Writing: 750words.com

What is it?:

750words.com is a site dedicated to writing, yep, you guessed it, seven hundred and fifty words a day. The concept behind it all comes from “The Artist’s Way” and the act is referred to as “morning pages”. The idea being that if you can type out at least 750 words during the day, it will clear out the cobwebs and get you ready to approach anything with a clear head (or at least a clearer one than you had before). The service itself is entirely online and private. It provides an online editor (that is spartan, but surprisingly configurable) that gives you a word count as it auto-saves your work while typing and that’s about it.

There is a community aspect to it all, but it’s not forced on you. It is simply there if you need it. There are also merit badges you can receive as well for reaching personal benchmarks in your daily practice (because that is purely what it is: practice). They give you nothing really, but it is nice/fun to have something to shoot for other than the personal satisfaction of reaching a certain typing speed, or that illustrious moment when you completed your daily entry for the thirtieth day in a row!

If this all sounds pretty simple, it is. That is the aim after all! The service’s entire function is to provide you a nonjudgmental forum for you to brain dump ideas. There are no rules, no structure and no limitations. It’s not blogging. It’s not supposed to be. No one will read this except you (though there are opportunities to share if you choose to).

How I use it:

I fire up an external editor, separate from the 750words site. Preferable one with a word count that has a distraction free, full screen mode available.

Here are some favorites of mine that cater to many different writing setups:

  1. iA Writer (iPhone/iPad, Mac)
  2. Elements (iPhone/iPad)
  3. Scrivener (Mac, Windows)
  4. Omm Writer (iPad, Mac, Windows)

After I’ve followed my writing idea to it’s inevitable completion, I stop, see how many words I’ve written and if I have over the coveted 750, I highlight it all and it paste into the editor on 750words.com. I quickly verify the site saved my words and then log out and go on with my day.

I used to try to make this a morning ritual but, to be honest, I am not much of a morning person. So I often write my words whenever I find a block of time. It doesn’t really matter when you do it, just that you do it.

Why I like it:

The idea behind the entire site is to get you to write every single day and, hopefully, make it a daily ritual. It might sound like a lot (it is actually about three pages), and somedays it totally is, but if you can do it and stick with it, it becomes an immensely rewarding experience. I am currently on my forty eighth consecutive day!

The way I always aim to start, is to come to the keyboard with an idea ahead of time. If I don’t have one (hey, it happens) I pick the first thing that floats into my head. Literally. Once I have the idea, I write and let the idea take me where ever it decides to. Sometimes it ends up veering WAY off topic. Sometimes a beautiful short story comes out of it! Sometimes it takes the form of more of a diary entry. But, at least for me anyways, it’s always an exploration. The fleshing out of an idea. It’s me taking a concept/topic and thinking it through entirely.

And, most importantly, it’s me giving myself permission to.

Our days are filling to the brim with time suckers, diversions and stupid, menial distractions. It’s gotten to the point where I often need to stop the world, unplug and do what I love to do: simply write. I shouldn’t need a reason, but having one helps.

If I don’t have my 750 words? And I promise you, this will definitely happen. I stop, take a breath and see if there is anything else I have to say. Maybe there’s another angle, or something different entirely that weaves into the topic. Point being, the act of stopping and listening to yourself is always precious, both in writing and in life.

In Closing…

The tag line of 750words.com is perfect. “Private, unfiltered, spontaneous, daily”…

I have honestly been shocked at how much those aspects of this site have benefited me. I’ve had some great ideas shake out of it and, in a lot of ways, it’s been an unexpected kind of therapy for me. Add the frequency to all of this and the fact that you are simply writing WAY more than you were before and it becomes an invaluable task to my day to day. I no longer look at it as “one more thing I have to do”. I actually look forward to it.

So if you are looking to kick start your writing into action again or for the first time,sign up for 750words account. It is literally a definitive “win-win” and will never steer you wrong. I can’t recommend it enough.

And if you end up loving it, support it!

Interesting Ideas: The LEAP

Saw this making the rounds today. Pretty interesting tech going on here! In a bunch of ways this is where I am hoping personal computing is going: less tactile and more fluid.

I like the idea of computer use being more an extension of natural human movement rather than all of us hunched in front of screens moving our hands repetitively until they ache and degrade.

Anyone out there know if this project is legit or not? They are taking preorders but, to be honest, the price ($75 with shipping) seems to good to be true. Also, I’m always suspect of video demos that could easily be doctored into a “proof of concept” rather than and actual demo of the hardware in use. That and their “Developers” tab is a dead link. Not a good sign.

Anyways, here’s the video. Hit me up on Twitter if you know anything about it! Might just have to order one! :D

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_d6KuiuteIA]

UPDATE: This definitely is legit. CNN ran a bit on it and it’s been featured on just about every reputable Mac site on the planet (and then some). Pretty amazing stuff! Again, as I said above, the content of that video and the price point alone make me want to grab the ole plastic and hit up that preorder page they’ve got! Add in what appears to be a good amount of developer interest and it’s total win-win for us Mac owners!

Software: Day One Journal

I’ve always been a huge fan of journaling. It’s you taking time out of your schedule, stepping out of the constant stream of everything that barrages us every second of every day, to simply acknowledge what you’ve seen and experienced. It’s an activity worthy of anyone’s energy and time.

This all said, I haven’t been able to stick to journaling at all in the past. My mind forms pages of prose WAY faster than my pen can race across any given page. So as much as I love the concept of it, I am not disciplined enough at doing it. There was always the option of opening up a text editor on a computer and creating entries that way, but that is disorganized, aesthetically lacking and it feels like any other activity you’d do in front of a computer. Not you taking time out for yourself.

But what if someone decided to create an application dedicated strictly to capturing the spirit of pen and paper journaling? Furthermore, what would be your stipulations for such an app? Here are mine:

  1. Like a notebook, it would have to be readily accessible. In my pocket and on my desk (on portable devices AND stationery computers).
  2. Because of the above, it would have to sync between said devices. Updating multiple instances of the same journal would get frustrating and old quite quickly.
  3. It would have to supply a user experience that somehow takes you out of the day to day work you do on a computer. So that when you opened it, you would think “it’s time to write in my journal!” not, “it’s time to journal, oh, let me check my Twitter feed first! Oh yeah, look, I’ve got new email. Should look at that now…”
  4. It should be simple to use and get out of the way of the user’s need to write, yet have powerful features that are there if you need them.

The good news? There is an app that supplies these things for me and it’s the new reason I journal and have been journalling (sometimes multiple entries a day!) every single day for the last year. So what’s this magical unicorn of an app? Enter “Day One Journal“!

Day One icon

From the outset, this app is no-nonsense! You open it for the first time and with a little initial one-time configuration, you can be writing your first entry in under five minutes. The app is available on OSX and iOS (universal), so it’s available on every tech device I have (Mac mini, iPhone and iPad) and because it syncs with iCloud (or Dropbox if you prefer and have an account) all of my entries are constantly in sync no matter what screen I am looking at.

Day One everywhere

The UI is quite elegant on all platforms, organizing your entries in a variety of ways (in a daily “stream-based” view, a in a calendar view, or in a section listing entries that you’ve favorited). You can even set up alarms to remind you to write in your journal (you can turn them off as well!).

Day One views

When you open a new entry, you are greeted with some inspiration in the form of famous quotes from people present and in the past (A nice touch, but thankfully you can disable these as well). The date and time is filled out for you and you are left with this wonderful white space to type in! Once you get your thoughts and memories down you click/tap the “Done” button and that’s it! It syncs instantaneously in the background, backing up our words as well as making them available anywhere that you have Day One installed. If you don’t wan’t your words in the cloud and just want them stored locally on your computer, you can do that as well (though you lose the syncing capability). Don’t want other people reading your words? No problem? You can password protect your entries!

Have you written something you’d like to share? That’s easy too! By clicking the share button on the entry you can get social in many different ways, email, Twitter (built in iOS integration), you can even export your entry if you feel the need.

Day One options

It sounds like a lot of options and it is, but I can’t express enough how much the developers of Day One made them all secondary and unobtrusive to the simple of act of writing in your journal. I haven’t even touched upon the quick entry window in OSX that’s nestled in your menu bar at the top of your screen, allowing you to add an entry without opening the app itself, or the different fonts you can use, or that it supports the highly readable markdown code… there’s a lot! But here’s the thing: it’s not overwhelming. Which is the point right? Writing in your journal should be easy! It should be a joy and not a chore!

That’s why it was crucial and wonderful that the developers of Day One nailed this experience.

When I am not writing lengthy entries, I actually use it to write Twitter-like observations in my day to day (leaving my actual Twitter stream more lean and curated). Little memories, anecdotes, ruminations or whimsies, all the little stuff that gets lost typically, is documented in my digital journal now! Also, I have to admit, once you’ve started, it’s amazing to go back and read what you were doing the same day last year.

It reminds you that you’ve lived and to me? That’s pretty damn precious!

Day One collage

There are a few improvements that could be made to the app (a lack of a search function, you can’t embed pictures into entries, iCloud sync is new and thus is a little buggy at times…) but they don’t detract from the experience and, in the case of the ones I listed above, they are all being addressed in future releases of Day One (which are free by the way). It’s also Mac only. Sorry Windows/Linux users.

So, to bring it all home, if you’ve been on the fence about keeping a journal or maybe you’ve been thinking of getting back into it but want a more modern twist on the act of keeping one, I can’t recommend the Day One Journal app enough. I’ve loved it immensely!

~Tad

Helpful links:

  1. Day One Journal Site
  2. Day One Journal Mac App Store
  3. Day One Journal iOS

PS: ALL pics in this post were snagged from Day One’s press kit found here on their site

Writing: My Writing Setup Part 2 – Hardware

I touched upon this in a previous post but, as that post was focused on the software I used, I thought I’d expound a little more on my writing setup from a hardware level and why I chose the setup that I did.

I’ve taken a very minimalist approach to the hardware I use in my writing nowadays. I used to have a 13in MacBook Pro and that was WAY more hardware than I needed for 90% of what I do with a computer everyday. I considered selling it for one of these, but even that seemed like overkill. So when the last iPad came out I was then convinced that I could whittle things down even further, go even lighter, even more portable. So I did what a lot of people in the tech and writing field still consider to be unthinkable: I traded in the laptop for a iPad.

I won’t lie, it hasn’t been the easiest transition but, to be honest, it hasn’t been that bad either. I actually only find the setup to be irritating in the most small and unexpected ways. But the cool part is, is that there are always ways around any issue or hurdle I’ve come across so far. Do I miss my laptop? Sometimes. That’s unavoidable. There are still some instances where I have no choice but to seek out some morerobust hardware to do some heavy lifting. But, in all honesty, it’s been shocking at how much I don’t have those situations pop up.

Bar none the iPad’s been amazingly capable.

So! With out further adieu, here is my current hardware setup for writing (and a ton more)!

  1. An iPad – (2012, 3rd generation)
  2. A stand (TwelveSouth’s Compass)
  3. Apple’s bluetooth keyboard

iPad SetupiPad Setup side view

There are plenty of alternatives out there that I considered, BUT, I already owned a spare Apple bluetooth keyboard and I had no interest in spending the extra cash involved in buying an alternative.

The good news is, purely by circumstance and not experience, I actually ended up prefering my setup to a clamshell-based iPad case for a variety of reasons. Here are the Pro’s and Cons!

PROS:

  1. Because the keyboard isn’t attached, I am not handcuffed to being a set distance away from my iPad. I can sit as far away or as close as I want. It also helps with ergonomics if you have issues with that. Separating the keyboard from the screen really affords a lot of customization. Me? I typically have the keyboard on my lap and the iPad on the stand on the table in front of me. It’s just more comfortable for me that way.
  2. The particular stand I bought allows for some natural adjustment of how the iPad sits on it. So there’s some good angle adjustments you can make to make sure you are not Quasimodo-ing over your screen. The free standing nature of it all gives a great amount freedom to place things where you want. It accommodates you rather than the other way around.
  3. The 2012 iPad’s screen resolution. Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard all about the wonders and spectacle (including unicorns) of the most recent iPad’s screen resolution but, I gotta admit, it’s pretty damn glorious and way nicer on eye strain than the models before it. If you can spare the extra scratch, I highly recommend it. Especially if you plan on spending a good amount of time in front of it. Think of it as an investment in your ever faithful eyeballs. :)

CONS:

  1. Everything’s separate and in individual pieces. No, I’m not crazy. I know I just extolled the fact that separate pieces are my preference. But it’s also one of my setup’s greatest weaknesses. An “all-in-one” setup is easy to grab, throw in a bag and go. It’s definitely more convenient. But in this case I chose my own comfort over ease of use. When you get to your writing location with an all in one setup, you put it on the table, open it and get to work. With my setup, you sit down, take out the stand, unfold and set it up, place the iPad on it, take out the keyboard, turn it on, sync it to the iPad and then get to work. In short, it’s definitely something to consider.
  2. Stand weight. As much as love my stand, the TwelveSouth stand is woefully hefty. Some might argue that the ruggedness is a strength and testimate to the quality of the product. It’s hard to argue against that but, I’d prefer a stand that was WAY lighter and made with the same quality. I haven’t found one yet, but I’m definitely on the hunt.
  3. Battery life. A bluetooth keyboard needs batteries and, in return, crushes the battery life of your iPad as well. So, wireless convenience definitely comes at a price. And packing extra batteries or a charger can definitely be a drag.

So no doubt, there is a good bit to consider and there definitely isn’t what I’d call a silver bullet solution. Like many things, it all comes down to your life and your preferences. For me, my setup definitely outweighs the inconveniences that are packaged within. They suck up mere minutes and only add a little extra weight to my bag. Does it successfully replace my laptop? Yes, for me it does. But please remember that I predominantly write, check email, Twitter, and browse the web. I do occasionally code but not at a rate that would necessitate anything above my memory and a basic text editor. So, in short, this setup works for me, but it may not work for you! Don’t get suckered into the latest round of “ditch your laptop for an iPad” propaganda. It’s a romantic notion for sure, but it definitely doesn’t accommodate everyone’s wants and needs. Not yet anyways.

Hopefully you found this useful! Hit me up up on Twitter if you didn’t or have something to add! I would genuinely love to hear it! I think a lot of folks are curious about this situation. I know I was!

Hope you all had a good week,

Tad

The Web: ThisIsMyJam.com

In the hopes of mixing things up in this space, I plan on putting up some “What I Like” posts that will talk about anything and everything that I am currently enjoying quite a bit. Think of them as one shot reviews of things, services, web sites, gadgets, books, beer, hiking gear, tea/coffee, movies, really anything! These types of post are aimed at being a snapshot of what ever is striking my fancy at the moment.

In the end, my hope for these posts is to bring your attention to something that maybe you have never seen before that I hope you would enjoy (like I do).

So! Shall we? Yes? Sweet!

Today’s Topic: is a little gem of a social web service called “This is My Jam”. It’s a relatively new web site (it’s still in beta actually), but it started getting wider adoption at the beginning of this year.

This Is My Jam

What’s it Do?: it allows you to choose a song as your “jam” and it posts the tune up for the world to see (and your followers) for as long as 7 days before it asks you to choose another one. It also allows you to display your curated picks on Twitter and Facebook, if you like. The final icing on the cake? You can also listen to a stream of your followers selected “jams” as well!

I particularly like this feature because when your friends or like-minded followers create a playlist for you, it affords all kinds of fun and surprising music possibilities! It’s eclectic, engaging and, most importantly, fun!

Ok, but how easy is it to use?:

  1. Log into the site at thisismyjam.com
  2. Search for and pick a song to share. Preview it if you’d like.
  3. Write a quick blurb about the song and why you chose it (this is optional).
  4. Post it.

The Verdict:

That’s it! It’s an über simple service and I think it’s simplicity is it’s greatest strength. It serves only one purpose: to help you share your favorite tunes with the world.

But even the simplest ideas can fall flat if the implementation is poorly thought out or awkward. Thankfully, the folks behind TIMJ made the user experience and interface clean, simple and nice to look at (always a bonus). It also takes very little time to use (the last thing you or I need is another social network taking up your time).

In a world of bloated and complicated everything-and-the-kitchen-sink web-based services, it’s nice to see one that has taken a simple idea and implemented it so well.

As I said before, it’s still in it’s fledgling stages and while plenty of people use it, I wouldn’t say it’s thoroughly caught fire yet. But regardless, check it out, sign up, create an account and invite your friends! You’ll be sharing AND discovering new music in no time, I promise!

One con? I do wish they had a mobile app, but I don’t think that’s not a deal-breaker. The best picked tunes are the ones you are sitting down and listening to anyways.

So that’s it. If you like it, drop me a line on Twitter (the “follow” link is above in the header if you feel so inclined). Honestly, if you are music lover, I can’t imagine you being let down.

Here’s my TIMJ link: http://www.thisismyjam.com/thaddeushunt

Enjoy!

Tad