Writing Then and Now

When I read Linda Cassidy-Lewis post Do You Write Like a Tortoise or a Hare I started to think of how I write and more particularly what I use to write.

As I have said before I always have a notebook and pencil with me wherever I go and this habit began when I was still at school.  I would write about any and everything and the trusty notebook was always with me.

During the last year of school, several of us in the VIIth form petitioned the Headmistress to allow us to have shorthand and typing lessons.  This request was originally met with horror by the Headmistress and most of the (all female) staff members.  The school prided itself on being “for the daughters of gentlemen” even though we lived in the East End of London.

However, we persevered and eventually were allowed 6 months of tuition in these subjects.  I understand that the classes were continued after we left as part of the usual curriculum of the school.

All these years later, I still jot down notes in shorthand or as my daughter describes it “chicken scratch”.

Manual typewriter

Can you believe that typewriters looked like this Olivetti?  Copies were made by slipping sheets of carbon paper between the sheets of paper and if a mistake were made the letters were erased with a special eraser and those offending letters on each sheet also had to be erased.  No photocopying then.

When I rejoined the workforce in 1972, having been a stay at home wife and mother for some 12 years, I was horrified to be faced with an electric typewriter.

IBM Selectric Typewriter

In accepting the position I hadn’t realized that technology would have moved on so far.  I had many battles with this machine before I finally convinced it who was in charge here.

Soon I had my own secretary and we purchased a memory typewriter.  We were both amazed at this fantastic futuristic machine that took pride of place in her office.  From there it was a self-correcting typewriter.  How this changed the lives of millions of typists the world over.  And then to computers.

How easy typing is today and so many people now do their own.  Most executives have a computer on their desk.  Not much call for Shorthand-typists these days!

But for those of us who write,  I think that the days of the typewriter were the most satisfying.  When I used one I could convince myself I was starting when I turned on the machine, inserted the paper and lined up my notes before the blank page looked back at me.

No such preparation today.  When I sit in front of my computer with a blank screen and don’t know how to proceed I can’t convince myself that I have done anything towards starting.

But in answer to Linda’s question – I think in writing my blog I am a hare.  I decide what I want to write about and it just comes.  But in my other writing, I am definitely a tortoise.

“In real life, it is the hare who wins. Every time. Look around you. And in any case it is my contention that Aesop was writing for the tortoise market.
Hares have no time to read. They are too busy winning the game.”
Anita Brookner, 1928 English language novelist and art historian


27 responses to “Writing Then and Now

  1. Thanks for the link, Judith.

    Like yours, my blog posts are usually written at hare speed. I’m more often a tortoise in fiction writing. Though if I get caught up in it, go into the fictive dream, I can zip out a thousand words in no time. That doesn’t happen often enough for my tastes.

    I never learned shorthand, but I did take a typing class at school. I hated it. I seemed to have only four working fingers. Now, I can type at a pretty nice pace. Too late to raise my grade! 🙂


  2. Now I’m even more confused… 😉 … I’ll just say most of the time I’m the tortoise… 😉 I only learned to type in my fourties… if you can call it typing! More like two fingered poking…


    • Well once I decide what to write the blog about it just seems to come easily. The other things don’t always flow freely but hey – I have time.


  3. I hand write everything on legal pad as rough draft and redo and edit. Margin notes with citations and things that pop up while writing. How else could we then type a finished version? People tell me this is archaic and a waste of time. I don’t get it.


    • Whatever suits you Carl is obviously the way to do it. Anyhow who is to tell you how to use your time?
      I can type almost as fast as I can think – years of practice – so I type and then edit.
      Thanks for the comment:)


  4. Thank you for shared information

    Regarding typing test,
    In the 1980’s typing speed was one of the criteria to get jobs anywhere.
    But slowly this trend stopped and typing speed was not important to most of the employers.
    This is the reason why typing tests, which were once very popular suddenly, vanished from the scene.
    However recently we see a growing shift in the attitude of the employers


    • Yes I do remember when job advertisements often spoke of typing speeds. I guess now with the use of computers, speed isn’t that necessary.
      Thanks for dropping by.
      Judith 🙂


  5. I agree with ” I think in writing my blog I am a hare. I decide what I want to write about and it just comes. But in my other writing I am definitely a tortoise.” Good post ! 🙂


  6. I think I may be a hare when it comes to blogging, too. It seems to come pretty easily once I get started and the idea is in place.

    I’ve been through all of those stages of typing, too. My mother insisted I take shorthand and typing while in high school. I’ve long forgotten the shorthand (due to lack of use), but the typing has come in very handy over time.


    • I find that the shorthand is like riding a bicycle – once learned.
      Today when visiting my daughter I left a note for her son – ‘Hey Mum, Jae can’t read chicken scratch” she said. So most times I am not even aware that I am writing in shorthand.


  7. When I write blog posts, or in my journal, I’m more like a hare, but when I’m writing other things I’m definitely more of a tortoise as well. It can change with the day, though.

    I often hand write my blog posts and then type them up. I need some sort of preparation before writing a lot of the time, too! Just opening up a blank page on the computer does often feel like ok….now what.


    • I find that I can type quicker than I can write so I type directly into the blog. However, I always have a notebook at the side of the bed for sudden inspiration in the night.
      And for anything other than the blog posts, I do need preparation.


  8. I also took shorthand and typing, but I had no desire to be a secretary. The shorthand went by the wayside, glad to see you’ve kept your skills. Typing, I use every single day–keyboard. 🙂


    • Choices when I left school were limited, bank teller, secretary, teacher or nurse. Secretaries got paid better so that’s where I went – and incidentally, that’s how I met my Scotsman.
      Thanks for the comment. Judith:)


  9. I carry around a small notebook and a pen, too, but what I really should carry around is my camera. So many times I have seen something that would have been a good blog idea, but I don’t have my camera with me. You know, a picture is worth a thousand words! I’m so definitely a tortoise in my writing. That’s why I don’t have much written.


    • Each day when I read the blogs of others who have these great photos to illustrate their words, I think that I shall take my camera with me when I go out. I put it on the hall table yesterday to take to the pool where the boys were playing Water Polo – guess what? It’s still sitting on the table.


  10. I adore typewriters, even though my official score in high school (on my transcript) is minus three words a minute. I think I set a school record. I still use the typewriter in the office. People stare at me a lot. My blog posts are written very quickly (too quickly at times), following the general mayhem in my brain. But my novels weren’t like that. They were much more deliberate.


    • I haven’t had a typewriter for years but in my wandering life – moving around the world with my late husband – I had a portable typewriter on which I wrote mail to send to friends and relations. Isn’t it so much easier now with the internet and our trusty computers!


    • I haven’t actually seen a typewriter in use for many years. Love the story about the school record. You could laminate that transcript and put it on display in your study. That would remind you that nothing is set in stone; things are ever changing and you have succeeded in writing in spite of that gnarly old teacher being so mean to you.


  11. http://beatbloodpressure.wordpress.com

    Dear Judith,

    I really love your blog and your picture, which is awesome. I think I will put you on my blogroll.
    Though I am 30 years younger than you, I have seen the old typewriters and still have two of them. One belonged to my uncle who was a journalist, and writer in Berlin. Whenever you entered his place, it was full of cigarette smoke, the curtains raised and only a few beams of sunshine entering the room, empty, half full and old full cups of coffee everywhere. Books and piles of typed paper everywhere. I still have a lot of his writing. His handwriting was not readable.

    Great blog!

    Smiles and peace,


    • Thanks for the comment and I am honored that you have put me on your blogroll. I am still trying to work out how to have one on my blogs.
      Love the story of your uncle. There were lots of those characters years ago but now journalists seem just like the rest of us. Sad!


  12. I learned to type on an old Underwood from the 40s when I was about 10…you really had to hit those keys to make them work! I never learned shorthand…I probably would not have been good at it!

    One of the hardest things I found was making the transition from typewriters to computers…incredibly frustrating!

    Having used a computer daily for the last twenty years, I can’t imagine writing anything longhand any more…



  13. Pingback: The time Vortex | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

  14. Pingback: Another Post on Writing | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

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