The first story I wrote for myself was a piece of fiction about God being sent to high school. I was, not surprisingly, in high school at the time. What was surprising was the vein of writing I found in myself. I sat down at the computer and the story just showed up — seven pages of it.
As the creative burst subsided, I stared at those seven pages in the word processor — Wordstar — and I began to fret about line spacing, page numbers, and other formatting decisions. I was silently asking myself, “How am I going to make this palatable to the editor? To the publisher?”
My first story ever. Seven pages in and I’m worried that double-spacing is going have an impact on whether I get published.
Ambition. The great blind motivator. You gotta love it.
To God and Back Again was never finished, let alone published. It’s sitting on a 3.5-inch floppy somewhere in a file format I’m certain will prevent me from ever reading it again, and, that’s probably best. Old writing is like an old girlfriend: the memory is better than the reality.
Since high school, I’ve continued to write constantly. Journals, physical and online. There was a weblog way back when, and then there is this one, which, 15 years after my first foray into independent writing, actually resulted in published work.
The lessons I’ve learned in that time are myriad, but today I’m thinking about simplicity.
The Writing Tools
For first drafts, I use one of two tools: a Moleskine notebook or TextEdit.
The choice of which to use often comes down to location. Is where I’m currently sitting MacBook Pro friendly or not? If that answer is yes, I’ll fire up TextEdit and get started. As sophisticated tools go, TextEdit is bare bones. It’s just a simple text editor (Sentinel, 15 pt, FTW) that allows me to do rich text editing, search and replace, bold, italics, and the occasional underline.
That’s it. No macros, no line numbers, no revision control, just pure writing simplicity.
This requirement of simplicity is rooted in my belief that choices are distractions and distractions are the leading cause of you not writing. And I think you should write more, which is why my holiday present for you is OmmWriter.
Let It Begin
Let me start by saying that I didn’t write this draft in OmmWriter. I used that fine tool for a good two weeks before I returned to my pleasant, vanilla TextEdit, but that two-week journey is worth understanding.
OmmWriter is a full-screen text editor with an intense focus on simplicity, and when I say intense focus, I mean a maniacal focus on stripping away every distraction that might prevent you from writing… and then providing a subtle set of new distractions. Briefly:
- There’s no menu bar. You must be in full-screen mode. If you leave full-screen mode, the full-screen window calmly fades away.
- In full-screen mode, there are three gorgeous white backgrounds to choose from: snow, white, and white-pattern. That’s it.
- Applications preferences are built right into the writing area and are represented with glyphs. These minimalist preferences allow you to choose a serif, sans serif, or script typeface, and one of three typeface sizes.
My favorite feature of OmmWriter is the soundtrack. The application comes with seven chill songs, which are designed to stay the hell out of your writing way. More importantly, the application provides seven keyboard soundtracks. You pick the sound that occurs when you’re typing, and it’s not a solid, repetitive sound. The keyboard sounds have variation and generally don’t annoy. My favorite is #7, which I call: “My old school typewriter and I sitting at the bottom of a well”.
OmmWriter leads with a simple idea: creativity has a soundtrack. Think about how you begin an intensely creative act. You get your environment just so. You brew the coffee, grab the right mug, which you then place in precisely the correct location on your desk. Your feet flat on the floor in front of you, your spine is straight, and you look directly the screen. Let it begin.
And sometimes it does. It just starts flowing, and the number one rule regarding flow is: “Ignore it,” because any observation of flow risks that flow making a run for it. Your goal is to just sit there and not listen to the music.
The folks behind OmmWriter are aware of this ephemeral soundtrack, and they’ve done everything in their power to give you a fighting chance to get in the creative flow. The experience of first firing up and using OmmWriter is akin to the sensation of putting your head on a down pillow; you can’t help but say, “Ahhhhhhhh”.
This divine experience, even if you’re not a writer, is worth the download of the free beta of OmmWriter, but it’s also the reason I’ve stopped using it.
A Peculiar Creative Flow
My test of OmmWriter was a holiday letter to a friend. After some tinkering, I settled on a clear white background and the bottom-of-the-well typewriter soundtrack. I sat cross-legged on my couch and began. The full-screen editing made sure I wasn’t distracted by icons dancing around in my dock. The delicate soundtrack gently nudged me along when I stared at a half-written paragraph too long. An hour later, I had a comfortable first draft.
As I’m apt to do, I let this draft sit for a day. During this lull, I continue to write in my head. I know what paragraphs suck and I’m instinctually aware of what I have not yet written. My issue during this time was that I could not get the OmmWriter soundtrack out of my head. Rather than thinking about how bad the end of my letter was, I was craving the calming clickity-clack sounds produced by my keyboard while in OmmWriter. Rather than thinking about the writing, I was thinking about the tool.
Having been writing for close to two decades, I’ve learned that the more I write, the less I need. Every feature, preference, or choice that your application gives you is a ripe opportunity to think about writing rather than actually writing.
OmmWriter is a gorgeous experience that you can’t miss. What they’ve chosen to strip away from a traditional word processor is impressive, but what they’ve designed to surround you in as a comforting, artistic, and inspiring experience is even more impressive. It’s not a tool for everyone, but it’s worth, at least, a first draft.