I have never learned to touch type. As much as Ma Henry tried, she just couldn’t get me to spend enough time with Mavis Beacon. Over the years, as my hunt-and-peck style morphed into a jumble of half-memorized keystroke combinations, I began to regret this. Several weeks ago I began to mull over the idea of learning the Dvorak keyboard layout. If I was going to spend the time learning to type, why not do it right?
After a few weeks of letting the thought stew in the back of my mind, I had almost forgotten about it. Then serendipity and the interwebs teamed up in the form of a Boing Boing post about the Dvorak layout and the wonderful DVzine.org1. That was enough to give my motivation a kick in the pants. Not being entirely comfortable with the thought of rearranging the keys on my keyboard (or washing them, for that matter), I purchased a cover for my keyboard. I started practicing and drilling.
By the time my rubber cover had arrived, I was well on my way to a respectable, peck-free typing speed. I even got a warm, fuzzy morale boost when a colleague indicated his intent to defect from the QWERTY ranks as well.
Every day I can feel my speed and accuracy improve. The faster I get the easier it is to learn. Here are a few concepts I have found useful so far.
- Relax, and remember to breathe. It’s hard to concentrate if you are focused on beating the clock. Keeping a consistent pace is more important than trying to increase your words-per-minute. Try to find a rhythm.
- Don’t throw away that QWERTY. It makes for a slower start, but not being able to look down will help you memorize the new layout. So don’t start popping off those keys just yet. Wait until you are more comfortable with the locations of the Dvorak layout so you’re not tempted to look down – otherwise you’ll be back to hunting and pecking.
- Keep a printout of the Dvorak layout stuck to your monitor for easy reference. This will help with the next tip.
- Don’t Panic.
- Practice. Every day, several times a day. Short 15-30 minute bursts are best.
- Just do it. I’ve seen suggestions to go “cold turkey” and drop QWERTY all at once, and I don’t think I could. It would be too stressful, and take all the fun out of it. So try typing an email or a blog post (this post was composed in Dvorak) here and there.
- I’ve found PowerTyping’s Dvorak lessons to be the best mix of drills and word review.
- dvorak.nl is also nice, although I found myself needing more drills at first to familiarize myself with the keyboard.
- Ten Thumbs is a stand-alone app that works well, though I’m still not convinced it’s worth that much dough. We’ll see. It does offer tips on finger placement, which is helpful.
- KB Covers offers a thin rubber cover that is an alternative to dissecting your keyboard. It is nowhere near as useful as the above tools and concepts have been, but it does serve as a sort of mental safety net and confidence builder. The cover was a bit thinner than I had expected, but it fits well, looks good, and seems durable.