Tag Archives: distraction-free writing

Let’s Be Honest: There Were Distractions Along The Way

It was a dark and stormy night

The panacea that was, then wasn’t, then was again.

So not that long ago (though with all this sheltering in place and working from home, November sure feels like a previous epoch), I talked about my search for the perfect distraction-free writing instrument. At the time, I announced the results of my search: after much soul-searching, and even more web browsing, I had procured myself a New Old Stock Psion Netbook Pro.

(Fascinating side note: Psion trademarked the Netbook name years before the Eee PC and other makers came out with their generically named “netbooks” and there were several years of litigation involving who owned the name and whether trademark was being infringed upon. But I’ll leave those distracting details for you to look up yourself, should you be so inclined.)

At the time I wrote that blog post of discovery, I had yet to heavily use the PNP. But once I started, I came to calling it the Pain in the Neck Pro. Because, you see, the keyboard fell short of my expectations.

To be clear, I knew it would sport a less-than-standard layout and, given the form factor, would be cramped compared to my IBM Model M. I accepted those…compromises. If fact, it turns out (as will be seen shortly) that I was able to adapt to those particular idiosyncrasies.

No, the problem was the spacebar.

The physical-single-switch-only-at-the-exact-center-of-the-spacebar spacebar, otherwise known as the doesn’t-register-your-keystroke-unless-you-hit-the-dead-center-of-the-spacebar spacebar.

Now as you might suspect, it turns out that most typing of stuff, at least in the English language, makes heavy use of the ‘a’ key, the ‘i’ key, the ‘e’ key, the ‘t’ key, and, oh yeah, the effin’ spacebar!

I was constantly having to arrow back several characters to put in the space that I had typed but which had not registered. This was about 80% of the time I tried to use the spacebar.

If you let your fingers do the walking, have them skip over the spacebar

It’s a QUIRKY layout, not QWERTY.

(But hey, unlike the Freewrite and the Freewrite Traveler, at least the Psion has arrow keys!)

It was more than a little frustrating and after a few false starts, I gave up. I wrote it off as a close to $200 learning experience, but one I was too embarrassed to talk about on my blog because, well, it cost me close to $200.

Actually, significantly more than $200 if you factor in the next thing I did: I didn’t just kinda sorta give up, I whole hog gave up and bought a brand new Windows 10 convertible laptop. The one with all the distractions built in (the horrible OS itself, the web browser you feel compelled to use to look up things like the history of the word “netbook” and all the litigation surrounding it in the early ’00s, the music player you are unable to resist using to listen to the ballads about those “netbook” lawsuits, and the video depositions taken as a part of those lawsuits that you simply must watch on YouTube).

Yes, I had fallen off the wagon of focus and leapt, belly-first (and fully extended), into the packed, unsanitary public pool of distraction.

The Missus was so disgusted she took the kids and moved back in with her parents. For a couple of weeks. While it’s possible she was just visiting them, given the scope of my relapse, that seems unlikely.

Anyway, yes, I had ditched the old laptop running Linux for a fresh piece of kit.

Well, that’s not true – the old Linux machine went into the pile of old computers I’ve irrationally held onto since 1981 (“Why hello there, Timex Sinclair 1000”) because someday, maybe, I will need one of them as a backup when my main computer is hit by a super virus and the only thing preventing the evil villain who wrote said virus from taking over the world is a putty ssh connection into his mainframe from an old computer viewed so obsolete that he failed to make sure the virus could infect it.

This is also the excuse I give for why I have an old 33.6K external modem and parallel port cable.

Hey! It’s a legit excuse!

Now where was I? Oh yes, my new and shamefully distracting computer. With a stylus and touch screen and name-brand speakers and a cool, cool look that draws my attention away from the task at hand even when it is off. It was by using that shiny shiny computer that I may have accidentally searched about the Psion Netbook Pro spacebar problem and found out you can just cut out a piece of card stack, place it directly over the rubber dome under the spacebar, and solve that whole problem.

Well sh*t.

So, because I had so totally given up on and boxed up the ratty-keyboarded Psion and put it in storage and gone ahead and spent even more money on a brand new laptop…well, two things happened:

One, I was super annoyed with myself because if I had stumbled on this bit of info about the spacebar sooner, I either could have fixed the issue or, even better, avoided it entirely by buying my second runner up HPC candidate, the NEC MobilePro 900C. No matter how you looked at it, that would have been WAAAY cheaper than the new laptop.

Two, because I had the new laptop and didn’t care about the Psion anymore, I was willing to take the Psion apart and try to fix it. If I break the keyboard in the process (something I’ve done in the past when removing spacebars from keyboards), who cares? This particular HPC is already junk as far as I’m concerned.

But the spacebar came off fine, the square of card stock went in with little difficulty, and when I was done, the spacebar worked great no matter where on the key you actually struck it.

Which means I finally have my distraction-free writing tool!

And along with it, no more excuses.

Well dr*t.

Of course, the irony that I had to go down a rabbit hole (yet again) to learn about the relatively straightforward fix for my distraction-free writer is not lost on me. A fine $200 learning experience indeed!

I threw a bone up in the air and when it came back down it was a space station. It hit me on the head and knocked me out. When I woke up, this was next to me.

The USB port is on the other side. Allegedly.

This post (and the previous one) was written and edited on a Psion Netbook Pro using TextMaker for Windows CE. I will say this much: it works.


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I got distracted trying to find a distraction-free writing tool

Sure the battery life is great and the keyboard has arrow keys. But will it blend?

Writing a haiku? Fine, it might work. But a novel?

So it’s the middle of November and many of you are no doubt participating in Nanowrimo.

I am not.

I should be writing. I should be wrapping up the short story that is almost, unbelievably close to done.

I should be wrapping up the third Marlowe and the Spacewoman novel, the first draft of which is two thirds done.

But I’m not.

Instead, I got lost down the rabbit hole of process.

Not the thought process of writing, but the mechanical process of writing.

As is clear by the sizeable passage of time since I’ve generated any prose, I am prone to distractions. So as I sat down for one writing session, I thought, “Hey, I should Bing* search ‘distraction free writing’ to see what options I have.”

Because obviously I should spend the precious free moments I have for writing doing anything but writing.

Why distraction-free writing? Because I wanted yet another excuse for why I don’t write I wanted something that would force me to write without opening another tab in my browser to look up something inconsequential to getting the story done, such as which font I need to download in order to properly spell “procrastinate” in some weird language like Old or Middle Latin.

(Those are totally languages, so don’t leave any angry comments below!)

And boy, did that search give me some cool results.

First I encountered a lot of apps / programs that, really, are just bare-bones text editors. But not only could I just use Notepad instead for that, but my laptop is 10+ years old and takes forever to boot. So long that I switched from Winblows to Linux, which also, it turns out, takes forever to boot.

Just slightly less forever than Winblows 7 with 10+ years of programs installed on it.

So I realized that apps were out. No, I needed a distraction-free hardware solution that didn’t take until the next ice age to boot.

The Alphasmart gets lots of play during Nanowrimo, but it has a teeny tiny LCD display that is just too small for me.

Enter the Freewrite, which claims you will double your hourly word count.

And exit the Freewrite, when I see that it costs $549, only does one thing (allowing you to type documents), and has no arrow keys because going back to edit is for losers.

But wait, in a shocking surprise substitution, enter the Freewrite Traveler, which also claims you will double your hourly word count.

And exit the Freewrite Traveler, when I see it costs $369 (on sale, normally $599!), has all the same issues as the Freewrite, and, oh yeah, isn’t out yet.

I was starting to lose faith and therefore was forced to redouble my searching efforts.

Which is how I stumbled across the Pomera DM30, a compact, instant-on device with a folding keyboard and E-Ink display.

That can be had now for (as low as) $208, uses a Japanese keyboard layout, has be be imported from Japan, and is also distraction-free since it can’t do anything else.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I sometimes am forced to use a Japanese layout keyboard at the day job, and let me tell you, nothing is more distracting than trying to hit the space bar or figure out where the friggin’ ‘:’ and ‘;’ keys actually are, inaccurate labeling on the keys notwithstanding.

WTF, Japan? WTF?

But these devices (the Freewriti, as the plural for Freewrite is written in Old Latin, and the Pomera) were instant on, and that really appealed to me. There was no way I’d pay $250+ for (yet another) computer/word processor, so I was reluctantly leaning towards the Pomera, even though I knew the keyboard would drive me crazy and the $208 price still felt a bit steep.

That’s when I discovered HPCs.

HPCs are, for those of you who are young or who are old but not nerds, Handheld PCs. Small computers either running proprietary OSes (such as the Psion 7 running Symbian) or Windows CE.Some are tiny and literally fit in the palm of your hand (such as the HP 100LX which runs DOS), and others are slightly larger with nearly full-size keyboards (such as the NEC MobilePro 900C or Psion Netbook Pro).

They also haven’t been made in at least 15 years.

But I found a new old stock (so still in the box, woo-hoo!) Psion Netbook Pro on eBay for ~$130 and, after weeks of searching and researching and viewing YouTube videos of it (and the Pomera and the FreeWriters and the HP 100 and 200 LXes and the older Psion 7 that goes for $450+ on eBay), I ordered it.

It came with Windows CE (duh), Wordpad and a bunch of outdated Microsoft Office viewers.

And nothing else.

Which I found a little…lacking.

So I spent another week or so doing more research, discovered someone selling a CD with a bunch of licensed programs for Win CE, including a more full-featured word processor than Wordpad that could save documents as Microsoft .doc files.

So for another $48 (including shipping), I ordered that.

And waited 18 days for it to show up. The first 13 of which were spent in the originating post office. For some reason.

Some incredibly frustrating, but unknown to me reason.

Side note: the USPS package tracking sucks. That is the scientific term to describe it – I’m too polite to use the informal term that immediately comes to mind.

Now did I use my shiny new (old stock) distraction-free writing computer during all this?

Hell, no! It only has Wordpad! Yeech! I’m no masochist!

(Well, OK, maybe I am, but not when it comes to my writing.)

So if you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the whole distraction-free writing world, I have one word of advice for you:


* I didn’t use Bing. No one does. I used a different, functional search engine. That doesn’t spy on me.


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