Why you need to learn typing

I have given this lecture quite a few times already. Many times before I had written Keys, my application which aims to teach you typing. But it’s so important, so bear with me. I mean I even wrote this whole typing application to help people achieve better typing. Some background on your author: I learned typing when I was 36, and I can manage!

Most people I deal with fall into one of two categories: they (a) know to type already. Fine. But then there is (b), those who don’t type with ten fingers, but are “really fast and it is almost without looking”. No really! Quite fast. I hear you. You still need to learn to type.

There is something that makes people ignore the fact that they can’t type and that also at the same time makes them believe that it was OK. It probably has to do to with an innate instict to forgive oneself, and that is probably great and a blessing. It probably servers mankind very well in many undertakings, and in survival in general. But here you need to realize that you should do something about your skills needed for everyday work.

There is a difference between typing quite fast and touch typing, and it’s hard to overestimate it. How do I know? I was in that group in denial myself, until only four years ago.

This is the thing: it is not a small gradual difference between proper typing and “really fast typing with many, but not all fingers” and then constantly backspacing to where you made that mistake, so that in the end you write everything twice. Here is the structure of what happens while writing:

  • Ideas are very shy creatures. Once you have an idea or an inspiration you need to act really quickly and grab some of it, or it will be lost forever. Maybe it is not lost forever, because you might remember it the next day. But it comes only to a weaker, fainter live the next day when you remember it. It will only be a memory of an idea. So you need to grab it right away. And “grabbing” here means “writing” in the majority of cases, maybe sometimes sketching or speaking to someone, but in most cases it is writing.

  • Then you start writing and the idea already starts to fade. When you are young and stupid and totally consumed by your own ideas, you sometimes think it is the best to first dwell on the idea a while. Have a coffee! Or maybe, smoke a cigarette! Such a divine idea! The result is, in most cases, that you let the idea dwindle and die down. It loses its energy and life. It is not that you immediately forget about it. It is rather that you don’t think it is a good idea any longer. But that assessment of your ideas is not accurate either, it is rather that the feeling of novelty has worn off. Conclusion: speed is important. Act fast on your idea, but conserve energy. Famous writers and scientistics are known to have stopped somewhere in the supermarket or on a busy crossroads, and started to take notes. And that for this same reason.

  • So the problem with ideas and any kind of inspiration is that it is so fleeting. Even writing a sentence wrong the first time makes you wonder wether the other sentences you had in your head, and which you wanted to put down afterwards, are actually any good. And what were they exactly, anyway…? It is vital to write them down before you stop believing in or feeling them. A few moments later already, doubts will arise. You don’t see the immediate greatness of your idea any longer, but rather all the negatives. Is it even worth it? Ah, probably not…

  • Of course when that happens, you don’t know wether the ideas was any good, or if the doubts were justified. Or which mixture of both was true, because maybe, just maybe it wasn’t a black and white case either. You can’t know when the idea arrives, because the moment of inspiration clouds the judgement. And then you have doubts, in a kind of “technical reaction” or backlash which is as deceptive. But the only way to find out is to put it down in some shape or form, and look at it later. It can take the form of a small sketch, or a note in a notebook, but in many cases it is probably a small text (e.g. in a note-taking application like Notational Velocity).

  • And then you need to type. Fast.

  • One day, or two days after you have written down your thoughts you can come back to them. It can be really easy then to throw them away, because you can clearly see what the realy problems are. But sometimes you look again and can see that something there is about right. You start to revise and edit. And possibly add more. And maybe make a plan. But the start is there.

  • If you had not put down the ideas the first time, you would not get out the share of good ones. You would not have any material to start from, and to destill. Maybe you put down some frivolous idea and it turns out to be the start of a novel, or some overdue personal letter to someone significant.

  • The better you know to type, the less resistance you will feel towards writing. There is less pain associated with writing down more often and having more false positives, because there will also be more gems. You can start to be more picky.

  • A similar boost is at work for comments in online forums, or blog posts, refactorings of code, starting short stories, starting your movie script, or the novel you have in your had since years. (And maybe even tweeting becomes less of a hurdle, even though I would argue that the 140 character limitation is another ways to deal with the resistance towards starting to write: you just know it is over quite soon, too.)

So the conclusion is this: of that what you write, probably a majority is bad. You need a lot to select and filter from, and the faster you write, the more of your ideas you can review and the more possibly make the cut. The more you can write before your ideas get tired, the more you can collect your thoughts and put them to good use later. And I think the world needs your ideas, so learn to type. So grab some typing trainer software and get this project started.

Keys App Icon

Announcing Keys.app for Mac

Today I’m happy to announce Keys, a Mac application that I’ve created that helps you to learn touch typing properly. It is in the App Store now (link) since a couple of days. Most of the people I’ve showed it to were quite enthusiastic about it, which was really gratifying after so much work that went into it.

What is it?

Keys is a typing trainer app for the Mac. A no-nonsense, clean Mac program to help you learn typing with all fingers, and do that fast and without making many mistakes.

Why (re-)learn typing?

Touch typing means you type each key with one specific finger, and you don’t look at the keyboard while doing it. That sounds like not much, but it makes a huge difference to the ad-hoc system that many people use. Most people who don’t do real touch typing have a number of excuses and employ similar reasoning why they don’t need to or should not learn it any more. Usually they say they had a way to type that is very fast and they don’t look (much) anyway. It is quite understandable. You wouldn’t hesitate to learn this skill unless you thought you didn’t need to. I know this from first hand experience, since I learned to type only when I was working as a professional programmer for several years. But I can tell you that the difference is huge. You don’t need to take it from me, you can just read the blog post by blogger extraordinaire and Googler Steve Yegge, who ultimately conviced me with this (hilarious, lengthy) post. (It is as convincing by the argument it presents, as it is by it’s sheer length, which leaves you wondering about Steve’s typing speed.)

The main difference is that you never need to think about which finger to use to type a certain key. There are rules! Otherwise you wonder which way to divide up the keyboard, sometime use this and other times that finger. With touch typing no longer! So it sinks in to lower layers of the brain and becomes semi-automatic. That is the beauty of it. This effect makes it easier to remain in the flow, write down that email that you just formulated under the shower, or rip through the refactoring that goes through a number of files. Proper typing helps you hold that thought in you mind for long enough, until it is put down.

How does it work?

Keys introduces the keys of the keyboard in small steps or lessons, each time covering more of the keyboard. You type the text presented in the lessons and try to make as few mistakes as possible. That’s all there is to it. Over time you develop the ability to type certain keys and words without consciously thinking about it. Writing becomes less and less straining, when you don’t need to think about which finger to move and where to move it. Until your reach that goal you need some practice, and that is what the program offers. It shows you where a finger should usually rest, and how to move it from there to the right key, and it gives you lessons for training.

After a while practicing regularly, you probably want to know how you have been doing. Keys allows you to drill down into the data and learn about your performance. It shows basic numbers, like speed and error rate, and also draws these numbers over time, so that you can see how the training has been building up your skill over the last few training sessions.

Visualizations: Look at your typing

For the overly curious or for visulization lovers among you there still is one more part in the lesson review, a keyboard heat map, which shows values for individual keys in comparison to one another by assiging colors. Switch it from showing speed to error rate to keystroke count, and compare the current training with the last five or last 30 attempts.

That is it, and it is all you need to learn typing. The rest is steady practice. And you will discover, after a while, how much better correct and skillful touch typing is, even in comparison with you probably impressivly fast ad-hoc system, you have been cultivating over the years. Because that’s what I experienced when I learned it. Also, will soon be faster and less tiring. Proper typing is actually very delightful, like any well-developed skill. But that is material to write about on another day.

Keys is available through the Mac App Store for US$ 19.99 as a limited introductory offer. There you also find screenshots. Currently Keys only supports US keyboard layout, but other layouts are planned. Highest on the list is German, and I’d love to do a Dvorak layout. Send my you wishes on this, I’ll make the decision mostly on what is most desired.