A modern typewriter

I enjoy writing but I don’t write nearly as much as I used to anymore, if at all. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is and I think it comes down to the fact that it’s hard for me to write deliberately anymore. It’s hard for me to say, “I’m going to spend the next hour writing” and actually do it. I blame a lack of self control, but I also blame the tools that I have to work with.

Assuming that the stars aligned and I did set aside some time to write and went as far as opening a text editor, it wouldn’t take long for me to get distracted and wonder what’s new on Reddit or Facebook or to open up Tweetbot and start scrolling through. I’ve tried using tools like RescueTime or StayFocused, but at the end of the day, those don’t work for me. I want my writing device to be siloed.

When I say siloed, I don’t mean disconnected from the Internet. We still live in 2017. I want the device connected to the Internet but not the part of the Internet that streams an endless supply of status updates and blog posts and funny photos directly to me. I want it connected to the part of the Internet that safely backs up my data to the Cloud in case my hard drive crashes and lets me retrieve what I’ve written from another computer easily.

Around the time that I was thinking these thoughts and not writing, I was also looking for things to buy on the Internet that I don’t need and I came across a recertified Chromebook that after discounts and taxes and shipping came to $87. Now this may seem counterintuitive — if my purpose was to have a dedicated device for not being distracted, why buy a computer that is literally just a web browser? I don’t have a good answer for this, and unfortunately that doesn’t stop me from buying things on the Internet.

So I bought one. For a recertified product, it looks pretty new. It’s light and has long battery life and a full sized keyboard.

I had a picture in my mind of what this experience would be like. There would be a text editor that takes up the entire screen. Whenever I hit Save, it would automatically be stored in the Cloud. The computer would instantly turn on and open directly into the text editor. It would work offline, but would still sync whenever it managed to connect to the Internet.

Screenshot taken from the Chromebook

Theoretically, all of these things are possible with a stock Chromebook. Google Docs seems like an obvious choice, but I was looking for a text editor more than a rich text editor. I found the Chromebook equivalent of Sublime Text called Caret and managed to get it into full screen mode and saving files to Google Drive. But small visual differences between Caret and Sublime Text started to bother me. I couldn’t configure it exactly how I wanted and the workflow was different than I was used to on my Macbook. The offline and online modes were not as seamless as I’d hoped they would be. All of these things added up to constantly remind me that I was using a webapp and not a native one and took me out of the experience. And if I just created a new tab, I could easily be distracted again.

So I looked into how to replace the operating system on my Chromebook and found GalliumOS. GalliumOS is a Linux distro that is optimized for Chromebooks and can install packages made for Ubuntu. I discovered that if I kept my Chromebook a dual-boot system, I could flash the firmware and install GalliumOS along side the default OS without having to open it up and remove the firmware write screw. In fact, I could do it without even needing a USB stick. After an hour, I had installed the OS, Sublime Text and Dropbox. I installed the Menlo font (the default font for Sublime Text on OS X) and configured Sublime Text’s distraction-free mode to take up the whole screen and pointed it to a folder in Dropbox.

Then I started writing this.

It’s not perfect and it’s hard to gauge the effectiveness since I’m on day 1, but I think there is something here. If I only suspend and never reboot it, when I hit the power button, it just turns on into the text editor and I can resume writing. When I close the lid, it goes to sleep. When I save a file, it silently syncs it to Dropbox if it’s connected to the Internet.

If there were a Linux distro specifically for distraction-free writing that only had three things: a modern text editor, a wifi configuration screen, and cloud storage, I think people might use it, either re-purposing old laptops or buying Chromebooks specifically for it. They could even dual-boot their primary computer to it if they didn’t want to have a dedicated device.