A number of people have asked me how I’ve learnt to type so fast. Often, the question presents itself in the hushed, awed tones of the geeky: these are people who work with computers all the time and these are people for whom speed typing would count as a genuine skill. Also, however, normal people pose this question to me too sometimes, if only with the sort of casual curiosity you reserve for people who can wolf whistle, or people who can do 180 degree splits: an indifferent appreciation for a quirky talent. It gladdens me, though, that typing has become nearly as important as writing in many domains of work, and that the second category of people is shrinking by the day because of that. (My skillz are much more relevant now, yay!)
To return to the original question on how I learnt to type so fast, there’s no easy answer. There’s certainly no magic pill that’ll make your fingers more nimble overnight and there’s no golden serum you inject into your fingers to make them listen to you better. Take what you hear about typing crash courses with a pinch of salt, because it’s all hot air. Like most things in the world, proficiency in typing is all about practice, practice and then some more practice, but with a couple of caveats:
1) You need to learn touch typing, that is, the mad Jedi skill of typing without looking at the keyboard. As you can imagine that’ll double your speed as you aren’t going to waste half your time pausing to verify if you’re typing the right thing. How, you ask? I’ll get to that in a minute.
2) Proper technique is gold. I know people who type fast without the right technique, but I believe that’ll stifle you in the long run.
(On the bright side, I started off as useless as you. And no I was not born with the ability to touch type. There, that should have heartened you considerably.)
I’ll get to the technique part in a bit, but you guys are really asking the wrong questions here. Yes, all you need to do to become a fast typist is technique and practice, but the important question is: how do you actually practise? Practising typing by typing out a list of words twenty times a day is mind numbingly boring, and while it might work, you’re likely to die at 30, you’ll be so scarred by that experience. So how do you do it then? Gamify, of course.
Make learning to type a game: something that’s fun and challenging at the same time. That’s what I did, back during my PS-I (a sort of introduction to an internship I had back in college, after my second year of engineering). I used to think I was a pretty fast typist. I was a regular on DC++ trivia back, and I can safely say that that helped me a lot in improving my touch typing. See, here’s how trivia worked: there would be randomly selected questions coming up every 30 seconds or so, and there would be a bunch of people online at the same time trying to get in the answer first. It was all about speed, especially because questions repeated, and also because some questions were ridiculously easy (20+33=?).
In such an environment, touch typing was the only option. Looking at the keyboard while typing out an answer, pausing for half a second to check what was on screen before submitting it, simply did not work. Gamifying your typing experience forces you to touch type, apart from the fact that it’s actually fun. I don’t know how well DC++ trivia is doing these days, but if a lot of people are on it, join the club. It’s fun even without the whole typing angle.
Speedtest for the solo gamer
What I did during my PS-I was hit this site. Why didn’t I stick to trivia once I’d realized it was doing wonders for my typing speed? Firstly, I was far, far away from BITS Pilani’s LAN, and secondly, I knew, fiercely competitive person that I was, that I would never sacrifice my speed for technique. This site is perfect for the solo gamer: you’re not taking on a hundred other people, the only person who’s challenging you is you, and I loved it.
I don’t know how quickly you’ll tire of this site (I suspect it’ll be a lot quicker than me), but it occupied me for the whole summer. When I started off there, I was doing about 55 Words Per Minute (WPM). While that’s fairly respectable, that’s about a fourth as fast as the fastest typist in the world. Forcing myself to at least try and follow the proper technique (read this for learning about the home row in QWERTY keyboards, and what's a 'proper' technique) dropped my speeds to under 50, but only for some time. By the end of the summer I was easily doing 70 WPM.
Just to cheer you up, here’s what I can do now. That’s more than double what I started off with. (Watch it on mute if you don't like tinny heavy metal. )
This site is the antithesis of speedtest, in many ways. You compete against other people, typos are not forgiven (you cannot proceed unless you correct your errors) and WPM is counted as CPM (Characters Per Minute) divided by 5, to account for variations in word lengths. (Speedtest counts words.) However, I recommend that you not visit this site while you’re still honing your touch typing technique, because it’s frustrating. Very, very much so. It is not pleasantly frustrating like how good games should be, but frustrating in a lethargy-inducing way, the way that'll make you swear on your great grand aunt's grave that you'll never ever touch a keyboard again. I'd suggest that you move on to competing on this site only when you’re reasonably comfortable with your technique and are looking to improve your overall speed.
Even after you’ve achieved a measure of comfort with the words on speedtest, you might still be flummoxed by Typeracer, because Typeracer doesn’t make you type word lists, it makes you type paragraphs. Paragraphs, with – brace yourself - proper punctuation, and - just to reiterate - it does not forgive typos. So, practising a little on Typeracer will improve your real world composition skills much more than a lot of time spent on speedtest.
For context, I started off on Typeracer a couple of years ago, and averaged about 70 WPM. Now I can consistently do about 105. Here’s a video I recorded for er.. motivational purposes. Be warned, I wasted a lot of time on this site, so you'll need a lot of practice to see that kind of improvement, but hey it was college. I’d even call it a productive use of my time.
I know I said I moved to typing with the right technique when I started using speedtest, but that’s not exactly right. It’s not easy to change the way you type overnight: I already had nearly correct technique for my left hand, but my right hand was all over the place, and I never used my pinkies. I think it took me a couple of years to start using my right pinky to type the ‘P’, and even now it flaps up and down like it wants nothing to do with all this typing business. Consciously try and return your fingers to the home row after hitting every key, and without looking, and your job is half done. After all, touch typing is the most intuitive way of typing: you reach for each key with the finger that’s closest to it (only if your starting position is on the home row of course. That’s why typing courses keep banging on and on about that point.) Don't worry if you simply cannot contort your fingers to reach certain keys. Skip them for later, but don't forget that what you're doing is wrong.
And remember, it’s all about gamifying. Any sort of game that puts a price on your ability to generate as many words as you can in a limited period of time, your typing skills come in handy. Here are a few such games I've played in the past, and thoroughly enjoyed.
Multieight is a favourite of mine. Its rules are simple: you make as many words as you can from a eight letter word, in one minute. The bigger the words you make, the more the points you score, obviously.
Boggle also works.
There’s also an app on Facebook called ‘The typing of the ghost’, which is inspired by an unbelievably fun PC game I’ll talk about in the next point. Check it out.
If you can, get your hands on ‘The typing of the Dead’. I think it’s the first and only game that can be classified as a ‘First Person Typer’. (You zap zombies with your keyboard. 'Nuff said.)
Before I sign off, I need just a moment to do one last thing: defend the need to improve your typing skills. Typing shouldn’t be a chore, it should be exactly like writing: a tool you use to get something else done, which in this case is composition. When you’re writing your exams, are you thinking about which finger to move, and in what kind of loopy way, to cross those Ts? No. Typing should be like that, and once you get the hang of it, far outstrips writing in usefulness (at least for composing text). I don’t think anyone writes faster than 60 WPM. It’s quite easy, with a little effort of course (oxymoron!), to hit 80 WPM while typing. I can’t stress enough how much the ability to type fast, and more importantly the ability to touch type - type without thinking - has improved my productivity. (Gah, corporate terms. I rooted around for a better one, but I’m already infected. I guess.) For example, churning out blog posts like this is not a day-long task anymore. (On the other hand, it’s difficult not to hit 20 pages every time I write anything, absolutely anything at all. :) )