1. I CAN’T COPY VERY WELL Copy skills get better with time and practice. Nerves is certainly a factor at first. The answer to nerves is exposure. Get on the air and practice those skills. After all, you’re not copying vectors for a brain exploration surgery, just fun stuff. What if you do miss some? Eh?
2. I MAKE MISTAKES IN SENDING Who cares? Everyone does! If you show me an op who sends flawless CW, I’ll eat my hat. Even keyboarders make mistakes. Its what you do when you make one that is the measure of an op. A good op corrects his mistakes. When you glide past mistakes it leaves the other guy guessing.
3. MY CW IS VERY SLOW Accuracy transcends speed! Accuracy is absolute, while speed will increase/improve over time. What you DON’T want is to get faster at sending poorly. Fast and poor are an awful twosome. Practice sending well, at a speed which is comfortable for you. You WILL make mistakes, just correct them and move on.
4. I GET LOST IN QSO’s As many have suggested, by writing down the parts of a typical exchange/QSO, you will be better able to get through a QSO. Its really funny how few comments are directed to spelling. Spelling slows us down and trips us up in many QSO situations. When you practice off-air, its fine to use a sheet of text, but I find that sending as if in a QSO is much more helpful. Practice this by sending out of your head. You’ll get used to sending off the cuff and your spelling will improve tremendously.
If ragchewing is your goal, keep your exchanges short, at first. Don’t try to say too much in one exchange. That way, it will give you time to think about what you’ll say next, and will slow the other op down as well. That will make his transmissions easier to copy. Keep it casual, and don’t let it become hard work.
5. MY PALMS SWEAT Keep a hand towel at your operating desk. My palms sweated on my first date too but, it didn’t stop me. Remember, no one can see you! Try PRETENDING you’re as calm as a cucumber. Think of yourself as a “take charge” op who can handle any situation. As an op thinkest, so shall he be on the air.
One particular activity that improved my confidence and ability to handle most situations was learning traffic handling on the Maryland Slow Net. Net speed was maximum 10 wpm (and flexible), the instructors were patient and considerate. That training gave me the confidence I desperately needed. I’m now an Instructor and Net Control Station on that Net and watch the transformation of new ops from tentative and unsure to ops who would be welcomed on NTS traffic net throughout the country. Its easy and painless and proceeds at the new op’s own pace. Even if you don’t become an active traffic handler, the training is invaluable for learning general operating practices.
6. PEOPLE WILL THINK POORLY OF ME Bull Crap!!! Everyone expects new / inexperienced CW ops to be somewhat tentative, make some mistakes and miss some copy. They expect it because THEY PERFORMED THE SAME WAY WHEN THEY WERE NEW / INEXPERIENCED. Some well-meaning ops, in an attempt to sooth the nervous new op will say, “Aw, no one will notice your mistakes” Bull crap! Of course they notice them! They’d have to be idiots not to. BUT, no one cares about a your mistakes. This is a hobby, a means of having fun. It WILL be fun if you stop agonizing over it. The amount of fun you have at CW is inversely proportional to the amount you worry about it.
7. I’LL DO IT WHEN I GET BETTER That’s fine if you like spending your time procrastinating. “He was gonna get on the air tomorrow” would make a unfortunate epitath. “He really enjoyed his ham radio hobby and his CW” is a much nicer one. I waited until I was over 60 to finally get started in Ham radio. I often think of how much fun I could have had over the years if I had just bitten the bullet and jumped in. Now, I’m trying to make up for lost time. But, we all know that’s impossible.
8. I HAVE PROBLEMS WITH THIS OR THAT TYPE OF KEY OK… use whatever you’re good with, and develop your skills on the others at your own pace. Whatever you do, don’t try to swage your fist into a type of key that frustrates you. Learning new skills, while not easy, should be fun. Measure your progress in small chunks. Don’t set your goals too far ahead. You must be able to see progress. If speed improvement is your goal, measure it one word per minute at a time. Don’t try to go from 5 wpm to 10 wpm. That’s doubling your speed! It would be like me trying to go from 35 wpm to 70 wpm. Never happen, go from 5 to 6. Then to 7, and so on.
73/161, Milt K4OSO FOC #1927