I have started to learn the Colemak keyboard layout on my new ortholinear keyboard. Colemak is a modern keyboard layout designed to reduce finger travel (and overall hand movement around the keyboard), while preserving the position of some keys that are vital for chording with the Command or Control keys: C, V, X, and Z.

It has been brutally slow going. I have been a touch typer on normal, staggered QWERTY keyboards for over 30 years. I taught myself touch typing on my mom’s electric typewriter from audio tapes she borrowed for me from the library. Those tapes dated from the World War II. They were Army training tapes, and their oft shouted message was that good typing skills would help defeat the Nazis, which was a pretty crazy idea to me as a child in the early 1990s. When I was in high school, I took up guitar and played all the time. As an unexpected side effect, my typing speed increased dramatically, thanks to increased dexterity honed in guitar practice.

My typing speed probably peaked in college at about 100 words per minute. It has slowly diminished since, due to repetitive stress injury, acute injuries to my hands and forearms, and generally bad genetic luck when it comes to wrists. I believe my typing speed now ranges between 40 and 75 WPM, at about 95% accuracy. That is certainly good enough for me, most of the time. What isn’t is that sometimes typing hurts, and often when that is the case, I don’t have the luxury to stop, because I have to type for work.

Right now, on my new keyboard, with Colemak layout, my typing speed is about 8 WPM, and that’s with only five letters in the mix! It is interesting to be tackling something I am this bad at. I feel the struggle as I practice typing. Even when I know the correct key to push, I end up pushing the wrong one (the QWERTY one) sometimes. YouTube videos on the subject have taught me to focus on accuracy rather than on speed, so that us what I am doing thus far. I plan to practice daily for a while before changing my layout permanently.

I typically argue that one should further develop strengths rather than try to eliminate weaknesses. It is far better to be great at a particular thing than to be average at a ton of things. At this task, though, my goal is to be average rather than a typing speed demon, just not in pain while doing it. I have been a good typer, and probably could be again if it weren’t so painful to type blazing fast for more than a new minutes at a time.