Why you should practice typing during the pandemic

Reading time: Just over 3 minutes

If you want to become a faster writer, think about how you can practice typing during the pandemic. Agile fingers will help you better keep up with your brain…

I learned to type on a typesetting machine.

I’d wanted to learn in high school but my snooty convent school juxtaposed grade 9 Latin with grade 9 typing and there was no way my parents were going to let me take the less rigorous class. (In truth, Latin only bored me to tears. One day, I had the nerve to play cards in class with a friend of mine. The teacher caught us and shocked the entire room by grabbing the deck from us and throwing it out the window. Fifty-two card pick up on the pavement below!)

Confident that typing would be more useful to me than Latin, I decided to teach myself the former a few years later. My parents (although mainly their bank) owned a struggling weekly newspaper, and I would wander over to the office on weekends and start plunking away on the Compugraphic phototypesetting machine.

It was large and ugly with enormous brown keys, the size of gumdrops. I remember loving the tactile sensation — and the noise!— of pressing those keys deep into the board. In fact, I’ve often toyed with the idea of getting a mechanical keyboard because I so greatly value the sound and feeling of a weighty return. 

Eventually, I bought myself a typing book and started to do the inane exercises that would teach my fingers to fly across a QWERTY (the arrangement of letters on the row below the numbers) keyboard. Designed in 1868, this letter arrangement was set up to keep the most commonly-used letters far apart from each other so that typewriters wouldn’t jam under the hands of exceptionally fast typists.

Perhaps because I learned to type on what was essentially a computer — at least a decade before many people had their own PCs — I didn’t worry about accuracy. I didn’t need to. Correcting errors was as simple as backspacing. As a result, I became very fast, if very inaccurate. I currently type about 85 words per minute (wpm), riddled with errors. 

But the advantage of being a fast typist is that when I’m writing a column like this, my fingers can mostly keep up with my brain. Can you say the same? (If you want to figure out your speed, here’s a no-charge test.) 

Generally, a typing speed of 40 wpm is considered average. But if you want to get closer to your thinking speed, you’ll want to approach 75 wpm — the rate of an average professional typist. (And if that seems too daunting, remember that advanced typists can hit speeds of 120 wpm.) 

So why do I mention typing now? Well, it strikes me as the perfect mindless project to pursue during these pandemic-ridden times. 

You may not have the energy or mental capacity to do challenging reading right now, but what’s to stop you from spending 15 minutes a day on improving your typing? (And, if you have kids at home, hey, get them to do it, too. It’s a useful life skill that will pay off for them down the road. More useful than, say, learning the capital of Sri Lanka or the population of Iceland.) 

The faster anyone can type, the faster they will be able to write. In fact, watch a brief video by journalist and writer Clive Thompson (@pomeranian99). In it, he presents compelling evidence that typing is vastly superior to using a pen or pencil for writing. Here’s the link to his video titled, “How The Way You Write Changes the Way You Think. ” It takes only 10 minutes.

(For those who prefer to write by hand, let me note that he also advocates using Blackwing pencils for jobs like planning and mindmapping. The concept is: you plan your writing better with a pencil or pen; you actually write better at a keyboard.) 

So, here’s how to improve your typing:

  • Make a very small commitment (five to 15 minutes — set with a timer)
  • Practice daily at a certain specific time 
  • Have a trigger to remind you of this commitment (i.e.: after you put the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher; after you brush your teeth; after you make your bed)
  • Have a comfortable, ergonomically acceptable place to practice (your feet should be on the floor, your eyes should be able to look straight ahead, your arms should be at right angles. See image on this page.)
  • Find some free lessons on the internet. A client of mine highly recommends Ratatype.
  • Be calm and relaxed. You’re not trying for instantaneous improvement. You’re trying to get better a little each day
  • Measure and track your results over time. But don’t test yourself more than once a week. This is not an instant fix. It’s more of a long-term self-improvement project. Be kind to yourself.

But, with that kind of relaxed attitude, you could increase your typing speed by 100% or more in three months of regular practice. Wouldn’t that be something positive to get out of this wretched pandemic?

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My video podcast last week described how to improve your speaking skillsOr, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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How do you feel about your typing ability? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by April 20/20 will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!