I type 45 words a minute. How do I get faster?
February 14, 2018 8:13 PM   Subscribe

I type with about 6 fingers, and only need to glance at the keyboard. At 45 words per minute I've been able to do better than just get by. But I have a dissertation to write and I'd like to be more "fluent". Plus, I've been doing it the wrong way for over 50 years, have hand and wrist pain, and I'm tired of not having the skill. Was this you? Did you learn to touch-type after many years of not being able to, but being reasonably fast anyway? How did you do it?

I'm really tired of not-touch-typing. Trouble is, when I start touch-typing lessons I type so much slower that I give up and just go back to my old ways. I read this AskMe and Mavis Beacon was recommended. But that was a while ago. Currently Typesy gets great reviews. Did you conquer bad typing? Did you use software/online app? Which program? How long did it take you to break bad habits and become an awesome touch-typist?
posted by angiep to Education (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What helped me conquer my six-finger typing was trying one of those split keyboards—specifically the Microsoft Sculpt—to see if it would help my wrists, which ached all day. I'd always thought they were ridiculous, but it turns out it did help.

As an added benefit, it also forced me to use those extra fingers I'd been dragging uselessly around the keyboard all those years, since I couldn't just shoot my left hand over to the right side of the keyboard any more. After a week or so, maybe a little longer, they snapped into action, and now my typing looks basically normal, even when I'm back on my laptop keyboard.

I don't think I ever would have had the attention span or the patience to sit through lessons, but for me, at least, they weren't necessary.
posted by Polycarp at 8:24 PM on February 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mine was 19 words per minute before I learned to touch type (at 21 - young, but not that young; I definitely had bad ingrained habits), and went up to 30 wpm in 3 months, and 80 wpm in one year. Now, after many years of touch typing, my max wpm is about 100ish. Exponential growth, but a slow learning curve to start with. Note that I did not even bother learning to touch type any of the symbols or numbers (have to look at the keyboard for this), and I am still pretty fast. Close enough is good enough.

I used a typing game which really helped kick start my process. More than anything, I touch typed EVERYTHING, however slow I was typing. It broke all my bad habits.
posted by moiraine at 8:46 PM on February 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't do anything correctly in terms of hand position but I type accurately at 80wpm with less accurate bursts to 110wpm. The biggest hurdle to get over is to break yourself of looking at the keyboard even for a second and learning how to use your editing software to make quick changes using hotkeys instead of the mouse. I also use a ton of personalized shortcuts when I write in a text editor that get autocorrected.

I basically learned how to touch type by chatting on IRC a ton in the 90s and being forced to use vi as a text editor. With fast paced conversation I didn't want to look dumb by typing more slowly than everyone else, so I made an effort. And I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but it was "cool" in my circle to have no letters visible on your keyboard, so in order to fit in I assumed that ridiculous affectation. You can actually buy touch type skins for this very purpose, but idk how easy they are to find. Another option is to get a mechanical KB and swap out for blank keycaps.
posted by xyzzy at 8:57 PM on February 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

You do type slower while learning to touch-type, but it's worth it and it only takes 1-2wks to pass your previous speed.
posted by rhizome at 9:00 PM on February 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

You could start with a cheat sheet to learn which fingers are the most efficient to use. Post a keyboard diagram on the wall behind your computer and when you get lost, glance up at that instead of down at your hands. What made the difference for me between being frustrated with typing tutor programs and really improving was AIM conversations at night (RIP 2002). The keyboard was dark and communicating quickly gave me huge incentive to type without focusing so much on the typing itself. Maybe try to use typing for whatever kind of correspondence you do, instead of e.g. texting with thumbs. I still use the wrong fingers for the x c v keys and those are my most frequent typos at a comfortable speed of 80-100 wpm. It's worth it to use the "right" fingers because if there's a fixed pattern, you can stick to it without looking.

I agree with the split keyboard suggestion. Check your ergonomics generally. Take breaks. Stretch your hands and arms and back and neck.

Playing piano also helped, as might any other hobby or skill that involves individual finger dexterity.

MeMail me if you want to talk more about your specific setup. I do workplace ergonomic evaluations and have had typing-related RSI, and take discomfort seriously!

Good luck! Typing fast is nice.
posted by a moisturizing whip at 9:17 PM on February 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I learned touch typing and then I went to school with a teacher who made us type backwards.

I was doing 80 wpm with no mistakes after that. On an IBM seletric.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:33 PM on February 14, 2018

I was lucky enough to learn at school so never had to unlearn bad habits, but in case it helps, the most useful thing I remember when I learned was when the teacher had us tape a sheet of paper along the top of the keyboard, covering our hands, so that we couldn't be tempted look down at them and were forced to do it from memory. This was on manual typewriters, which are a slightly better shape for that, but if you can rig up something similar, it's super-useful.
posted by penguin pie at 4:18 AM on February 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I finally forced myself to learn touch typing two years ago. I used keybr.com and also printed out a diagram and stuck it below my monitor. It was frustrating and slow at first, but I was back to speed and comfort after around three weeks. As you mentioned, resisting the urge to switch back is the hardest part - I tried to time my learining during a "slow period" at work so that I could focus on it with relatively low stress. I did switch back one or twice for an emergency but otherwise the relative calmness was helpful.

This might not be as relevant if you are focused on writing large blocks of text (I'm a programmer so my typing tends to be in short bursts with some jumping around in between), but another tip that helped me was avoiding arrow keys, mouse movement, or anything that took my fingers off the home row. A frustrating part of learning for me was having to "reset" and make sure my fingers were placed properly before looking away, so I sought to avoid taking my fingers off for any reason. Remapping your caps lock key to be a second Ctrl key is a good start, since caps lock is in a much better position to be pressed from the home row with your pinky. From there it's muscle memorization of keyboard shortcuts and avoiding the mouse. Getting comfortable with emacs-style text navigation shortcuts, which keep you close to the home row (e.g. Ctrl B/F for back/forwards, Ctrl A/E for home and end, Ctrl N/P for next/prev line), was essential for a general speed up. (Those shortcuts work for most programs on a Mac and can be set up to work in Linux. Don't know about Windows though).

Good luck!
posted by mustardayonnaise at 5:52 AM on February 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Dude. You don't even know. When I learned it was on a typewriter, and you had to look at the typing book, not at the page you were typing. If the teacher caught you looking back and forth, you got docked points. You learned or you flunked.

You could try it the old way. Get an old manual typewriter and some paper and practice for 30 minutes a day copying pages without looking at your hands or at the paper you're typing. Then when you get back to screens and can see your words as you type them, it will seem blissfully easy. And after you've learned, you can toss your old typewriter off a building if you haven't grown to love it.

I know somebody who successfully quit drinking but gets very angry if you suggest he might want to stop two-finger typing like an orangutan and learn the home keys. Quitting craptyping is hard.
posted by Don Pepino at 5:56 AM on February 15, 2018

I was pretty fast on four fingers (two on each hand) for about 25 years and one day I got sick of it and decided to learn to touch type. You just have to accept that for two weeks you're gonna type much more slowly but once you get used to it it will be the best thing you ever did.

Now I touch type, I don't ever have to look at the keyboard, and I'm much faster than i ever was.

I think I just googled "typing tutor" and used whatever free one I found. It really didn't take long until I was up to speed.
posted by bondcliff at 6:46 AM on February 15, 2018

Get an old manual typewriter
Sweet lord NO. Typing on a manual is actual work, and will lead to goofy habits on the softer-touch computer keyboards we all use know. (Also, I'm pretty sure this means Don Pepino is older than I am, because I learned in high school on a Selectric, not a manual. IBM REPRESENT.)

There are LOTS of great typing programs out there for Windows, for Macs, and even online. Just fine one you like and stick to it.
posted by uberchet at 7:30 AM on February 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

No, you're right, I hunted and pecked on my mom's manual (it is in Hannah Arendt! I shrieked when I saw it) but I learned to touch type on a Selectric. I can't imagine the horrors high school typing teachers must have suffered before they came out. The din!

The cool thing about a manual is that the slowness isn't on YOU; you can't go fast when you're a beginner because it takes all the muscles in your arm to even get the keys to move, plus if you try for speed that you don't have the neurons for, yet, the keys all snag together and you have to stop and pick them apart. It enforces patience, and it's like the difference between walking and running, or trotting and galloping on a horse. It will make you learn at learning pace and will stodgily inhibit your urge to speed up to your two-finger speed and make ninety errors a second plus not learn to touch type.

Plus! If you go to visit your grandmother when she's recovering in the medical wing of her retirement community and take your old typewriter with you so you can work on your NaNoWriMo, your grandmother will become the most popular woman in the place because the homey sound none of them have heard for 30 years will bring everyone in the place over the age of 50 or 60 to her room to find out who's using the typewriter and beam and exclaim happily when the person turns out to be under the age of 109.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:52 AM on February 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I used keybr.com (linked above) when I switched from QWERTY to a different layout. I don't think you necessarily have to switch layouts on yourself, but the nice thing about it was that looking at the keys didn't help. For me there was a stretch in the transition where my speed and accuracy went down, instead of up, and it was very frustrating. The best thing for that was to limit the amount of time I did exercises on any given day, but to make sure I did exercises every day. Eventually I got over the hump and got faster again.

NB my mom insisted I take a typing class in high school and I got up to 65 WPM in one semester (a class called "personal typing," mostly used as the not-driver's-education semester for sophomores, and I think I was one of about three people who actually learned to touch type that semester. "Personal typing" was distinct from the year-long "typing" class that was a vestige of earlier decades and basically trained future secretaries). I have never maintained that speed since. I'm basically around 52-55 WPM on any given day now, and I write software for a living.
posted by fedward at 8:22 AM on February 15, 2018

My high school typing classroom had 35 Selectrics in it. The teacher had a flag she'd wave when she wanted to talk, because with them all on she couldn't be heard.
Plus! If you go to visit your grandmother...
Well, can't argue with that.
posted by uberchet at 8:33 AM on February 15, 2018

Thanks, everyone. I appreciate all the input and it's nice to know that it gets better fairly quickly. This weekend is a long weekend where I live. Friday after work I'll start my new skill. I've got a lot of typing to do over the weekend, but my only critic will be me. By the time I head back to work on Tuesday, I hope the worst of the pain will be over.
posted by angiep at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2018

I would recommend against going cold turkey. Learning a new technique takes time, and attempting to accelerate that by essentially forcing yourself to practice the new technique for hours every day while also trying to make progress on your other work is a recipe for frustration.

Instead, I would set aside a few minutes every day to practice touch typing. Say at least 15 minutes but definitely less than an hour--there are diminishing returns to practice as you get bored or tired. Use whichever of the resources recommended above you like best. During that practice time you should be entirely focused on relearning to type the right way from scratch.

Then during your regular day just concentrate on your work and don't worry about how you're typing.

Your touch typing will make progress this way--typing the "old" way during the day won't interfere with learning the "new" way. Eventually your touch typing will be good enough that you will switch over. It may even happen without your really noticing it.

It's true that learning to touch type shouldn't take a terribly long time--I'd guess weeks rather than months--but people vary, and I think it's better to give yourself the time you need and not set artificial deadlines.
posted by floppyroofing at 11:39 AM on February 15, 2018

My husband has an injured little finger, believe it or not from an injury in Vietnam, and doesn't type well. He went to culinary school, and was forever asking me to type up his stuff. I got him Dragon voice typing software and we solved the problem.
posted by chocolatetiara at 12:05 PM on February 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

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