On Writing

The Best Writing Tip for Beginning Writers that No One Seems to Remember

As an aspiring and amateur writer, I’ve read dozens of articles, blogs and books on “how to write” and an endless stream of tweets, posts, quotes and advice from professional writers throughout history. I have notebooks full of tips and instructions on how to build strong characters, design plots, create tension, etc. etc. etc. But somehow there is one “how to write” tip that I just haven’t seen out there, but it really should be! So for your benefit, I offer it here.

Learn how to type 75+ words per minute.

typing-fastI know, I know, it seems obvious, but let me tell you a story. When I was about ten years old (c. 1983), my mother made my brother and I learn how to type. At the time we had an IBM PC in the house and much of my parents’ work correspondence was typed out on a typewriter or a green-screen word processor. My mom in her infinite wisdom recognized that in the future we would have to type things out rather than write them down by hand. So she sat Tom and me down in front of that IBM PC, put in the Typing Tutor floppy disk, and away we went.  I hated it.

But when mom says do something, you do it. So for several months I worked through the program’s tutorials. In fact, I breezed through them. I found I was a damn good typist. By the time I finished the program I was typing 45-50 words a minute. My senior year of high school I decided to take a typing class for the easy A. By the end of that class I was up to 60-75 words per minute. By the time I graduated from college I averaged 85-100 words per minute. Let me tell you, it makes writing 20-page research papers a lot easier when you can crank out a draft in an hour or so.

“Good for you,” I hear you saying, Faithful Reader, “but so what?” Allow me elaborate on my story by sharing two important truths about the benefits of typing quickly before you move on to another blog post:


Ihemingway-writingf you’re like me, your brain moves faster than your hand. As nostalgic and traditional it is to write your book on a legal pad or notebook like Hemingway and the great writers of the past, sometimes you just can’t keep up with the words as they pour from your brain. Thoughts, phrases and ideas can be lost as your hand moves furiously over the page to keep up. But if you learn to type quickly, the chances of those ideas getting lost go down significantly. Let’s say you type something like this:

“Don and Millie stepped out of the restaurant into the snowstorm and (hey, Brad, don’t forget to have them pick up a flame thrower before they visit their grandmother) strode towards the tank, happy that they got some good bacon in their bellies before the battle began.”

It works! That great idea of the flame thrower (and when is that ever a bad idea?) doesn’t get lost and I can still complete my original thought. If I were writing that same sentence on a legal pad, I might be able to pause long enough to put the idea in the side column or at the top of the page, but there’s a greater chance that the bacon part might get lost (and isn’t it sad whenever bacon is lost?).

Typing quickly allows you to get more done, it’s true, but more importantly it makes sure that your mind/brain/muse/soul doesn’t spit out a great idea and it gets lost while you hand cramps up.


We all want to make enough as artists and writers so that we don’t have to have a second job. But let’s face it, every one of us starting out probably has to have a second job to pay for dinner tonight. After I graduated from college I went to work for a small business in Chicago doing basic research. One day my boss asked me to take dictation for a letter he was writing since his secretary was busy. Thanks to my mom and my typing training, I was able to keep up with his dictation easily. Next thing I knew I was promoted out of my menial research duties.

Typing fast will opens doors for you, especially in white collar positions that involve using computers. Even if your job isn’t directly related to writing (i.e. journalism, blogging, etc.), typing fast can set you apart from all the other “tech-saavy” kids who have grown up using only their thumbs to type. Open doors lead to opportunities to make more money … which means you can eat … which means you have the energy to actually write something.


I did a little research to see what free options are available on the Internet to help teach you to type.typing-tutor

  1. Typingclub.com (http://www.typingclub.com/typing-qwerty-en.html) – A great beginning tutorial that takes you step-by-step from 2 keys all the way up to the full Monty. Definitely my favorite site to learn from.
  2. Freetypinggame.net (http://www.freetypinggame.net/free-typing-lesson.asp) – Not the best interface in the world as you have to focus on the instructions bookended by advertisements, but a good program.
  3. Gcflearnfree.org (http://www.gcflearnfree.org/labs/typing/play) – A little fun but a bit slow online tutorial with built-in practice.
  4. Speedtypingonline.com (http://www.speedtypingonline.com/typing-tutor) – Don’t need to start at step 1 and want to see how fast you can type?  This is a fun site to test your speed. There are plenty of others out there, but keep it simple.

Good luck with your typing and writing! As always, feel free to slap me upside the head with your legal pad to teach me the One True Way to write. I’m sure Hemingway would agree with you.

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