touchtyping for fun and profit
December 5, 2012 12:37 AM   Subscribe

I've tried a number of times to learn to touch type properly - usually about this time of year - but it never 'sticks'. I'm mid 30's, and it's really starting to bug me.

I currently use what a friend has dubbed the 'psychic' method; it's hunt and peck without looking at the keyboard. I'm strongly left handed, so it's primarily four finger typing; my two middle fingers (being the longest!), and pinkies for shift/enter. My left hand roams about the keyboard doing most of the work; anything up to 80% of the keyboard gets covered by one finger, and I rely on many years of experience to shift between letters without needing to look down. I only tend to do so to 'reset' my position if I get lost, maybe once a sentence or so.

The problem is this method is quite effective for me, at around 60 AWPM with a 99%+ accuracy, bursting up to 80 AWPM - going down to touch typing drags me down to 30 WPM with a 95% accuracy, or 40 WPM with an 80% accuracy. I automatically try to speed up, then make a mistake and it all comes tumbling down in a shower of faults, and I reset and try again.

It just feels so restrictive and slow; like my hands are in a vice, and I cramp up something awful, and it takes a good 10 minutes to warm up; which isn't great, as quite a lot of what I do is lots of small commands with symbols, rather than big blocks of text (though I do that too, with emails, the web etc) - I'm a sysadmin in my day job, and do a lot on the computer at home for pleasure.

I've previously tried both dvorak and colemak layouts, but neither helped appreciably while also ending up conflicting with my previous muscle memory of standard qwerty, and of course a pain when I try to use someone else's computer (which I still have to do regularly when investigating faults at work)

So I usually try to force myself into touch typing for a couple of weeks, but I use my keyboard so heavily for work and pleasure I find I creep back to my old familiar method just to get my old speed and comfy method back.

I know that if I learn to touchtype and make it 'stick' I'll be able to get my typing speed up to 100-120 AWPM; it's just so painful getting there that I've always failed in the past.

I currently have copies of typing master pro and mavis beacon on my windows pc; I'm also trying out typist and type fu on my mac (I use both OSes at home and work).

So has anybody else managed to get past this bottleneck of repeated failures? Or is the answer really to just try (again) to stick to it for a month with daily training and try and live with the reduced speed?

Note, I did switch to mechanical keyboards a bit over a year ago; filco cherry brown at home, cherry blue at work. I love them to bits, but I still tend to pound the keys far too hard with my psychic method as I'm not touch typing and have spent way too many years on crappy membrane boards.
posted by ArkhanJG to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, I should also point out I'm british, and use a british standard PC keyboard layout for all systems - so typing programs without british spelling options/layout are a bit of a pain, as though UK and US are fairly similar, there are quite a few subtle differences.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:41 AM on December 5, 2012

You can do about 80 WPM? That's pretty good. I'm a pretty fast touch typer and my speed is about 80 WPM. I frankly don't think 100-120 is realistic, and not worth worrying about unless you have plans to become a court reporter or transcriptionist or something.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, you know?

FWIW I learned to proper hand positioning from this rad little robot racing game for the Apple ][e back in about 1989. Someone could have cloned it, I guess? You have to type the words faster than the robot can scoot across a screen, or something? I learned touch typing itself from transcribing high school newspaper articles I'd write in a notebook then copy into Microsoft Word. It took years and years to get really fast, and was mostly facilitated by writing.
posted by Sara C. at 12:44 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

60wpm is quite impressive, even for an average "touch" typist.

One thing you can try is to improve one key at a time. You could start with Q, and work your way through W, E, R, T, Y, etc. So starting NOW, when you type the letter q, you MUST type it with your left-hand pinkie; then later, lets say in a week you'll add another rule that says you must always type W with your ring finger. Repeat for all remaining keys on the keyboard.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 12:46 AM on December 5, 2012

Response by poster: Yeah, I'm one of the fastest typists I know, despite my method being classically horrible - I can keep up with my wife who's a proper typist and does a lot of typing as a teacher (I may even be slightly faster) - though several of the admin staff at work who do nothing but answer the phone and type all day (usually both at the same time) can beat me handily. But I do use my keyboard an awful lot, so I'm hoping my current speed may be translatable to a higher wpm with touch typing - if I can ever get past the learning phase.

Sometimes I get the 'flow' feeling - where I'm not conciously thinking about what I'm doing, and my hands type by themselves as I read, but it only lasts for a word or two, and then it breaks down.

I just wish I'd learned to touchtype as a child.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:49 AM on December 5, 2012

Would this, or something similar, help you?
Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing

I think it will be harder to learn to touch type now but if you can stand going back to basics and being slow until you can pick up speed as a touch typer, then I don't see why not.
posted by mkdirusername at 1:06 AM on December 5, 2012

Why not try teaching yourself to touch type using your current keyboarding technique? I touch type at a fair old clip over here, but if you watched my hands, they are not doing what they were trained to do when I took typing classes lo these many years ago.

(FWIW, my functional keyboard mid-line is TFGV on my UK keyboard.)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:07 AM on December 5, 2012

Typesmart seems to approach teaching differently compared to the usual MB type programs.
posted by Sophont at 1:18 AM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: I was your age about 20 years ago when I taught myself how to touch-type. It took about 6 months of dedicated practice using some simple typing software (practiced an hour or so a day). I got up to 65 WPM over those 6 months and that's about the rate I still type at.

Occasionally I will take on some races at to hone the skill, but it's not really necessary.

Just like you, I had tried to learn it several times and usually gave up. But then I did it and it's one of the most valuable skills I've learned. You just have to put the time in, there are no short cuts.
posted by rmmcclay at 1:35 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I used to do the "dominant hand roams around the keyboard" thing. What helped for me was getting a split keyboard (I'm using a Microsoft Natural Keyboard) that forces each hand to stay in its own half.
posted by siskin at 1:45 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am an extremely fast "psychic" typist and have always been faster and more accurate than the vast majority of my touch typing peers. My friend, on the other hand, had to first learn numerous shortcuts for writing things up in latex notation and later how to use a Japanese style of keyboard to type in both Japanese and English. He re-taught himself how to touch type around that time, I believe. Apparently, it took him about half a year, during which he was still learning the language. He's now a very speedy and efficient typist on numerous boards with different alphabets and everything, but for a long time it was a slog to IM with him, let's just leave it at that.

Moral of the story: You need much more sticktoitiveness than you are currently exhibiting, since your habits are so ingrained and you are so constantly typing. But it can be done, and it might give you expanded flexibility to adjust, say, when somebody you need to assist for work is using an atypical keyboard.
posted by Mizu at 2:10 AM on December 5, 2012

I finally shaped up when I learned the text editor Vim via its tutorial for mac.
posted by victory_laser at 2:50 AM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that despite a computer science degree and a fulltime job as a developer, I am also a "psychic" typist, though I average around 80WPM. Is there anything actually wrong with it?

I've been advised that it's easier to learn Dvorak and touch typing at the same time.
posted by katrielalex at 3:12 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a sysadmin in my day job, and do a lot on the computer at home for pleasure.

Since you are a sysadmin I would guess that the rules which constitute "good, efficient work" will be somewhat different from those of the general population. If you are typing code, for example then there is a high premium in not making any mistakes - and you are going to be using a whole bunch of characters that most typists seldom have to reach for. Finally there is little point in learning to type faster than you can accurately compose (and I suspect that the sort of jobs where there is a premium in being able to type super-fast, such as audio typist, are not those you are after).

Having said this - I like - but there are masses of others.
posted by rongorongo at 3:30 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Moral of the story: You need much more sticktoitiveness than you are currently exhibiting, since your habits are so ingrained and you are so constantly typing. That's what I was afraid of... 6 months is a long time to have crappy typing in my line of work. Sounds fairly unavoidable though.

Supplementary question for you touch typists; do you use the wrist rest, or 'hover'? My current method obviously doesn't rest my hand on the board at all, except when gaming with the numpad (leftie mouser too!).

As a result, I use my upper arm and shoulder muscles to move my hands into position; given I'm pretty much typing with one finger per hand, I use very little wrist or finger movement, which means that I don't get RSI (I use the same technique when mousing).

I think finger and wrist strain after about half hour of touch typing is part of my problem, so maybe I'll give dvorak another go.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:34 AM on December 5, 2012

I hover - but I learned on a manual, feet on the floor method with blind caps.

Does frogpad make a UK kit?
posted by tilde at 5:04 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You may be stuck with your method, in that your muscles have memory and it's pretty hard to retrain them. Besides, you have a perfectly cromulent speed.

I learned touch-typing in school when I was 13, with daily drills for an hour a day. I started on a manual typewriter, progressed to an IBM Selectric and now use a regular computer keyboard for word processing. I'm a very fast typest (100-120 wpm) but I've had 37 years of practice.

Unless you plan on being a transcriptionist, why mess with something that's serving you well? Fast only counts if you're Kerouac.

To answer your question, I don't use a wrist rest, I have the curled hands that I was taught in high school. So I guess, hover.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:58 AM on December 5, 2012

If you can type 60 words per minute using a non-touch type method, and do so accurately, I'm not sure what the problem is?

In any event, when I wanted to teach myself touch typing, I did so by sitting down with Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and typed the first hundred pages.

I did this over the course of a month.

By the end of the month, I was a proficient touch typist.
posted by dfriedman at 6:09 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I switched from your method to touch typing one summer during college using Mavis Beacon. I don't think that you necessarily have to stop "psychic" typing in the meantime until your Mavis Beacon lessons are over. As I moved through the program, my technique in my real life outside of specific typing practice evolved, until by the end touch typing was faster and easier than my old method.

Granted, as others have said, you are very fast for a non-touchtyper. But I imagine that you will still see an improvement in speed. Also, the complete elimination of the need to ever even glance at the keyboard is really really nice.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:27 AM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: I taught myself the dvorak layout many years back. I was a more-or-less learned qwerty touch typist; I could look away from the keyboard, but it never really felt right. I think what really helped when I learned dvorak was printing out a small keyboard layout and taping it just below my monitor; since the keyboard itself wasn't any indication, there was no point in looking at it at all, and the picture helped keep my head up.

If you want to do it, you have to give yourself permission to suck for a while. You recognize that you would eventually be a much faster typist, but far more important, you'll spend less time at the keyboard. All it requires is a small investment of time.
posted by disconnect at 8:04 AM on December 5, 2012

I like the combined ideas above: use a split keyboard to copy existing text.
Use a split ergonomic keyboard, and that will prevent a lot of your roaming/drifting problems, and give you a physical feedback that "this is not normal, pay attention".
Take a work of literature and transcribe it. Transcription is good because you're not typing your thoughts - there's a page you have to look at. Use a book-stand or some way to set the page closer to your monitor than to your hands. Also, if you try to train yourself during the course of your regular work, you've got two conflicting goals: getting the job done quickly, and typing with the correct fingers. With a task that has no purpose, you may be able to squash down the "let's get this over with" instinct.
Another option is to cover the keys. There's nothing to look at, so why are you looking at your hands? Of course, I type "psychic method" (thank you for calling it that - it's awesome!) and I think I look at my hands to remind myself where they are relative to the keys, more than to see which key is which. In wanting to improve my typing, I've frequently considered a blank keyboard but never tried it.
posted by aimedwander at 8:14 AM on December 5, 2012

I used Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor. It definitey has British spellings. If you decide to try it, I suggest that you go for accuracy only and pay no attention to speed. You'll be less stressed, and your speed will increase naturally. If you try to type fast, you'll make mistakes -- that'll interfere with the development of 'muscle memory,' if such a thing really exists. Force yourself to keep your hands and fingers relaxed, and it'll become your normal way quite quickly.
posted by wryly at 9:37 AM on December 5, 2012

I don't put a lot of store in formal systems of typing. I type quick and I do sort-of use the standard touch system I was taught. Except when I don't. I actually did something "weird" and took a touch typing class in college, when I was in an IT program (kids, can you imagine, typing wasn't considered useful to a programmer!)

However, what really made me learn to type fast without paying attention to the keys, was chatting on IRC. You need to keep up in order to have a conversation, so you're motivated, consantly.
posted by Goofyy at 10:44 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To answer why I want to to learn to touch type;

1) 60 wpm isn't fast enough. I regularly find myself composing faster than I can type it. After 20 years of two finger typing, I'm not going to get any faster that way. And the older I get, the more emails and reports I have to write, and chafe at my limits. Touch typing is the only way to go faster (eventually)

2) my wpm drops quite a bit when coding - I haven't memorised the symbol keys as well, and the constant looking up and down siows me right down, as well as making me lose my place. I'll always be slower with symbols of course, but I should at least be able to avoid looking down.

3) This is a slightly silly reason, but I've been a geek for over 20 years, and I can't touch type; its rather vain, but I feel stupid because I still can't do it. I'm not a proper geek.

4) I've also been on a bit of a self improvement kick the last couple of years; getting better at handwriting, painting, learning to code properly again have all been going fairly well - but then I don't have to go backwards and get worse first.

I tried dvorak, and it took all of 10 minutes to remember why I hate it - moving the ctl-c keys etc isn't going to work for me. So currently trying colemak again, typed this post using it. Very, very slow, but definitely more comfy than qwerty. Will need much more practice before I can consider going cold turkey though...
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:19 PM on December 5, 2012

Seriously: Get a typing book, and do the prescribed exercises. It's to get used to what finger goes where, and exactly how your hand makes the move. So you type ftftftft and hyhy a bunch, and then you graduate to fv and jn. etc etc etc. It's a system of learning, and it works, but you got to do it.

Quit dicking around with keyboard layouts, that's only making your problem worse. The world is qwerty. Train on something else and you're setting yourself up to be unable to type on the majority of keyboards, and you'll be whinging about it forever.
posted by Goofyy at 9:55 PM on December 5, 2012

Best answer: I learned to touch type when I was unemployed: it was an achievement for me. Give yourself a target and a reward, because I never knew my knuckles could hurt like that.
posted by unless I'm very much mistaken at 1:57 PM on December 6, 2012

Response by poster: Just thought I'd post a quick follow-up. Been working hard on the practise, at least half hour a day, usually an hour. So far I'm up to about 30 awpm, going up to 40 when I get in the groove.
Stuck with learning colemak for two reasons:

1 - having it as an alternative layout forces me to touch type, I can't fall back to two finger typing or I just end up typing gibberish. Also stops me from cheating and looking down!

2 - I'm getting a lot less hand and finger cramp with the more efficient layout - much less pain than typing qwerty. Which given the random qwerty layout is only the standard layout by accident makes sense.

I've now switched my main computer at home over to colemak as default to force me to use it all the time, and hopefully get faster over time. Don't need the keyboard printout any more, but I do still have some muscle memory for touch qwerty which slows me down a bit. Especially capital E and the letters i and g for some reason. Having caps as backspace is damn useful while learning!

Will likely switch my work computer over sometime soon in the new year.

It doesn't seem to have affected my two finger typing on qwerty at all, so I can fall back to that which is good enough when I'm on my missus laptop etc.

Thanks to those that said it will take a good long time to get good. I think I was drastically underestimating how long it takes, and giving up way too easily when I got frustrated and cramped up. Now I have the resolve to see it through, I hope! Tis rather fun! Did take me 20 plus years to get to where I am now with qwerty, so it's no surprise it will take lots of tlme and practise; think I've finally grasped that.

Type-fu is definitely the business though, especially as it has a colemak mode. Has helped a lot, especially the free chrome version that works anywhere.

this message touch typed in colemak.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:03 AM on December 29, 2012

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