Typing is Fundamental

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Typing is FundamentalYou’ve bought the hype and now you’re sitting at your typewriter wondering how this wonderful writing machine is giving you fits of frustration? How can so many be singing its praises, when every clumsy keystroke you make jams the keys? You can’t seem to get the same rhythm you had when typing on the computer. The light touch doesn’t work, but the heavier you strike the typewriter keys, the deeper your troubles. At first you might blame it on the typewriter, after all it’s old and perhaps it can’t keep up with your modern prose. But, no, when you slow down and examine the movement of each typebar, they strike the platen with fluid precision. The carriage advances smartly when the space bar is pressed. Then what’s the big deal, typing is typing, right? The answer is a resounding, no.

In fact, there was an entire industry devoted to teaching the proper typing technique, from mail order courses to typing schools. But you’re a writer, you insist, not a typist! Yes, pilgrim, you are and while you may not aspire to type dictation at 140 words per minute, you can benefit from the same technique of the typing pros. I’m not going to cover the minutiae of a 10-week typing course, but with these handy tips you’ll be on your way to tapping out words that’ll make your muse hum along.

In order to gain the optimum angle of attack, your typewriter must be positioned at the proper height. If you have it on a regular height desk, it’s too high.

Go to your local vintage store and get a typewriter table. It can be part of a larger desk or a stand-alone unit. All other tips will fail unless your typewriter is at the proper height.

Typewriter Table

And here is a deluxe version. You can see the typewriter is well below the level of the desk. Whatever style you get, make sure you have room on both sides. On your left, a stack of blank paper and on your right, your ever growing manuscript pile.

(Source: United States Navy Training Film. MN-1512a. Basic Typing Methods. 1943)
(Source: United States Navy Training Film. MN-1512a. Basic Typing Methods. 1943)

For the following tips, a few highlights from the Remington Touch Method Typing Instruction Book (1940):

  • DON’T Hammer the keys.
  • DON’T Allow the finger to hang onto the key at the finish of the stroke.
  • DON’T Raise the hands higher than is necessary to prevent interference with the return of the key.
  • DON’T Pound with the forearm. Use the finger and wrist action.
  • DO Keep fingers close to the keys.
  • DO Strike them quickly with the tips of your fingers. Think staccato action.
  • DO Acquire a quick, natural, even stroke of sufficient force to make a clear impression.
  • DO Relax!

And finally, Remington was ahead of its time in offering this writerly advice:

When “thinking on the typewriter,” don’t try to make final “copy” at the first writing. Let your thoughts flow--your typewriter will put them down just as fast as your mind will work. “X” out your mistakes. Don’t stop to erase. Smooth out and correct your grammar later. Then rewrite your “copy.”

If visuals are your thing, here’s an instructional video:



  1. That was the first thing I noticed when I rediscovered typewriters. It’s a whole different ballgame from typing on a computer. I’ve found that slowing down a little is helpful to the creative process. It helps me to take my time and think more about what I’m wanting to say. Of course, you don’t want to get too bogged down. On your first draft, just let it flow.

  2. That video is awesome…xD

    I am a professional typist, able and capable to type at almost 140 words per minute, but not even I knew those tricks. Now I understand why I couldn’t type with my pinkies. I wish I were this video were in Spanish…xD

  3. Very good advice. The points from Remington on thinking at the typewriter are especially interesting, because almost all the old instructions are addressed to the job of copying already existing handwritten, shorthand, or dictated material.

  4. Awesome post, Daniel! Did you learn how to touch type (i.e., using 10 fingers or at least an imperfect 8 fingers version)? Could you share your experience on how exactly do you feel this or other typing techniques improved your writing on the typewriter? Many thanks!

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