A (Re-)Introduction to Plover Steno

Machine stenography is something I’ve been interested in for ages, but never got around to learning. A few years ago, I discovered Plover, and The Open Steno Project, and got myself the software, hardware, and self-paced lessons. Then I got distracted by other things, and (again) never put in the time to actually learn to use it.

I did learn the basics – the order of the keys, and how to make all the sound combinations, but without regular practice, I couldn’t get much use out of what I knew. Head-knowledge will only take you so far with steno; what I really needed was muscle memory.

All sound combinations for steno (Plover theory, English)

And that’s the goal for next week – to have run drills every day, and started to develop the same sort of ‘instincts’ with steno that I already have with touch typing.

Why Learn Steno?

I can already type, so why take the time to learn a different way of typing? Mirabai Knight makes a compelling case for steno in this series, but I’m mostly interested in two: speed and ergonomics. As a writer, I am in favour of anything that improves the thoughts-to-page flow, and as a transcriptionist it would be great to be able to work without having to constantly hit pause on the audio. But the ergonomic argument has to be my number one reason for wanting to switch to steno. Even now, at the tender age of 36, I’m starting to notice pain in my wrists and hands when typing. There is also a history of arthritis and carpal tunnel in my family, so you can see why I’m concerned. The best thing would have been for my to switch to steno five years ago. The next best thing is to switch now – and that means running drills every day for the next three months, and using steno for everyday typing as soon as I can.

This post was written using qwerty, and the next few will be, too. But I hope to be composing at least some my posts in steno by the end of this month.

If you would like to learn alongside me, check out the Open Steno Project. They have a Discord chat, a Facebook group, and a very learner-friendly forum. See you there!

Respecting Limits

Hello, fellow lifelong learners! This week quarter I learned a thing or two about my limits; where they are, and how far I can push them. Turns out, not as far as I could when I was a teenager. Who knew?

Ambition vs Sense

I’ve lived with chronic illness for most of my life, and you’d think that by now I would now what I can and can’t do. And that might be true if not for two things: the way my illness fluctuates, and my irrepressible optimism.

The fluctuations mean that I can’t predict my pain and/or energy levels ahead of time. The smart thing to do in response to this would be to assume the worst, and plan like a pessimist. That’s where thing two comes in. It takes a lot to dampen my optimism and ambition, so my programming tends to look something like this:

  • 10 Make a new plan, one that will really work this time!
  • 20 Peak activity
  • 30 Struggle
  • 40 Crash
  • 50 Recovery
  • 60 Go to 10

I need to get better at playing the spoons.


If you’re not familiar with the Spoon Theory, then I encourage you to go and take a read. Go on, I’ll still be here when you get back.

Good, isn’t it? What I tend to forget is that it’s not just physical things that cost ‘spoons’. There’s also mental and emotional energy, which means that a networking event can be exhausting! As well as physically attending, I need to be alert and make conversation.

Don’t get me wrong – I like networking. It’s fun, and I get to meet loads of interesting people. But it is exhausting, and I don’t give that fact enough weight when I’m planning my day. I’d like to say ‘lesson learned’, but I suspect it’s more a question of ‘lesson taught’. It will take a few more crashes before I really learn how to colour within the lines, but at least I know how to make sure I bear the fallout, and not my clients (mostly). And, after twenty years of this, I’m good at cycling through the ‘fail’ stage quickly, and stretching the ‘activity’ stage to maximum.

So, in conclusion, I’ve learned not to push myself too hard for too long. I’ve also learned that limits are to be respected, not feared. Pushing at them is fine; smashing into them at 90 miles an hour is not.