:studio_microphone: This post has audio narration

I first got into stenography in late 2018, and wrote up a blog post about Starting Stenography with an Ergodox, which outlines how I started my steno journey using an Ergodox EZ mechanical keyboard.

One of the learning resources I used was Typey Type, an awesome web-based typing application by Diana MacDonald. I would use it occasionally over the course of a few months until, unfortunately, my steno learning fell by the wayside some time in early 2019. I then completely neglected it for the rest of the year.

Come 2020, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to get my steno learning back on track, and Typey Type was going to be key. Typey Type keeps track of your progress through its lessons, and provides you with a percentage score based on how many words you have typed without mis-strokes. It was this number that I latched on to: I wanted it to be 100%.

But, what was to stop yet another lapse in practice, resulting in writing off yet another year of potential progress? Accountability! I was able to find another person who wanted to kick-start their steno-related activities, and we became accountability buddies!

Define Success and Establish Cadence

First of all, we each defined and declared what success in our steno endeavours would look like. Here is what I wrote back in January:

  • 30 minutes minimum steno practice a day, preferably an hour
  • I want to hit 100% progress on Typey Type this year (maybe this can take 6 months on this schedule…?)
  • It would be nice to have my steno speeds match, or at least approach, my QWERTY typing speeds by the end of the year, so I can justify integrating it with my everyday workflows

Every week, without fail, I would need to send my accountability buddy an email outlining what I had done in the last week to move forward towards completing those goals.

I do not think I can possibly stress enough how beneficial it was to have this system in place:

  • I had a deadline, every week, where someone was expecting to hear from me
  • I did not want to have to report a lack of or no progress, which helped force me to keep up my routines
  • Being able to report percentage gains towards the completion goal to an interested party felt great, and helped propel me forward
  • I took an “eat that frog” approach to the timing of the 30 minutes practice being first thing in the morning before breakfast, so I would not worry about it for the rest of the day, or while at work

For the first three months, I kept a schedule of 30 minutes steno practice a day, every day, even if I did not want to do it, which, initially, was often. Then, from the fourth month, I made a small increase to doing an hour a day on weekends. Finally, seeing this r/plover post spurred me to go up to an hour steno practice every day, which I have been able to keep as of this writing.

And so, after five months of practice, I finally reached 100% completion, meaning I have been able to type 10,000 words without mis-strokes.

I was initially worried that I was not hitting goals fast enough since I had read of people who were, say, getting up to 50 words-per-minute (WPM) after just a month or two of steno practice. Maybe they had the luxury to dedicate their entire full-time schedule to stenography, or maybe they were super-geniuses, or maybe a bit of both….

Regardless, I needed to consciously ignore all this, not compare myself to anyone else (real or imagined), and just keep up the routine. It may have taken a while, but I do not mind; the journey has been beneficial and being able to hit a goal feels great!

Contributing Back

Aside from learning stenography through Typey Type, one of the other goals I had was that if I find dictionary issues in Typey Type (incorrect or missing words etc), I would make notes of them, and set aside time to file issues and pull requests (PRs) to Typey Type’s dictionary Github repository as close to finishing steno practice as possible.

This is particularly important to me. Typey Type is a massively valuable piece of open source software that is being provided for free. Given the value I personally get from it, the least I can do is to help improve it where I can.

As a software engineer, I use Git and Github daily, so contributing back does not require any extra effort to learn new tools; just the time to make notes and craft them into issues/PRs (there are other ways to get your proposals in, so do not let not knowing Git or caring about Github stop you from proposing a dictionary entry improvement!).

The process of contributing back also had the great knock-on effects of gaining a deeper understanding about Plover theory through researching discrepancies between Typey Type and Plover dictionary entries, and receiving expert knowledge from Diana in the interesting discussion threads on Github.

Now What?

I may have “completed” Typey Type, but, there is still a long, long road ahead of me. I now know viscerally that steno is not something that I can casually pick up: success is going to require continuous pushing until I can use steno in daily typing in the way I currently use QWERTY. Steno feels more like learning a new language than just a keyboard layout.

Since Typey Type has lots of activities outside of those scored 10,000 words, I’m planning to continue doing them to learn ever more and hopefully build up more muscle memory.

Just as important, though, is that I did not focus on gaining speed at all during my practice, so I am still currently a very slow steno typist (read: less than 20 WPM slow). I think the lack of gains I made in speed were made up for with an increase in stroke intuition, but getting higher speeds remains a major goal.

So, the grind may not be over, but I am still energised. I’m looking forward to keeping up my current steno pace, and then taking stock again in another six months to hopefully realise what could be my first successful completion of a New Year’s resolution.

Postscript: Typey Type Tips

This section did not really fit within the body of the blog post, so it gets tacked on at the end…

If you are currently using Typey Type or about to start, and maybe even thinking of contributing back, here are some things I have learned along the way, in no particular order.

  • After downloading Plover, if you find that you are not getting the expected output when stroking words in Typey Type, chances are that this is because you are using Plover version 3.1.1 (the current stable release), while Typey Type dictionary entries are more optimised to favour Plover version 4 pre-release (the latest as of this writing being weekly-v4.0.0.dev8+66.g685bd33) entries. So, I would currently recommend downloading pre-release versions to have a smoother steno experience. The latest information about installing Plover can always be found in its Installation Guide
  • Your Typey Type progress file is stored in your browser, which means there is a non-zero chance you may accidentally delete it if you are ever too eager with clearing your browser data. Having lost my progress file once, I can recommend having backups. I back mine up to Dropbox after every practice session.
  • Plover’s Lookup functionality has been my constant companion when using Typey Type. Whenever a word came up in Typey Type whose outline did not “feel quite right” to me, I would look the word up in Plover to see if there were any other outlines for that word that fit my brain better. If there were, I would sometimes submit these to the Typey Type dictionary Github repo as a potential change for consideration. Sometimes, an outline I thought better suited for a word would turn out to be a mis-stroke. So, it’s also worth checking Typey Type’s mis-stroke dictionary to test your suspicions
  • Many entries from Typey Type’s Top 1000 Project Gutenberg Words dictionary, which appear in Typey Type practice exercises, use British English spelling. This means that there is a high chance that American-English-based Plover dictionaries will not have corresponding entries for those words. Typey Type does not necessarily need you to load up any other dictionaries aside from those that come bundled with Plover, but I would recommend that you download Di’s dict-en-AU-with-extra-stroke.json dictionary and add it to your list of default Plover dictionaries (user.json, commands.json, main.json etc) so you can stroke these words with ease
  • If you cannot seem to get past a particular entry no matter what word you attempt to stroke, fingerspelling the word will get you past it, and it will be logged as a successfully typed word in your progress

Good luck in your steno adventures!

Leave a comment