You should learn to touch type

Touch typing is typing without having to look at the keyboard.

I think of this image from WaitButWhy very often. Writing is a horribly inefficient way of translating your thoughts to something that can be communicated. By learning to touch-type, you make it slightly more efficient. Most people who have not yet learned to touch-type hover at around ~40-60 and learning it would enable them to hit 90-100.

Benefits of touch typing

  • Everything flows much more smoothly, you are not interrupted by having to look at the keyboard to poke at keys. You get to focus on your thoughts while your fingers do the mechanical work of translation.
  • You will be able to type faster. You can churn out more words.

ArtirKel said “I’d say thinking is the limiting factor when writing something interesting, not typing speed” and Gwern’s response sums it up better than I ever could “If you had to blow into a tube like a tetraplegic every time you wanted to write the slightest thing you thought, I think you’d write a lot less.”

We don’t yet have Brain-Machine interfaces that translate our thoughts into words and until the day we do, touch-typing should continue to be a useful skill.

Can I touch-type?

I can, I consistently hit 110+ wpm (words per minute) on type-racing sites.

  • I primarily think in words and being able to touch-type just makes it far easier to do so.
  • I’m just a lot quicker when it comes to churning out words (still working on the quality)
  • Ngl, it’s fun to show-off. Muscle memory feels magical. I can’t tell you why my fingers know where each key is, but they do.
  • It was yet another thing to improve at for me to feel the sweet joy of getting good.

Need more convincing?

Jeff Atwood - We Are Typists First, Programmers Second

Steve Yegg - Programming’s Dirtiest Little Secret

Written primarily for programmers but widely applicable.

How can you learn how to touch-type?

You need to know only three things to start with

  • How to place your fingers on the keyboard. Index fingers on J and F. They have ridges on the keys so that you can always reorient yourself without having to look down.
  • Always prioritize accuracy over speed. It’s okay if you type slower, type correct. Otherwise as you get faster, you will continue to make more mistakes and it will take much more time to correct them than if you’d just typed slower but correctly.
  • When practicing, actively avoid the urge to look at the keyboard to find the keys. Most typing practice sites have an on-screen keyboard that you can use to guide your fingers. Muscle memory will eventually take over.

I recommend keybr.com to start with. Create an account so that you can track your progress and make your way through the drills. It starts off with a few keys and slowly takes you through the entire alphabet. Make sure all the letters are green while remembering that accuracy » speed.

Once you all the keys are green, pick one of the below to start practicing

  1. 10fastfingers.com
  2. typeracer.com
  3. typing-speed-test.aoeu.eu

Remember to create an account so that it’ll save your history and you can track your improvement over periods. You won’t see improvement every day but week on week, you should definitely see an upward trend and it’ll only get better.

How quickly can you expect to get better?

Depends on how actively you practice but the thing is, once you get the hang of the basics of touch-typing, you will just automatically improve with time if you continue producing text like normal.

I friend on mine went from 54WPM to 96WPM in ~6 months. March-17-2019: 54 (typing aoeu) Dec 19-2019- 80. (typeracer)

Another friend has just begun learning it, he is currently at 39 wpm (Jan 2020). I’ll update her on how his journey goes.

Below is a chart of my data from typeracer.com You can see the jump I made from an average of ~60 in 2016 to ~100 in 2017.

How did I learn touch-typing?

I grew up with computers but I wasn’t always able to type without looking at a keyboard. When young, I definitely had to look at the keyboard and press one key at a time. Day-9 had to, too. Here’s him telling the story of his first game of Starcraft mentioning the 30 wpm. I related so much. If you grew up playing some multiplayer games, you should watch the original, it’s my favorite Youtube video of all time. Prior Starcraft knowledge not necessary.

As a kid, I made an attempt to learn how to type properly using a software called Touch Typing Master Pro. The habit didn’t stick. But somewhere along the way, as a side effect of churning out enough words (perhaps the gig I had as a teen of solving captchas for money helped), I could touch-type.

But not the ‘proper way’. I only used ~4 of my fingers. My index fingers on both hands did most of the work. It was an unsustainable because my hands flailed all around and fatigued more easily. Also, I could only hit around ~50-60wpm with this method of typing and could not improve.

In college, I made another attempt to learn the proper way to touch type and this time it stuck. Going onto typing-speed-test.aoeu.eu and just taking a test was meditative. Mindless typing of words kind of helped me clear my head and pull me out of whatever limbo I was in. And eventually, it just became a habit.

I still do not use all of my ten fingers. My right hand only uses maybe three and is not really anchored onto the J key, it floats in the air and still knows where to go. So there still potential left to be unlocked, but I’m pretty happy with the current situation.

Jan 2021. Built with Tailwind and Jekyll.