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!

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

Writing: My Current Workflow…

As you could probably surmise from the length of my last post, I’m not only into techie geeky stuff, I also love to write.

Since I was a boy I’ve always loved telling stories. It’s what I did then (with my toys, friends and Dad’s old typewriter he had in the office) and what I still do today (less toys, better friends that also write, and many, many word processors). Though the platforms I use have changed drastically and will continue to do so, the spirit of it all still very much there. So what do I like to write? I typically write fiction of a darker tone, focusing a lot on Horror and Science Fiction. I’m pretty much always in the middle of writing something novel-length that I’ll inevitably have a hard time finishing.

But as much as I love writing and telling stories, I’ve also been falling in love with the process of writing as well. More specifically, the tools that are available to all of us today. So, with this in mind, I thought I would take some time to describe my current writing system to you all. My hope is that might inspire some to write more often and in more places. Because inspiration can happen anywhere!

Ok, full disclosure. I’m a Mac user and enthusiast. It’s what works for me and it all works quite well. I’m not going to debate the merits of other platforms, they all have their strengths. That all said! Here’s my setup on a hardware level:

  1. A 2011 Mac Mini in the office.
  2. An iPad (3rd gen) for writing remotely. Had a laptop, the iPad replaced it recently. I also use a stand and an Apple bluetooth keyboard.
  3. iPhone (this gets replaced every other version. Currently it’s a 4)

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When I’m home, I generally use the Mini, it’s a little powerhouse, has much bigger screen and has a full size keyboard. All make for easier writing in general.

iPad SetupiPad Setup side view

When I am out and about and I know that I am going to write, I’ll bring my iPad setup. This consists of the iPad, a stand (The Compass by TwelveSouth) and Apple’s bluetooth keyboard.

Otherwise, I always have my phone on me, so note taking or even full on writing is always at hand. Though, admittedly, it’s tough to pull off a full-on jag of writing on an iPhone, I have done it a few times, which to me is kind of amazing.

So that’s the hardware involved. I’ve yet to have a serious problem with this setup. In fact, in the last year I paired down a good bit of my setup when it became clear I could supplement my iPad for a laptop with very little sacrifice.

But we all know that hardware is only as good as the software you run on it, so here are the tools of my trade, as well as the two scenarios I constantly run into that they accommodate.

First Scenario: I know that I am going to be writing on my iPad in the morning, finishing up a thought on my iPhone during my commute and tidying up on the computer (iMac) in my office. One document, on 3 separate devices, saved and synced each time.

Solution: iA Writer (OSX and iOS Universal)

iA Writer

This little gem of an app utilizes Apple’s iCloud service to sync between all of the above devices almost instantaneously. It’s pretty amazing to watch actually, and I’ve yet to see it fail. Not even once. Because it works so well, I’ve come to rely on this first system 75% of the time. It saves your files in text format or in straight up markdown (which is quite handy for blogging). While it’s preferences are basically non-existent (it’s a focus-based text editor), it performs it’s function, letting you write, quite well. I do wish it had better sharing options but there are a lot of easy ways around this. All versions of this app are full screen and very easy to read, leaving just you, the screen, and your words. Highly recommended and a silver bullet solution to the scenario above.

Second Scenario: I know I’ll be writing on any platform on the planet, PC, MAC, Unix, iOS, Android, etc… and will need to edit it on my iOS or OSX device later.

Solution: Elements for Dropbox (iOS-based) and a free Dropbox account for cloud storage along with the free corresponding Dropbox iOS apps (also found for Android devices as well).

If you have an iOS device and any kind of computer the solution above works great! It’s not as streamlined as the first solution but it isn’t difficult and it achieves the same result. Your writing will be synced and available across multiple devices. In fact, I have to hand it to Dropbox. Their service/product alone has enabled SO many opportunities to folks who need mobile cloud-based storage it’s pretty amazing. This solution worked perfect for me the other day when I was working on a text file at the office on my PC. When I was done, I saved it to my Dropbox account and headed out. I had some time at a coffee shop a bit later and fired up my iPhone to edit it more there, once complete, I synced it with Dropbox again and headed home where it was waiting for me to edit on my Mac with any text editor I had at my disposal. Easy peasey!

Elements is also a WAY more robust and full featured editor compared to iA Writer, which is incredibly spartan intentionally by design. I’ve used Elements for many other text editing functions other than writing. I’ve actually coded web sites in it on my iPad! Lots of options and very easy to use. In fact, if it supported iCloud sync and had a corresponding Mac app, I would be inclined to ditch iA Writer entirely and just use Elements. It’s that good. But both text editors are superb, they just were built for different purposes that’s all.

So that’s it! That’s my current writing system. I personally couldn’t love it more. I can write literally anywhere and when I don’t have a data connection, everything saves locally and syncs the next time that I do. With this setup, the technology finally gets out of the way, and with my full screen, distraction free text editors I am focused. Which is important when you are in a public place and get distracted easily. ;)

I whole heartedly recommend one or both of the solutions above for your writing. I currently use both weekly (sometimes daily depending on my needs). Hopefully it will encourage you to write more, in more locations and give you less excuses not too.

Here are all the links above in one place:

  1. iA Writer (OSX and iOS Universal)
  2. Elements for Dropbox (iOS-based)
  3. A free Dropbox Account
  4. Dropbox app iOS apps (also found for Android devices as well)
  5. The Compass by TwelveSouth
  6. Apple’s bluetooth keyboard

Also, if you are even remotely interested in an exhaustive list of all of the text editors available on the iOS platform, I recommend checking out this incredibly thorough article by Brett Terpstra. I can’t even imagine the time it must’ve taken to put this together.

Lastly, the very popular tech site “The Verge” just recently did a post about this very topic! So if you are looking for another take on all of this. Check it out here..

UPDATE: One of my favorite Mac and tech writers out there, Federico Viticci, literally today (04/27/12) just posted a very in depth article about his personal writing workflow as well! Be sure to check it out here.

Thanks for stopping by! Hopefully you found this useful!

~Tad