Painters use lots of brushes. Rock musicians have dozens of guitars. Seamstresses rarely have just one sewing machine. You're a writer; why do you only learn one way to type?
I'm writing this post using the Dvorak keyboard layout
, an optimized version of the standard "Qwerty" keyboard layout. I'm using a MacBook Air, and I don't need a second keyboard to type using Dvorak. I just set it as an input in the Mac OS language settings and my keys are reassigned. The D key now types E, the semi-colon key is an S, and the B key types an X.
Why bother with this? The truth is, the standard Qwerty keyboard layout sucks. It was designed to suck, in fact, and the layout of those keys was optimized not for your hands and fingers, but rather for the mechanical arms of old fashioned typewriters in order to prevent jams. You can see vestiges of the mechanical origin even on today's electronic keyboards. Ever wonder why the keys on a keyboard are offset slightly, not lining up in columns? That was originally to allow room for the old typewriter levers, and today creates unnecessary lateral movement.
If you use a laptop, there's nothing you can do about the physical location of the keys, but you can learn to touch type another layout, one that's not 150 years old and set by typewriter manufacturers. I suggest the Dvorak layout, an intelligent design created by a professor of education and expert in physiology and language.
Professor Dvorak and his brother-in-law created this layout to be more efficient than Qwerty. Among the improvements:
- Puts common letter combinations closer together
- Arranges common sequences so you type inward (imagine patting your fingers on a flat surface - you tend to roll from your pinky to your index)
- Forces your hands to alternate, so you don't rely too much on only one side of the keyboard - this is why the Dvorak vowels are all on the left
- Puts the most common letters on the home row - 80% of the English language can be typed without changing rows on Dvorak's layout
This layout is only 40 years old and not very widely used, so it's probably too early to tell whether or not the Dvorak layout has reduced long-term repetitive strain injuries. But given the amount of time we all spend on a keyboard, whether we're full-time, professional writers or not, it's a good investment to protect your fingers and wrists. If you want to give it a shot, here's what I recommend.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Julian Orihuela
- Print a picture of the layout and tape it on the wall near your monitor.
- Add Dvorak as an option in your computer language settings - this just re-assigns the keys so you don't need a new keyboard
- Start slow and don't get frustrated - you're going up against 20 years of Qwerty muscle memory
- Race a friend to see who can hit 80 wpm on Dvorak first!
It might take you a couple of months before you're able to touch type Dvorak. Expect it to take that long, and anticipate a few days when you just want to give up. Trust me, it's worth the effort. I made the switch in 2007 and never looked back. Now when I type on a "normal" computer, I have to look down. It's a small price to pay for (hopefully) less risk of carpel tunnel.
If nothing else, it's a great way to keep your friends and family off of your computer. No one else will be able to use it! As an added bonus, you'll get a lot of nerd cred, if you care about that sort of thing.