Clack and Flow
The average person types 3.2 million characters per year. If you’re a writer, it might be double, even triple. But why are we not more intentional about the tools we use to type?
Writing always felt like a chore. I grew up typing on the cheap plastic keyboard that came with our basic computer setup. I was introduced to fancy mechanical keyboards in 2014, when my boyfriend aggressively typed on weeknights, past 2 AM, while I was trying to sleep for work the next day. He was nuts for enjoying that ear splitting clank… over and over and over again.
I thought mechanical keyboards were obnoxious until my friend custom built his gaming PC setup. Surprisingly, the animated pixel kitties displayed on the little screen inside his computer didn’t pique my interest - it was his new mechanical keyboard, which was all white with rainbow lights pulsing under the keys. The keys were smooth to press, I never experienced a keyboard like this before.
For many years, I watched my boyfriend (now husband) spend all his free time writing and actually enjoy it. There must be something appealing about it. Should I try it? What would I write about? I’m used to writing slightly vague meeting minutes so I wouldn’t get sued. Writing for work was never fun, and neither was reading. But after several months of wandering aimlessly in my sabbatical, I enrolled in the online writing course, Write of Passage. I needed the structure and the purpose, but feared I wouldn’t enjoy writing nor finish assignments.
My creative work thrives most when I make things with my hands, like paintings, paper models of buildings, and baking. How can I get my hands more engaged with writing? I thought about my friend’s new gaming PC setup…
Could a mechanical keyboard be appealing enough to get me to write?
Later that evening, I found myself deep in a rabbit hole of Kawaii gamer desk set-ups and mechanical keyboards. It was intriguing to watch brave YouTubers DIY their keyboards to improve the typing experience. They’d take their keyboards apart and add household items to change the sound and feel. It reminded me of my days in architecture school, experimenting with paper, cardboard, and popsicle sticks to create 3D models of buildings.
Foam, silicone, or masking tape would get added to adjust the sound when typed. “Thock” is a desirable sound. There’s different kinds of key switches to choose from (the things that register the key when pressed). I learned the brown-colored ones with the bumpy feel are best for writers.
When it comes to looks, keyboards come in many shapes, sizes and colors. The most exciting keyboard modification for me is the keycaps. Short, tall, flat or concaved with a rainbow of color options, the possibilities for expressing oneself through a keyboard is endless!
These mechanical keyboard enthusiasts finished each video with a typing test. Typing at 130 words per minute on these modified keyboards sounded like smooth white noise. Watching them type was a joy. I wanted that experience.
At 3 AM, I peeled my dry red eyeballs away from my phone, rolled over onto my back, stared at the ceiling and thought, I NEED IT.
A few days later, a Logitech POP keyboard arrived. The aesthetic of the keyboard, the rounded pastel keys, wasn’t the only delightful trait. As I pressed a key down, I felt a subtle bump, followed by gentle resistance as the key pushed back up into my finger. Pressing the keys over and over and over again, along with hearing a “pop” sound (very on brand), became a sensation like no other. My fingers were hooked to the keyboard. I became addicted.
This mechanical keyboard became an important tool while taking Write of Passage. The tactile sensations, the repetitive “pops” and bumps while typing, put me in a trance. My mechanical keyboard helps me enter flow states and stay there. Writing became more enjoyable.
I continue to enter the rabbit hole of the mechanical keyboard world daily. I purchased a second mechanical keyboard for a different typing experience. The change in shape and material of the keyboard, switches, and keycaps will create a different sound in my ears and feeling in my fingertips. I feel the constant need to write essays to put my new keyboard to use.
Through creative writing and the hobby of building custom mechanical keyboards, I entered a feedback loop: the more I type, the more I write. The more essays I complete, the more I want different keyboards with different customizations for different typing experiences on future essays. After a long writing session, my fingers are satisfied, similar to a painting, drawing or model making session.
By being intentional with the tools I used to write, I fell in love with the craft of writing itself.
Special thanks to Sandra Yvonne, Steven Foster, Arman Khodadoost, Latham Turner, Michelle Varghoose, Chris Cordry, Chris Wong and Michael Dean for your valuable feedback on this essay.