My New Writing Setup

A few days ago, over on Boingboing, Rob Beschizza shared his new writing setup. A planck keyboard, an old iMac, and some beautiful vintage speakers, tucked away in a corner of his abode.

He said that he works this way because:

I’m one of those people who has trouble writing at length on my main machine, because of all the distractions it offers. Email and messaging and social networking: they all combine to form the “ludic loop” that Mark recently blogged about.

After trying a few different “distraction free” writing environments, he came to the conclusion that he needed something that stayed out of his way when he was working (and, as a blogger, that meant it needed to be able to access the internet) but also didn’t let him easily get distracted (meaning that facebook should be a pain to use.)

I used to do something similar with a Tandy 100 and an SSH server, but at 35 years old, the Tandy can’t really be a Daily Driver for me anymore. As I read Rob’s post, it became clear to me that I needed a similar solution.

My first thought was to duplicate Rob’s setup exactly. Old iMacs are relitively cheap and plentiful, and this seemed like a solid answer to my problem. I decided against this route for two reasons 1) old iMacs aren’t that cheap; and 2) an old iMac is not remotely portable, and I do most of my writing on the road.

I also considered, for a time, reviving my Tandy setup. A Raspberry Pi serving as a telnet server, plus a Tandy 102 would solve a lot of my problems. I discarded this idea because this would mean relying on a 30 year old machine every day, plus it would require keeping track of the battery levels of Two devices, and it would leave me doing any needed web browsing in w3m, on an 8x40 screen. Possible, but not ideal.

Ultimately, I decided to go another way.

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I put together a new writing setup with a Kindle Fire tablet, a tiny mechanical keyboard, and some good headphones. Couple that with Prose.io and Jekyll//github pages, and I have a writing rig that can really kick some ass. It’s not nearly as pretty as Rob’s, and I’m still not sold on my tablet stand (a small, 3D printed Dragon), but I can’t argue with the results.

So far, it’s working pretty well. It also has the benefit of being incredibly portable. Add in a shell account from OfManyTrades, and I’m even able to do most of my coding on this little setup. I’m writing more, and more often. I feel better.

There are distractions on the Fire, to be sure. (It’s loaded down with books and comics, and has access to my Plex server, and all of my home media) but those are more intentional distractions. The feedback loop of:

  • checking email,
  • checking facebook,
  • checking facebook messenger,
  • checking instagram,
  • checking tumblr,
  • checking twitter, etc.

is tempered by the fact that I don’t have apps for most of those platforms, and the mobile sites are slow enough that I don’t feel an instant sense of gratification. The browser isn’t horrible. If I wanted those things, I could get to them. It’s just inconvient enough that I probably won’t.


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Written on April 4, 2017