On Learning to Touch Type

For the past two weeks I have been taking the time every day to learn to touch type.

I type a decent 36 words per minute today (sans touch typing), and I rarely look at the keyboard as is. So why make the effort to learn to touch type. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?

One thing was Clive Thompson’s talk on the importance of learning to type fast. I thought that I was a pretty decent typer until I took a typing speed test (here), and discovered that I was merely average. For someone who writes and spends most of my day working on my computer, “average” typing speed is just not good enough. I wanted to stop pausing my writing to scan my keyboard for the right key, and I wanted to stop having to go back and fix typing errors all the time.

The other thing was that my pride was a little hurt by the results of that test. If teenagers can learn to touch type in eight weeks (again, see Thompson’s video), then so can I. I had tried to learn to touch type in the past, but like many of my friends and colleagues I had quickly been discouraged.

So I searched online for a bit, and I found a few very useful, free resources that can help you learn to touch type:

Typing Club – this is the main site that I use. It is excellent, as it teaches you touch typing in small, manageable increments (I am now in lesson 22 for those interested).

Typing Study – another useful site that teaches touch typing in much larger chunks than Typing Club. It also has a speed test and games that help you practice your touch typing. I use it for extra drills, on top of what Typing Club provides.

Type Racer – a very popular touch typing racing game that helps you improve your typing speed.

Keybr.com – another popular touch typing teaching game. Gives you words with blanks in them and sets of keys to learn to touch type. Doesn’t teach by the conventional “home row first, then top row, the bottom row” method.

Typer Shark – here for nostalgia reasons only. A lot of people learned (or tried to learn) to touch type during this childhood using this game. It’s still here if you want to use it.

Typing speed test – another typing speed test site, one that doesn’t use capital letters and punctuation (I got 47 words with it, but it felt like cheating).

Typing tips on Reddit /r/MK wiki – a nice collection of useful typing tools and resources.

/r/BlurredFingers on reddit – a sub reddit devoted to fast typing.

What was really a revelation for me was that once you stick to it for a while, and practice, practice, practice, you notice that it isn’t that you are remembering where each key is, but rather that you are developing muscle memory to where every key is. It takes a few days of persisting, but once it starts happening it is quite stunning. Your mind is clearly no longer spending valuable “processor time” remembering where each key is, and you are free to focus on your writing and your writing only.

This post was touch typed, and took me a little longer to write at the moment, but was a valuable learning experience. We invest time, money and effort in things like finding the perfect notebook, pen or pencil, but hardly enough time in developing skills that are useful for the modern writer.

On Learning to Touch Type

Biweekly Routine

Routines and rituals are important, and one of the signs of a craftsperson is their care for the tools they use. This is true for any kind of maker, whether your craft is storytelling or leatherwork. Every two weeks I try to go through this routine, to make sure that the things that I use when I write are there and in order when I sit down to do my writing.

Clean keyboard

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Some computer keyboards harbour more harmful bacteria than a toilet seat, research has suggested. 

A BBC News report published the findings of a consumer group Which? on keyboard hygiene, and not surprisingly they were shocking.

Since your keyboard is one of your main, if not your main writing tool, taking 10-15 minutes every two weeks to clean it doesn’t seem excessive, yet few writers do so.

Here are the keyboard cleaning guides that I use:

PC World: How to Clean Your Keyboard – simple, informative, easy to follow advice on how to clean your keyboard.

Rispter Guide: Cleaning Keyboards – funny, and with plenty of pictures. Also, much more thorough than the PC world guide, and geared towards mechanical keyboard maintenance.

Check backups

You can read up here on how to backup your work. Once every two weeks go over your backups and check to see that everything is where you expect it to be.

Organize notes

Take a few minutes once every two weeks to go over your notes, file or throw away those that aren’t relevant anymore and make sure that you don’t have any loose notes scribbled on envelopes or post-it notes around the house.

Organize file names

If you for some reason work with Word and not with Scrivener (why?), and keep several versions of your work in different files, take a moment to make sure that your file names haven’t gotten out of hand, and you still know where everything is and what everything is. File names “My novel – old new new version 2” — I’m looking at you.

Check notebooks, pencils, pens

Check your notebooks, pencils, pens (fountain pens or not), to see what needs to be refilled soon, reinforced or replaced.

Update Scrivener project metadata

Take some time to fill in character names and short descriptions, places information, references etc. in your Scrivener project’s Characters, Places or Research folders. This information is important to keep on hand for long projects, and is especially useful to keep bundled together with your writing — mainly for search purposes (“where did I reference X character?”).

Biweekly Routine

“Type as quickly as you can, and always carry a pencil”

Clive Thompson in a fascinating, short (~10 min) talk about the benefits of writing with pencil  and typing, and when it’s best to use one or the other.

I used to write all my drafts longhand. Now I just quick draft, outline and try out things (i.e. “big thinking”) with a fountain pen or pencil, and type out my actual draft on my computer (using a “clicky” keyboard, which I highly recommend).

“Type as quickly as you can, and always carry a pencil”