I learned about the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard some time ago, and decided to give it a try. In high school, we had a required typing class, which I weaseled out of somehow. I write a lot, but I never learned to type particularly well, peaking at around 40 WPM on the infamous Qwerty keyboard, not exactly hunting and pecking, but looking at the keyboard more often than not.
In case you hadn’t heard, the qwerty keyboard was designed to slow people down, so that the old-fashioned typewriter hammers wouldn’t jam. In contrast, the Dvorak keyboard layout puts the most commonly used letters on the home row, resulting in faster speeds (eventually, I hope), less hand and wrist strain, and fewer errors (at least theoretically).
I started my experiment on October 6th, by re-labeling the keys on my computer and changing the keyboard settings (under language preferences – no need to buy a new keyboard, though I did spring 5 bucks for some stickers). For the first two weeks or so I crept along at about 10 WPM – painfully, excruciatingly, dysfunctionally slow. I practiced for at least an hour most days, and gained about 1 WPM per day, or a little less. At 2 or 3 weeks in and 20 WPM, I started to feel like I could write again, but progress was slow.
I mostly used the lessons on typingweb.com, though I tried some other sites. A couple of weeks in, I installed Klavaro on my computer. It doesn’t allow me to backtrack to fix mistakes, which I’m sure has some pedagogical purpose, but is very hard to get used to.
Now, at 5 and a half weeks in, I’m still a bit slower touch-typing on Dvorak than I was on Qwerty (testing at 32 WPM, compared to my pre-experiment speed of 36 WPM). I have to stay focused to get the vowels right, but my error rate is no worse than it was before, unless I space out and snap back into qwerty mode.
Was it worth it? The jury’s still out. I do still hope to get up to a faster typing speed, and I can tell there’s going to be less strain on my hands and wrists, but it would have been a lot faster to learn to type properly on the standard qwerty keyboard, and I wouldn’t have lost 3 weeks of writing time. 30 years of using qwerty, even if not very well, is a lot of conditioning to overcome.
Update, 4.5 months later:
I am testing solidly in the upper 40s and on the brink of 50 WPM. I can now touch-type with some confidence. I’ll probably never be a real speed-demon, but I can see 60 WPM in my future. That’s the highest goal that seems reasonable to me at the moment.
Since late November, when I reached my old typing speed of 36 WPM, I have been improving at a rate of about 3 words-per-minute per month. That’s not very impressive, but it’s still an improvement. It will be interesting to see how much of an impact this has on my composition speed, when (if ever!) I get back to rough-drafting a novel.