You’re A Writer – So Why Can’t You Type

If you can type at 120 w.p.m. (word per minute) or more then you should feel pretty pleased with yourself. But the evidence suggests that your typing speed is actually much less than this.
How can this be? Surely as a writer you get more than enough practice? Yet most of us still tap away using two, three, maybe four fingers. We might just about manage one word per second (60 w.p.m.) on a good day. But then we have to stop every couple of words to fix the mistakes. Taking that into account, most of us are probably lumbering along in the 40 – 50 w.p.m. range.
You might argue that this is as fast as your brain goes anyway, so your typing speed comfortably matches your thinking speed. That’s a fair point. But even so, having to stop and correct your mistakes all the time must surely slow you down and hinder your train of thought. Eliminating those mistakes, even without increasing your speed, would boost your productivity. And think about this: you probably speak at least three times faster than you can type. Your brain would have no trouble keeping up if you learned to type a little faster.
At a recent writing conference I ran a typing test and offered a bottle of champagne to whoever was fastest. Of around 450 attendees (i.e. writers) only 12 were willing to take part. Everyone else smiled and shrugged as they passed by and said, “Sorry, I can’t type.”
The average speed of those who took part was 67 w.p.m. – about the same as I can manage with five or six fingers. (Yes, I’m guilty too.) The winner managed 86 w.p.m. – respectable, but nothing to write home about. Typing, it seems, is a rare skill indeed amongst writers.
The thing is, I used to be able to type pretty well. 100 w.p.m. with complete accuracy, without looking at the screen or keyboard. Colleagues used to hang around my desk just to watch. Yet this amazing skill didn’t take a lot of learning. Maybe ten minutes a day for around three weeks, using widely available training software (I used “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” but there are other good ones on the market).
It felt awkward at first, forcing my hands and fingers into strange positions. And I found it strange that I could only press certain keys with certain fingers, rather than any key with any finger. But once I got into the habit, I instinctively knew where each key was and the correct finger reached for it automatically. Once you reach that stage you’ll experience a massive leap in your typing speed, and you’ll rarely make any mistakes.
In fact I found that the few mistakes I made were with words that sounded the same (“their” or “there” for example) so I was obviously hearing the words in my head and typing them as they sounded, without any conscious effort. Most of the time it worked perfectly.
And then … somehow … I lapsed back into my old ways. I dropped back down to six fingers instead of ten. I started pressing any key with any finger. I started making mistakes. I had to stop and think about how to spell each word as I typed it. And my typing speed plummeted from over 100 w.p.m. back down to 60 or so. My typing was slowing me down once more, holding me back, making me less productive.
At least I can still remember where all the keys are – which is why my typing speed is in the 60s not the 40s. But I make mistakes now that I never did when I could touch-type.
I know my typing is poor. I’ve experienced the joy of typing well and I would love to experience it again. And I could (and should) do something about it – Mavis Beacon is only a mouse click away, and she’s fun to use. I could easily retrain myself and be back up to 100 w.p.m. and error-free in a couple of weeks. I’d be able to get so much more done in a day.
And yet I don’t do anything about it. Why won’t I make the effort when it’s hardly any effort at all? And why won’t anyone else? I wish I knew.
Let’s all resolve to become better typists!

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