I’ve been searching for a way to reduce distraction during my working day. I’ve always been someone to shoot off on tangents, particularly when ‘quickly’ looking up some research. This often involves crawling out of the wikipedia rabbit hole knowing a lot of things that I really didn’t need to know. I console myself with the fact that these little details might come in useful at some time in the future when I’m brainstorming out a new story, but…

That brings me on to my quest for distraction free writing. My requirements aren’t entirely straight forward. The main one is that I absolutely insist on writing on a mechanical keyboard. I prefer mechanical keyswitches so much more than the modern membrane style keys. Without wanting it to sound like a whinge, I used to get really sore fingertips after long writing days with these old keyboards, and I find them really unsatisfying to use for anything more than day to day tasks.

Blue switches – ones with an audible click and a firm ‘click’ when pressed are my favourite, although I’ve recently discovered their low profile version, which I think I like even more! The slightly lower amoung of key travel before the keystroke is registered seems to have really sped up my typing (which was already a reasonably speed – about 65 wpm on my regular blue switch keyboard).

Blue switches do make quite a lot of noise, so an alternative is needed for public spaces. I’ve not yet settled on this, but am investigating brown and red switches for the occasions when I might find myself writing in a cafe and don’t want to annoy the people around me. Death by teaspoon is not the way I want to go out!

I also use Macs, so there is a slight difference with some of the utility keys (option and command keys instead of win and alt keys). That’s not a deal breaker, but it’s definitely nice to have.

I decided that a full service computer was always going to provide an easy route to distraction, and that an isolated writing workstation might be the way forward. I quickly found some old tech that looked great – the Alphasmart Neo. However, it is old tech, and I just couldn’t get excited about it. The system offers broadly what I want, but not quite everything!

I found some more modern iterations, but they weren’t quite the right fit for me either. That brought me to the idea of making my own! I think you can see where this is going regarding moving away from distractions…

A Raspberry Pie in a 3d printed enclosure with an eInk screen (easy on the eyes and low power demand) and a mechanical keyboard of my choice built in seemed like it might be a good solution. However, what was intended to be an answer to my search for distraction free writing quickly turned into a very distracting project (albeit one that looked like it might be a lot of fun)! I moved on!

Finally it occurred to me that I was over-complicating things (as I often do), and that the solution was alrady easily available. An iPad, and a bluetooth keyboard. So we come to the elements in the picture above.

I’ve stripped away all the software on the iPad, so there is only a couple of writing apps on it (Scrivener and iA Writer). I’ve deleted email, messages, and bunged any apps I can’t delete in a folder that I have off the main screen. Habit and mindset is important here too. If I want to do something else like mailing or messaging, I force myself to move over to my desktop.

The keyboard is Cooler Master SK622 60% with low profile blue switches. I absolutely love typing on it, and the size is great, although the entire package is not quite perfect for my needs – although it’s pretty close – so I’m still searching for one that is.

When connected by bluetooth, I can’t get the software keyboard to drop off screen, which is not an issue I have with any of my other bluetooth keyboards. It seems the iPad doesn’t identify it as a hardware keyboard. If anyone knows how to solve this, please let me know! This a shame as I far prefer this one to type on this keyboard. I’ve found a workaround (having another bluetooth keyboard connected removes the software keyboard, while allowing me to type with this one).

Also, the small small shift key which you can just see in the right of the picture, and its proximity to the arrow up key has been causing me some problems. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but I don’t think it’s a longterm runner for me, as I use several different keyboards, and prefer the larger right shift key. I may try their larger ten keyless version, which isn’t too much bigger but has the full size shift key, assuming it addresses the software keyboard issue I’ve been having.

Overall, I’m pretty happy. In the ten days I’ve been using this setup, I’ve put out the highest daily wordcounts I’ve had since all the lockdowns started nearly a year ago. The setup – the keyboard in particular – still needs tweaking, but this for me is pretty close to perfection!

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