Changing How I Write…By Changing How I Type

On December 7, 2014, I typed the last word on my sixth full-length original manuscript. And with it, I typed my last word as untrained, hunt-and-peck typist.

That’s right. I’m a thirty-something published author with a graduate degree and an internet addiction, and up until two months ago, I typed like a complete and total idiot. Two fingers, pinkies for the shift keys only, and one thumb for the space bar. I typed millions of words like this.

You see, I grew up during a strange period in time, typing-education-wise. Personal computers were only just becoming common when I was in high school, but typewriters were pretty much a thing of the past. While my younger brother learned to type in a mandatory course he took in middle school, my sole opportunity to formally learn was in high school, and I was strongly encouraged not to take the elective ‘keyboarding’ course, because it would mess up my weighted average.

Because. You know. Learning actual life skills in high school when you could be cramming in another AP course would just be silly.

And credit where credit is due—I typed pretty decently, considering I typed so poorly. I could touch-type, barely glancing at the screen as I went, and when I timed myself, I was managing about sixty words per minute. I also sounded “like a machine gun firing” if you asked my husband, and I made insane numbers of errors I had to go back and clean up later. I skipped words, because my fingers couldn’t keep up with my brain. And at the end of a really long day, my knuckles ached.

So, staring down what I hope will be another thirty years of full-time writing and maybe another sixty novels, I decided it was finally time to bite the bullet and learn how to type.

Two problems: One, I was in the middle of a multi-book contract, so I needed to learn fast. Two, I knew how to type just well enough that it was going to be incredibly difficult to stick with typing properly and not revert to my old ways.

And so not only did I end up learning how to type all over again, I ended up deciding to learn how to type using an entirely different keyboard layout.

You see, the arrangement of the keys on a standard keyboard—known as QWERTY, for the letters that make up the top left row—isn’t the only arrangement out there. Many argue that QWERTY is actually an incredibly inefficient way to lay out the keys. Commonly used letters are relegated to the outskirts of the keyboard in hard to reach places, while uncommon ones like J and K end up right on the home row. Silly, right?

So in 1936, a man by the name of Dr. August Dvorak actually did some studies into how people type and how the English language works, and in partnership with his brother-in-law, he designed a keyboard layout that was optimized for faster, lower-strain typing. He placed all of the vowels on the home row under the left hand, and the most commonly used consonants in the home row under the right hand. His end result was something that looked like this:

dvorakCrazy, huh?

It never took off, because QWERTY was already entrenched as the industry standard, but it has developed a cult following over the years. My husband switched to Dvorak when he was in high school, and while he’s never been smug about it, he’s extolled its virtues more than once.

And so, after more than a decade of rolling my eyes at him, I figured why not give it a shot?

It’s been nearly eight weeks now since I started teaching myself this crazy technique, and there’s been one hell of a learning curve. The jury’s still out on whether or not it’s been worth it (I’ll check back in in another couple of months with an update about how it’s been going). But it’s been interesting going back to basics and changing how I do something so fundamental to my work. I wasn’t typing the way I was because it was the best way to type—I’d known from early on that it was one of the worst ways. It was just how I’d always done it. It was comfortable. Familiar. And dumb.

Makes me wonder what other things in my life I’ve been doing wrong all this time, and just how difficult it would be to try to change them…

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