By Peter H. Green
How do you get words on paper? Today, even that phrase sounds funny when you consider all of the electronic media we use—digital files, audio files, computer hard drives, mobile phones, all of which can record our thoughts and ideas. Like you. I’ve endured the sea change of recent years in the way we create our words, and it has been quite a journey.
When I was a small boy, my family used to visit a friend of my parents, Orin Tovrov, who was the writer of the Ma Perkins radio serial, at his home in the town of Orleans, on Cape Cod. Every weekday morning, like clockwork his secretary would appear at the door and Orin would go off with her to his study, which had a view of the wooded seashore out of one side and his lovely yard and duck pond on the other. He would sit and dictate the next couple of episodes of the Ma Perkins drama, and his secretary would present him with a typed copy of the previous day’s work for final edit. What a life, I thought. All he had to do was sit there for a couple of hours and spin wonderful stories. That’s for me someday.
My father used a yellow legal pad to compose and the hunt and peck method for typing his final work. Even during World War II where he served as the de facto manager of Armed Forces Radio Station WXLI—Guam, the radio studio for the troops on the Marianas Islands, he typed his scripts on whatever machine he could commandeer in their Quonset hut office and studio. In his letters home he once said, “This typewriter is no longer my Public Enemy Number One and I am beginning to master it. Incidentally it’s a Spanish typewriter with a tilde over the Ñ and and an accent mark over the é and also an upside down question mark (¿) to precede questions. Everything is in the wrong place, especially punctuation, particularly the exclamation point, which is where the comma ought to be.” Although he complained as if he were a top-notch stenographer hampered by poor equipment, as a Chicago reporter Dad had acquired the two finger typing technique, and all he had to do to adapt to the foreign keyboard was to direct his two index fingers to different keys.
Lucky for me, now that I spend so much time at a computer, my college encouraged us to take an elective course in typing. They used to emphasize that, when you stay in a steady rhythm your typing becomes more accurate. Even today I noticed I have less of a tendency to invert letters when I stick with the rhythm. I find that sometimes typing on the keyboard is still preferable to any other method, especially for editing, but also sometimes for composing original scenes in fiction, because my thinking slows down to the pace of evolving ideas, my characters’ thoughts and my word pictures. And I still like to take longhand notes on a yellow legal pad and write by hand in my journal.
However, in the last five years, I’ve become enamored of speech recognition technology. When I was finishing my first book in 2005 I tried something called “Dragon Naturally Speaking”. The software, offered by a company called Nuance, has continually improved to the point where it delivers letter perfect copy, which can be revised at my whim with a verbal command. It types so much better than I do it’s embarrassing. The latest wrinkle that Nuance added to my repertoire was a Phillips dictating pocket machine called the Voice Tracer whose files can be directly transferred to hard copy on the computer. I find that thoughts sometimes flow more easily, dialogue is more natural and it can capture fleeting ideas, because it’s so much faster.
So my world has become the idyllic one that Orin Tovrov enjoyed. I can sit anywhere with my laptop — in bed, in any chair in the house, on my deck, or wander as I speak with my Bluetooth headset, and talk through my compositions, as I’m doing right now. And while I haven’t managed to gear up to the comfortable living solely from writing that Orin provided for his family, I can at least bring my office wherever I go and create my stories—online, in manuscript form and struggle as we all do to get them published—as I enjoy the beauties of nature. The house on Cape Cod might have to wait a while.
To return to my original question, what techniques have you found to enhance your writing capabilities? Please post a comment and let me know , or post any questions you have, so we can trade ideas.
Until next time, as John Ciardi used to say,
Good words to you,