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Thursday, 28 March 2013

To Touch Type or Not?

The "QWERTY" layout of typewriter ke...
The "QWERTY" layout of typewriter keys became a de facto standard and continues to be used long after the reasons for its adoption (including reduction of key/lever entanglements) have ceased to apply. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several centuries back, when I was a young stripling with grandiose ideas and the energy to consider them achievable, I started out as a freelance photo-journalist. At the time, my first wife and I occupied a semi-basement flat that nestled beneath a Tudor farmhouse. It had once served as a hatchery for the chickens that the farmer’s father had bred. The current farmer had lost interest in fowl, other than a small number kept for the production of fresh eggs for the family. So, we lived in a relatively idyllic spot, paying rent and offering my services on the farm as a labourer for a minimum wage. My wife taught at a local school.

I took a touch typing course in preparation for the coming times when I would produce hundreds of articles, stories and features each week and become an editors’ dream. That course, where I joined the ranks of many women of various ages as the only man, took place in a classroom in a building far enough away to require me to cycle the distance. It was spread over a fortnight, weekday mornings only, and we used manual typewriters to take the lessons. This was long before even electric typewriters were around. I had, at home, an ancient upright Olympia machine, manufactured in my birth town of Hull.

The lessons went well with the disciplinarian female teacher sternly ensuring we all moved along apace. By the end of the fortnight, I was proficient and typing at around 70 words per minute. Experience would soon increase that speed.

Then the farmer, who was an odd and rather impractical character, announced that we’d better be prepared to move at short notice since he was seriously considering selling up and moving the whole family to America.

This edict came the Sunday following the end of my, for me, expensive course. After discussions with my then wife, we decided that freelancing, with its unknowns and vagaries, was not promising enough in this uncertain situation. On the Monday following, I’d been mucking out the stables and returned to the flat to discover I needed some paper for a photographic article I was preparing for Amateur Photographer magazine. I walked the couple of miles into town in my smelly wellies, intending to make this a quick trip so I could get on with the article. As I strode down the street leading to the photographic shop I usually frequented, I passed another shop, which also sold cameras, along with many other items of technology. Sellotaped to the glass door was a hand written advert for a sales assistant.

The man behind the counter was friendly as I approached. I nodded to the doorway and mentioned the advert. He looked me up and down, taking in my torn jeans, scruffy tee-shirt, manure-coated boots and the odd strand of straw in my shoulder length hair.

‘Sell me this camera.’

I handled it quickly, familiarised myself with its features and explained them to the man as if he were a customer with little technical knowledge.

‘Okay. Tell me about these binoculars.’

I did the same again, suggesting he might like to take them outside and view the street to get a better idea of their magnification and range.

He listed six items on the shelves behind him. ‘I’ve bought those and given you fifty quid. How much change do I get?’

I told him without hesitation.

‘When can you start?’

I told him I could start after lunch if he wished.

‘Tomorrow will do. Eight o’clock sharp.’

I shook hands with Paddy and left to buy my photo paper from the shop down the road, where they sold only photographic equipment and materials. As I left Paddy’s shop he raised a hand.

‘Just one thing, Stuart. You will be wearing something suitable, won’t you?’

I grinned. ‘I’ve my birthday suit, or the one I got married in. Up to you, Paddy.’

He smiled. ‘The wedding suit, I think, don’t you?’

Thus began a short friendship (I replaced him as manager three months later when he became the area manager for the whole group of shops) and thus also ended my initial foray into freelancing.
It was three years before I found time to get back to a typewriter and we’d remained on the farm throughout the period. But the shop job allowed me to obtain a mortgage to buy our own home.
The touch-typing had long been forgotten.

Since then, because of other commitments, I’ve managed to type with two fingers and a thumb and can manage around 45 words per minute with reasonable accuracy.

Last week, I retired from employment. I bought some touch typing software, Individual Software’s Typing Instructor Platinum; the Full UK English Version. delivered the software today and I’ve installed it and printed out the PDF instruction manual. I’m one of those unusual men who actually thinks an instruction manual is a useful device. Saves so much time.

So, I shall start the typing skills lessons tomorrow, once I’ve read the manual.

It’s my first week of retirement from employment and my first week as an intended full-time writer. Been a bit interrupted by a hospital visit on Monday for assessment and on Tuesday for surgery on an old knee injury. Not the time I would have chosen for the surgery, but pleased to have it out of the way. (In UK, we have the wonderful National Health Service, which means the whole procedure cost me nothing. The slight downside is that we have no choice over timing, but that’s a price worth paying for what is a superb and professional free service.) The surgery, anaesthetic and aftermath have left me less than fit and it’ll be a couple of weeks before I can start to drive again and lead a normal life. I also have to take regular rests for the next few days. But I’ll begin the touch-typing course tomorrow and keep you informed of my progress.

So, my question today is this:

Do you touch type or are you a one, two, three finger typist? How quickly can you get those words down? How accurate are you? Or, do you only write longhand and have some other to transfer the script to text?
Share your experience and thoughts here, please. I love to know how my visitors are doing.

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J.L. Murphey said...

Stuart, I was a touch typist for years and years (read decades). I passed my typing test typing 60WPM.With time my speed increased to 120 WPM. Almost the speed of thought when writing that I no longer needed a rough draft section hand written or taped. Heck with dictation shorthand. Just say it and I'd type it.

Then last year I hand my stroke. There are all sorts of specialty keyboards on the market, but they required you learning a new way to type- punching this or that key to substitute for missing one hand. It was like learning a different language to me and another thing for me relearn how to do...a list that was already tooo long.

I settled for a smaller keyboard and painted the keys to learn QWERTY one handed. Now I'm up to 45 WPM again in a little under a year with only one hand. I expect to get faster with time.

There is a typing tutor online called TypeRacer if you want to test your speed and learn touch typing, and best of all it's free.

Stuart Aken said...

Sorry to hear about your stroke, JL. It's the medical condition I most fear. But so glad you're obviously recovering, and determined to get back to as much normality as possible. Well done on speed with one hand; that's some achievement!
The TypeRacer looks good, but it's US English and I need the UK version, which is why I went for the software I've bought. It was reasonably priced at around £15.00, which I felt was a worthwhile investment.
Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

This brought memories of my learning touch typing in the Navy Stuart. :)

Roger Lawrence said...

I can produce aboout eighty words per minute - provided I don't need tem to mnake sense as they'remostly gibberish. IfI type csarefully, all the words are readable but it tkes me about four times a long.
It took about four seconds to type the above sentence, which is why I do it a little more slowly these days.

Stuart Aken said...

On land or on board ship?

Stuart Aken said...

An honest demo, then, Roger. I, too, have dyslexic fingers, which is why I'm going to give the touch typing a serious attempt. Thanks for your comment.

Linda Acaster said...

Touch (mostly). Learned at school on sit-up-&-begs that needed muscles in your spit, never mind your fingers. We had a huge QWERTY layout pinned to the blackboard and a cover over the actual machine's keyboard so we couldn't see our fingers. And we learned to music. Ah, those were the days. All that was missing was the whip and dried bread.

Speed is hardly important, as I can type faster than thinking up the fiction to type.

Stuart Aken said...

Sounds a little like my early experience, Linda, except, as paying adults, we were never threatened with the whip or dried bread. (though it was always there as an unspoken motivation in the very demeanour of the teacher, of course).
It's the speed I crave, as my thoughts run faster than my ability to record them. I'm hoping touch-typing will go some way toward correcting this imbalance in the future. Tomorrow, I start the exercises.

Laura James said...

I have no idea how fast I type & don't touch type properly at all. I tend to use 3 fingers on each hand. Tried to learn touch typing but found that I was useless at it. I'm also bad for relying on spell checker so tend not to care if what I write works or not. I've found moving between iPad and keyboard has increased the speed with which I type but not necessarily the accuracy.

Stuart Aken said...

Hi Laura, sorry for the delay in response; I decided I'd get started on the lessons first so I could report on progress. So far, I've reached my target speed and accuracy on asdfghjkl;. I'm now starting on t and y. Taking it in short spells as it's making my hands ache until I get used to the new movement.
A bit puzzled by your remark that you 'tend not to care if...' That doesn't mean you ignore spelling and grammar, does it? If you're writing, they're such basic tools that I can't believe that's what you mean, so I'b be interested to know.

Stuart Aken said...

2 more resources that might be of interest to those thinking of learning to touch type: and and my thanks to Adam Fort for the suggestion.