Different Keyboards Promising to Make You a Faster Writer
Is your layout making your work 2.2x longer?
Imagine halving 3h writing seasons to just 90 minutes. You might catch Friends’ reruns and lose excuses for avoiding the gym.
Maybe you’re doing more with the extra time. Perhaps you’re furiously typing the next best-seller while dominating a 9-5 job, and loving a husband with two adorable super-hero kids. Can alternative layouts create more of that extra time for you?
My writing speed is roughly 60WPM. I’m churning above 3000 words on any given day. But can I type faster? And how important is the typing speed for writers?
What if a day gets longer, and you finally manage to blast multiple blog posts on Medium. Maybe your copywriting gig lands you a long-awaited promotion. And where do I get all these mumbo-jumbo ideas?
The myth says that QWERTY — the most commonly used keyboard — is slowing you down while ruining your wrists.
The story of Christopher Lathan Sholes and QWERT layout is riddled with conflicting accounts. Sholes owns a publishing house at the time.
He maybe invents QWERTY to slow typists down, so they make fewer mistakes using the typewriter. Each error means higher costs of production due to new paper, more ink, and handymen rates. This story is a bit far-fetched, but who knows. History is a strange place.
Writers of the new age are not crazy about typewriters anymore. The machine is featured only in museums and hipster studies.
Why are we using the QWERTY keyboard? Personal computers are not affected by keyboard settings. You can type any way you want now, and the computer doesn’t know the difference.
Individuals claim QWERTY is a relic from past times, and promise ergonomic solutions. The most famous alternatives are Dvorak and Colemak.
Dvorak keyboard is the most popular substitute for QWERTY. Wiliam Dvorak and his brother in Law patent the new layout, as a faster and more ergonomic alternative to QWERTY.
Dvorak fails to replace QWERTY, and the same is true for any alternative solution. Nevertheless, the layout is available on operating systems such as Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, Chrome OS, and BSD.
The central idea behind Dvorak is to shorten the finger movement. The key letters are placed on the middle letter row. Dvorak has 70% of keystrokes on that row, as opposed to 32% on QWERTY. Dvorak engages the right hand more often, whereas QWERTY favors the left hand.
Dvorak is helping typists work faster with better precision, in theory. Individual accounts claim that DVORAK helps avoid repetitive strain injuries (RSI). The accumulative injury often plagues writers and office workers.
However, evidence confirming Dvorak’s superiority is still missing, according to economic studies and conflicting online testimonials. Dvorak himself has been the loudest supporter of the alternative layout.
If you’re curious to test the waters without buying a Dvorak, you can pull out an old keyboard from the garage. Use a flat tool like a butter knife to dislocate the letters and replace the QWERTY layout with Dvorak. The image above represents the location for each letter. Then, access keyboard settings and change the layout preference to Dvorak.
You might see results after four weeks, which represents a reasonable time to master a new layout.
Dvorak’s biggest shortcomings arise in terms of software. The keyboard is not popular enough to prompt developers to include different shortcuts. Playing video games without the WASD movement is tricky. Copy/paste shortcuts — which programmers use often — are spaced out and harder to reach.
Colemak is another layout promising to be a faster alternative to QWERTY. Shai Colemak develops the keyboard. This layout follows the same central idea as Dvorak, where the home row features the most frequently used letters in English writing.
U is the only vowel outside the middle row. Non-alphabetic characters follow almost identical layout to QWERTY, except for the caps lock. Colemak lacks the caps lock command and features another backspace in its place.
Adding another backspace has practical sense. Using all-caps is perceived as aggressive writing, equivalent to shouting or screaming. And shift command is effective for grammatic capitalization.
Colemak is only 17 keys different to QWERTY, making the transition easier for new users. Colemak places 74% of critical strokes on the middle row, in comparison to 70% in Dvorak and 34% on QWERTY.
The community has developed a series of intermediate layouts to help new users adopt Colemak. Tarmak system changes 3–5 letters in a series of 5 steps creating a user-friendly transfer conditions.
Colmak bears the same criticism as Dvorak in terms of software use and scientific evidence confirming the advertised perks of the layout. Users argue that Colemak is indeed superior to Dvorak, but the overall benefit is probably negligible. Typing speed is highly dependant on the individual, according to a tiny study done using Colemak layout.
If you’re interested in testing this layout, apply the same strategy from above (re-arrange letters to follow the Colemak plan.)
The verdict — should you stop using QWERTY?
Dvorak and Colemak offer more control over the typing process. My writing is notorious for all sorts of embrasing typos. Colemak makes it easier to hit the right note, especially with letters T and L. Typing norman instead of normal is easier to avoid on Colemak and Dvorak layouts.
But the benefit is not spectacular enough to make me completely abandon QWERTY. My typing speed is slightly above the average, totaling 60 words per minute. And I’m satisfied with the current results. Alternative layouts might benefit court reporters and clerks, but further research is needed to support such claims.
Ungodly-typing speed is not a factor when creating novels, blogs, and short stories. Insanely-fast authors like Chris Fox are not even typing their first drafts anymore. Chris records his novels using the speech-to-text software. He is famous for churning out 5ooo words per hour.
Coleman and Dvorak both have a noble central idea of creating pleasant and fast keyboards. Still, current benefits are not enough to consider the mass adoption of alternative layouts.
Novelists, bloggers, and other writers know there is more to writing than jotting down words. The new layout is not making the editing or publishing part considerably easier nor faster.
If you’re a QWERTY user, you’re not missing much with your old-school keyboard. Adopting an alternative setup is both unpractical and underwhelming. Sadly, neither of the two can help you catch sitcom reruns today.