Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 30 May 2012

When Speed is of the Essence

on March 3rd, I wrote a blog, “Words, Words, Words”, on the subject of word counts, and just how meaningless they can be. It got a mixed reception, but I continue to watch with fascination as people post their daily word counts, often to the exact number, on Twitter and Facebook. 

I do not do this, and I do not envisage a time when I will ever do it. If I write fewer words than you think I should, especially as I have the privilege of writing full-time, you’ll think me lazy, and if I write what you consider to be too many, you’ll think I just bang out any old rubbish.
This is not about that; this is about keyboard skills.
Once or twice, people have been surprised to hear that I write a blog a day, and I do it in the first ten minutes of my morning while I drink my first cup of tea. This seems quite natural to me, as, what I’m actually doing, is talking to you, and talking is fast.
I can, more-or-less, type as fast as I can think. Damn it, I can type almost as fast as the husband can talk! 
When I was a child with the chickenpox, desperately in need of something to fill my time, my mother produced an old typewriter, stuck stickers on the keys and gave me a monotype keying-in manual. I spent a very happy week learning to touch-type, and I have been able to do it ever since. 
I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when word processors began to be available to me. For a start, they were much quieter than the old manual typewriters, but, also, they didn’t jam if I typed too fast for them. Of course, some of the old word processor packages couldn’t produce each letter as fast as I could type it, but, if I paused for breath, they soon caught up.
I can type 85 words a minute from cold, and a hundred words a minute once I’m warmed up. That’s  a minimum of 5100 words an hour, or a maximum of 48,000 words in an 8 hour working day.
That’s preposterous! Well, of course it is, but typing at speed is also damned useful when it comes to getting an idea down on the page in its most natural form, without the hindrance of having to wait for my hands to catch up with my brain.
This is not necessarily a good thing. I do believe that words should be considered, and that sentences should be crafted. I also know, that when I get lucky, the thing will flow at a mile a minute, and, when that happens, it’s really very nice to be along for the ride.
So, here’s my thing: On top of everything else I have exhorted you to do over the last three or four months, I am now going to urge you to learn to type properly. Perhaps this analogy will help you to understand what a good idea this is.
To be a really good driver, to avoid scares and accidents, and all the obstacles of driving on our modern roads, it’s a good idea to learn to drive with an accredited instructor, to pass a test, and, even, dare I say it, to take some advanced classes. Only when you’re a good driver with a decent amount of experience will you really feel the buzz of speed.
Or, if you’re me, you might think of it like this.


  1. I can touch type pretty well, and to be honest, it's almost completely from using a computer from a young age (ah the late eighties ...)

    sure when I first started out I was probably pretty crap. but back then I didn't have to do much beyond typing the word "sierra", or simplistic lines like "climb tree", "kill vampire with stake" and other kingly questy goodness. my parents threw typing programs at me, but they weren't games. although I did learn the importance of hovering around the "home keys". in retrospect it was a good idea (they had many). might be showing my age, but back in college typing was still actually a subject!

    my skills probably didn't really take off until I started getting into real time chat programs towards the end of the last century and let my fingers do the talking, and boy could they talk ... and kick, and ban, and write aliases and remotes to do the work for me, after all it's much easier to go "/kb" and have it pull a random line from a text file (here's one I prepared earlier!) than the usual "/msg x ban somechump! time level insertsomethingwittyhere" and still expect to beat all my fellow chat room moderators to the virtual boot! (something of a friendly contest heh heh)

    with the rise of FB unfortunately it's mostly essay style answers such as this but without the red ink (and corresponding attention to the queen's) much to the dismay of many ... ;D

    that said, speed is only as good as the proportion of backspaces, and for every speed demon there is a speed backspace'r, or if you're like me, a speed control-back arrow backspace'r. still, it was nice to teach my mum some text tricks for her old reception role (even if she didn't really need the job, like me she prefers to keep busy), including the previously mentioned trick, given all the things she's taught me over the years.

    plus it is a lot easier to get into the flow of typing/talking when you don't have to look at the keys themselves, and interrupt your train of thought (or interfering with prospective memory for us psyc folk).

    so yes, I have to agree! learn, and practise, practise, talk, type, kick, ban, boogie, flame, troll, etc.

    ... HEY!

  2. I think it's horses for courses. I may type slowly, and I do keep an eye on my word count, but I don't think my writing suffers for it. If I could type even 85 words a minute it would be poorly considered, and I'd have to edit so may have developed as a writer around this other skill, I started out differently. I don't really suffer from writer's block, because I know, every day, that I HAVE to write at least 1000 words, it makes me focus. In the same way, I set myself goals when teaching or working a psychologist, or home educating six kids. It works for me, and I certainly don't expect it to work for everyone (or possibly anyone else). I certainly would not advise anyone to learn to touch type unless they wanted to - most of us two and four finger typists can type at the speed we compose good quality prose, and most of us bang out 1-2k words at a sitting already. Excuse me, I have to get back to the novel - I'm only on 784 words...

    1. As always, Reb, only my very own thoughts on the day that I write them.

      I'm all for the method that suits the writer, and, quite honestly, I've never met two writers who have the same practices. That's part of the wonder of it all... part of the magic. Now, go write those 216 words and then set your next target.

    2. Done! That's 216 divided by how many minutes...not very fast, even with my maths. I'm just killing time until the final round of edits, really, the book is distracting me from the novel writing, that's probably why the last 20k isn't very good! What I need is a writing method that makes me consistent...and I like that you put your opinion up there, I'm a bit inclined to do the same. ;)

    3. You can always use the Full Nine Yarns blog for your opinions, if you like. I'm always keen to get more mileage out of it.

  3. I once wrote a short fiction piece of about 1800 words in two hours. I thought that was pretty good tbh, but I suppose I was probably stopping to think. That was a well-crafted piece, personally. I took a test once online and it said I have a speed of around 40-50 words per minute, so I suppose that's okay. But I know what you mean when the words just fly out and you can't type them fast enough and it's a great feeling.