How I have to do it
I type with my right index finger alone, assisted on the shift key by my faithful left index finger. I could not lay out a sketch of the keypad from memory, even if I was being tortured by some evil creature holding a fresh, warm Bavarian creme donut just out of my reach. Yet my right index finger knows the layout intimately. It can poke any key almost as fast as my calico cat, Havoc, can scratch me. I ought to insure that digit.
A type-A friend recently suggested I use the Dragon software and dictate my novels, so rather than each book consuming a year or more of tortoisorial labor, I could crank them out every other month like Patterson’s gang of ghost writers.
But I can't work that way. My process is complex. I don't quite know what the characters are going to do or where the plot is going at any given time, so it's impossible to vocalize. My work has only been marginally writeable over all these years, much less dictate-able. Something about the plodding progress I make with my minimalist two fingers is part of the creativity. Trying to vocalize a story without a keypad would be akin to a composer without access to an instrument trying to speak notes and chords: "A to begin, then a C followed by a G major chord, and next a minor . . ." I suspect it would be about impossible for a composer to create exceptional music that way. Another crude analogy would be Michelangelo trying to paint with both hands in order to speed up the process. I doubt he would have then been capable of all his subtleties—the precise deft touches of light, the tiny wrinkle that can turn a smile wry. Michelangelo was a fine artist, after all, not a barn painter concerned with optimizing square-foot coverage.
And I’m a writer, after all, not a fiction-speaker. I don’t read to myself aloud, nor can I write aloud.
We recently lost the great Elmore Leonard. In the following clip he tells us how and why he worked the way he did. I suspect it would have been impossible for him to have dictated a novel. My process is similar.
Elmore wrote a first draft longhand, then ensuing drafts on an electric typewriter, the way all of us had to do it back in the dim, dark pre-computer age. It tended to be tedious, but we managed somehow. In order to re-arrange a sentence, we had to re-type that whole manuscript page. In an age before that, my mother was a newspaper reporter, banging out copy under tight deadlines on a hulking dinosaurian upright mechanical typewriter. Most kids today have never even seen one. Before that, it was rock tablets and chisels. Before that it was big toes in the dirt.
And nobody remembers carbon paper.