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.
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.
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)!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.