It’s one of those things that can turn pleasant, rational people into raving maniacs if you happen to find yourself in the opposing camp. Choose wisely, because not only can you lose friends over this, but I think there are still some places where they’ll burn you in a wicker man if you fall into the wrong camp.
I’m talking about how many spaces to leave after a period (or full stop, as we Brits like to call it). One? Two?
Three? (Seriously? What kind of monster are you?)
Does it matter? Not really–except to those who care deeply about such matters and are perfectly willing to bend your ear for a couple of hours if you happen to hold the opposing view.
I’ve always put two spaces after a period.
There I’ve said it. That is my confession. I learnt to touch type when I was seven (a story for another time, perhaps) when my mother gave me a Pitman’s Typing Tutor–an old copy even then and possibly one that she herself had used when training to be a secretary (back when the world was still mostly monochrome). It left one in no doubt that a properly typewritten document always had two spaces after a period. There was no explanation; none was needed. It was just what you did. If you wanted to be taken seriously, there had to be two spaces. I’m not sure where or when that rule was invented. (Quite possibly, God used two spaces after each commandment. The typing tutor didn’t come right out and say that, but it was implied.)
So that’s what I did. Year after year; two spaces at the end of each sentence. School reports and scholarly essays. Work documents, emails, story manuscripts. Much later, in the course of my day job, I would often have to edit other people’s work. (Not fiction-editing, just dull business-related documents). I would regularly add the missing space at the end of a sentence before the document was returned; the text just didn’t look right without it. A few people may have complained or at least gnashed their teeth, but I suspect most of my work colleagues never even noticed.
Then one day I remember a heated debate with work colleagues–all of whom seemed to belong to the Cult of the Single-Space, for some reason. “But it’s not the proper way,” I tried to explain. “I am a touch-typist and typing DNA runs in my blood. Therefore I know about these things! Thou shalt always hit the space bar twice after a full stop or risk the wrath of God!”
“Poppycock,” they told me. “It’s not what the internet generation does anymore.” And sadly, when I researched a little more deeply, I came to see that they were right. Things had changed and the trend had shifted. What’s more, I found an increasing number of online fiction outlets requested manuscripts that were formatted with a single space after periods. And then I noticed that long-standing MSS format guidance no longer mandated two spaces. Well… The sky had fallen and it was a case of be crushed or climb out from under the wreckage.
So earlier this year, I decided to switch from being a two-spacer to a single-spacer. I thought it would be hard. I thought it would take weeks if not month to train my thumb to hit that space-bar just the once. It was deeply ingrained. In an average year, across all styles and form of writing at the keyboard, I reckoned I could easily have typed a hundred thousand sentences, each with a double space after it. Unlearning that, unwiring the instinctive impulses was going to take some effort.
About a day, as it turns out. There might have been the odd relapse now and then, but definitely by day three I was mono-spacing without a thought, almost as if I’d been doing it all my life. Now, when I occasionally pull out some old manuscript to work on, it looks distinctly odd to see all that space between those 12 point Courier sentences.
I’m not sure what all that says about me, so it’s probably best that I don’t ask. But at least now, no one can accuse me of being too spaced-out.