[Paul's entire post] Good stuff.
What he said. I used Koch to get some cobwebs out of something I thought I'd lost. I do believe that what really helped is that I had a key, as well as an oscillator. I practiced copy at various times; provided an opportunity for my grand-daughter to teach me what one of those cheapy ipod thingies is and loaded some lessons on that. Likewise I practiced sending 5-character random groups out of a couple of US & UK service manuals.
By the time I made my first civ contact it wasn't fast, but the mentor who could do 30+ with his bug or idle along on a key for folks like me gave me the best compliment (I learned later) that I could get. "u hve a vry gud fist" This comes from not just copying, but being able to translate what good code sounds like. Practice sending, trying to emulate the sound & rhythm of good code, will really make things easier - do both.
Now one thing about that compliment in shorthand; there's a fair amount of shorthand in modern CW contacts as before. Whatever works, it's what other ops do also. BUT - remember to strive for a speed that lets you have no-BS copy. Many times as you get deeper into a QSO you'll find yourself getting better & faster even while it's going on. But the speed at which you get your best copy is your default speed. It's taught that way in the military for a reason. With random groups you can't "assume" you know what the next character is. (You could acknowledge a message only to find it won't decrypt later.) When copying our mother tongue we tend to mentally start to fill in the blanks and when we start assuming we STOP listening.
Just listen to the lessons and find a way to also practice some sending & emulate the sound of good code. As you're copying initially at a faster speed, KEEP GOING. Don't dawdle trying to run the table in your head of "how many dits was that?" "is that a V??? "maybe it was a 4..."
Now you're 5 characters behind.
It's a learned skill, and it's not magic - it is learn-ABLE.
Get a ticket. When you get ready to test, prepare for the General, HF gives you a bunch of options. Even if you don't, there are still CW areas for Techs in some of the bands. There are also folks who "hawk" certain frequencies just to give some newbie their first slow-speed CW QSO. Some who could happily converse at 40+ will troll the "Elmer" frequencies calling CQ at 10wpm to help out a newbie who may be timid about calling CQ, but would answer someone who sounds as slow as they feel.
This is totally doable.
Edit: and very satisfying when solar or geomagnetic activity have put the voice bands in the toilet. It really doesn't take much to get a simple carrier moving around.