

Sometimes, during those snatched stretches of time, type type type type type type, she would sense a presence behind her and turn to see her son and his friends standing silently in the room, watching.

“Whoa. Is your mom the fastest typer in the world?”

“Yeah. She is.”


  1. Karen Bjork Kubin · January 19, 2011

    Imaginary typing–it’s a relief to know I’m not the only one who does it. I secretly wondered for a long time if I suffered from some sort of OCD (once I knew what that was.) Then again, I love how language can fill my head and hands the same way music can.


  2. Ben · January 19, 2011

    This is the third thing I’ve read today, and it’s not even noon yet, about the correct number of spaces after periods. Is there some sort of holiday I’m not aware of?

    p.s. Victory of the tiny rebel army has been achieved.


  3. oreo · January 19, 2011

    i too was asked the other day if i am the fastest typer in the world (although i surely am not). the asker was one of the myriad lazy middle schoolers in this modern age to whom the idea of competence in any area (personal hygiene, typing, playing of an instrument) is baffling, seeing as how they do not wish to take that pill of practice. unless it involves video games, their success at which is more vital than homework, dinner, or outdoor pursuits. i of course pointed out that she, too, could flick her fingers across the keyboard just as nimbly, should she care to learn, but she shrugged her shoulders and said, nah, she’s happy to hunt and peck.

    what blasphemy to ears such as mine! what zen to master the keyboard, to have a place for each key and each key in its place, and lay your finger upon it without having to look, knowing its function will remain unchanged. what comfort to close your eyes and imagine the same. what pure pleasure to let your mind loose, knowing your fingers can keep up. how blessed are those who have the use of typing machines.

    the only thing holding me back from world domination (besides the prowess of master mcghee) is that i never did get through the symbol lessons. which mayhap is a blessing in disguise, because it forces me not to couch my words. damn you to hell! i have to write, because F$#@ you would just take too long.


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