Writing or doing nothing 01

After finishing my second book called “Tokyo at Night” which consisted of mostly big and highly detailed watercolor paintings, I decided that I needed a break from this kind of work. I felt a similar sort of weariness as I did while painting animation backgrounds for months without a break.
I was itching to get back to the thing that made me consider going to Japan in the first place – storytelling through comics, illustrations, or animation. Therefore, I immediately spent three months doing another book of detailed illustrations (this time, ink drawings of Hokkaido).

It was harder for me than I expected to focus on a storytelling project because it would require me to do work that did not bear any fruit right away. I was used to making art that was almost instantly finished and shareable. Here, I would have to write, sketch, and think(!) for days, months maybe with no instant gratification. I had to think about some tricks to keep me on track.

As making a story would require writing (even if it’s just a script or bunch of memos for myself), I had a look at some tips from my favorite literary creators. That’s when I stumbled upon a rule that Neil Gaiman applies when he writes: “write or do nothing.” According to him, it’s alright to do nothing instead of working because one soon gets bored and goes back to typing. It may be a good solution for someone who writes longhand sitting alone in a forest gazebo, but I was trying to type using my laptop or my iPad, which can offer distractions aplenty! As much as I would love to write with a fountain pen in a neat notebook, I’m not a linear thinker (I mix, swap and move things a lot) so I would have to type the text to edit it anyway.

What’s more, as English is not my native tongue (but I would like to write in English for its accessibility) I always have to look up words and their uses, which leads to more internet and social media distractions.

Thus, I started looking for ways to write without distractions, but in a way that would be fun too.

Software.

As I already have a Mac laptop and an iPad, I invested in an app that would allow me for comfortable editing and managing my all-over-the-place, non-linear writing projects. I ended up with Scrivener, which does all I need (and more), can also be used by Kana (our accounts are family-linked), and does not require a subscription.

I like how this app allows me to split, reorder and join files effortlessly, that I can add notes and memos in the text, and that it works perfectly with the novel-like style of writing dialogues that I like to use. No problems here.

Casio

For writing without distractions, I started by looking at these stand-alone devices that allow for writing without using a computer or a tablet. In theory, this should allow for a more focused, offline work environment, but they also look so cool!
First, though, I decided to try if I can use something unconventional for this purpose – ideally something that no one needs anymore – a type of digital upcycling.

I heard Neil Gaiman (again) talking in one of his interviews that he typed parts of one of his books on an ancient portable Atari palmtop (something like this probably), so I started wondering if I cannot do something similar. Looking through listings on the popular Japanese second-hand website, I found this beauty for just 24$. A Casio Cassiopeia A-51 made in 1997 (I was eleven at that time)!

image
The Casio Cassiopeia A-51 in a Japanese garden.

This small computer has a lot of upsides – it runs a pocket version of Word (enough for just writing simple text), uses standard AA batteries (no worries about old rechargeable batteries going kaput in 15 minutes) and accepts CF memory cards (which allow me to copy data to and from my main laptop).

I cleaned it up, tightened some screws on a loose hinge, replaced the backup battery (it prevents memory loss when changing the primary batteries), added some cool stickers, and the thing looks almost brand new. I’m excited to use if for some shorter posts and articles – the keyboard is as awkward to type on as it looks, but I love the old school feel and the form factor, so I will keep using it for sure!

Pomera

Next on my list of possible solutions was a Pomera – this is a simple, stand-alone writing device made by a Japanese company. I wanted one of these for some time now, but the price was a bit steep. Just recently, though, the DM30 model I wanted was discontinued, and I was suddenly able to buy one for about a quarter of the original price.

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This device is geared best towards writing in Japanese, but it can be used in English too. It has an e-ink display, which is great in terms of visibility and allows for long battery life too (about 24 hours of use on two AA batteries). As with the Casio, I can store my texts on a memory card, but this device also has 8GB of built-in storage. For the footprint it has – the keyboard is great. After folding it out, it’s stable, and I can write almost as comfortably as on my MacBook. No distractions and no superficial functionality. I can display an outline of the document I’m working on, insert timestamps, search, replace text, and that’s it.

After writing a few short texts with the Pomera, I can say that I like it. Especially the hardware part – the keyboard and the screen are great! The software, on the other hand, is somewhat limited in functionality and has its quirks. No font options, no markdown support, no text format encoding choice – just some small things that would make the device more pleasurable in everyday use, not deal-breakers, though.

One thing is certain – if it comes to the “write or do nothing” rule, Pomera wins. It’s really boring! You cannot do anything on it except write, so of course, you end up writing.

Reference.

Lastly, to enhance my English language skills, I have to use a dictionary. And doing it on my smartphone defeats the whole thing, so I decided to look for an electronic dictionary. I had a used Casio dictionary when I came to Japan, but this time I searched for one with Oxford English-English dictionary and thesaurus. It’s fast and offers more comprehensive and noise-free contents than looking up things online.

Future

My current solution is not perfect, but I’m enjoying this process, and the result is that I’m writing. What’s more, because I started to think about writing (with thinking and researching) as a part of my work, it recently became easier for me to spend a day or two without having drawn anything but still feeling like I had accomplished something.
As for the tools – I would LOVE to try and use a Psion 5mx, but sadly these were not popular in Japan, and it’s hard to justify buying one from abroad.

8 thoughts on “Writing or doing nothing 01”

  1. Thanks for sharing this info, Matt! I am drooling over the Pomera now. Been wanting to get back into writing as well. For a long time I’ve used the Ulysses app on the iPad. (Can’t figure out how to use Scrivener/Scrivo Pro on there and also dislike the new interface. It was better on the Macbook.) But as you pointed out, the distractions can be too much. Sometimes I feel defeated even before pulling out the app. For now, I’m thinking of just doing the good old-fashioned, “turn off the Wifi” bit while writing, to see if it’ll help with the distraction. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s easy to be defeated bu the constant nagging of the Web and Social Media. Fortunately now, you can use all kinds of devices for a dedicated writing thing – old laptops, old tablets, even old smartphone with a Bluetooth keyboard 🙂 Just look around a junk electronics shop or online and maybe you will find something that will make you think “that’s cool” 😉

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  2. I’m happy to see you’ve started a blog, I’ve enjoyed reading your longer posts these past few months. I’m of the ‘unplug the router and turn off my phone’ school of thought when it comes to writing which helps keep distractions largely at bay. It can be a constant struggle though!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Matt! I’ve been following you on YouTube for some time now and I absolutely LOVE your work. Even more so because I live here in Japan and you are truly such a big inspiration to me.

    Now that I’ve gotten my fan-girling out of the way….I just wanted to mention that I have the same issues with writing. I’ve been writing fiction on and off for the last 15 years. And like you, it’s the storytelling that drives me to my passions, such as art (digital painting), photography, and film. I have also been using Scrivener and am primarily a Mac user. Something I learned in recent years that helps me get “in the zone” with writing is using noise-cancelling headphones (I use the Sony WH-1000XM3). Putting one on helps me to temporarily tune out the world. My favorite sounds to use are instrumental, especially white noise and water. Sometimes I use Ghibli instrumental soundtracks but some of them are so soft and mellow that they kind of put me to sleep. ^^;

    Anyway, take care and good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I know what you mean. While I was working at the anime studio and painting backgrounds I used to put on an anima series, podcasts or books, but after a day’s work I would feel like my head was full of hay 😉 Relaxing music, or natural sounds are best. I’m waiting for it to become a bit warmer so we can open our windows and just listed to the hum of the city below (our studio is pretty high).

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  4. Hey Mateusz! I totally understand the search for a distraction-free setup/device, but I think you can fall into a rabbit while on the hunt. Try to look at it from the other perspective. Distraction is happening essentially in your mind – not on a device. You already see that every single solution has a trade-off and you will probably never find the perfect device. Therefore what we can train is our focus using what we already have.

    In my case, I currently use Macbook 12″ 2017 and iPhone 11 Pro. For most of the day, I have “Do Not Disturb” mode turn on both of them and every app I use is on full screen. Then is the more challenging part, when you train the attention span over and over. If done correctly, you’ll jump into the flow and execute your project. Whatever it is.

    Distraction is our reaction to the stimulus, not a notification buzz itself. And as Viktor E. Frankl said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

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    1. This is some great insight! Thanks! To be honest I already started thinking and tinkering about a hobby, DIY writing device project but I think the payoff for what programming knowledge I would have to put into it is too low. I will stick to my Pomera and just writing on my Mac/iPad in Scrivener for now. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

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