“Old Schooled”

52 Pick-up, #24, 6/9/2020

Tim Goncharoff: “Could you possibly learn to write with both hands so we could get two new books a year?”

Hi Tim,

Are you kidding, I type with two fingers, now…

I never really learned how to type, and I regret that, especially since I spend about eight hours a day at a keyboard. My wife, Judy, is an expert typist and makes fun of my hunt-and-peck technique of writing, but over the years I’ve gotten pretty quick with my cub-reporter style. When I first started out, it was on an old Remington mechanical typewriter that I bought at a second-hand store because I have always been old school—besides, that was the only thing I could afford.

I hauled that old typewriter around in my ’60 half-ton for years, and it kind of became the Rosetta Stone of my attempts to be a writer and sometimes a millstone. No matter where I lived, whether it was Harlem, New York or Butte, Montana, I’d have that thing sitting on a table accusing me of not being a writer. Over the years, computers rose up, and I did my best to ignore them, but the opportunity to change and manipulate text became too much of a temptation, and I finally crossed over. I kept my typewriter, which is now on display at the Jim Gatchell Museum in Buffalo, and when it comes back it’ll go on the old mission desk in my writing loft.

One of my old buddies, Ivan Doig, used to send out type-written index cards as postcards to people, a habit I’ve thought about picking up myself.

Now, when I say my typing has gotten faster, that doesn’t particularly mean a blazing speed, and I’m okay with that. I compose at the keyboard, I guess like a musician does, and if I were able to get those words down much faster, I’m afraid they might not match up with what’s going on in my head. I think you have to be thinking when you’re typing, taking the time to visualize the novel you’re writing. I guess I’m a slow thinker, but it matches my typing speed.

I think you’ve got a responsibility as a writer in a number of different ways, many of which don’t have anything to do with the story and characters as much as they do with the actual words. When I’m teaching writing workshops, I’m constantly telling students that if they write something and it sounds like something they’ve read before? Guess what, you have—so try another way of saying it. I think the words should not only convey the story but should also entice and surprise the reader. I’m always reminding myself that the journey a reader takes with me starts with those words that I’m typing onto that empty page. I’m leaving the reader a trail to follow in what otherwise would be a white, featureless, and empty landscape, a world where they could easily get lost, or worse yet, give up.

I try to never take words lightly.

In a more specific answer to your question, I’ve used the down time during the current difficulties to concentrate on another project that I may actually be finishing up. It’s very different from the Walt Longmire novels, but appears to have drawn attention from both publishers and Hollywood—talk about a featureless and empty landscape… So, wish me luck. In one fashion or another, I’m pretty sure you’ll be seeing it. It’s a different genre than I’ve worked in before, but I think its important to try different things just for the sake of keeping yourself fresh. I’d give you more details, but I can’t just yet.

In the final analysis, I guess what I’ve discovered is that if I don’t travel quite so much, I can get more writing done, which is a quandary in that I like touring and meeting readers out on the trail. I suppose there has to be a middle road, which allows for both, and I’m hoping to take that journey in the future.

See you on the trail,


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