How to setup a minimal Laptop as a Focused Writing Tool.

These days I had a chance to catch up with my siblings and found myself in an interesting discussion with my brother, about a simple setup for mobile authoring of documents.

And as I pondered that question during my trip back home, I came up with some ideas about how to build the type of machine we talked about. Namely something small resembling a laptop, but with a dumbed down feature set, to avoid the distractions of the Internet, Email and various other features of a modern laptop.

I thought about building a customized laptop, based around an ARM board, eventually with a custom designed mechanical keyboard, and a custom Linux based OS, with limited applications, eventually even a built in power adapter, to reduce the number of items to carry on a trip.

But as I was working from my train seat, I noticed that in some way, I already have quite a good machine for writing from on the go.

Because ideally, the device that we conceived would be simple that it could be used like a single purpose appliance. Instantly on, without the boot process of a laptop.

But as I am writing this from a MacBook, I remembered how hassle free the standby mode is, compared to all the Windows and Linux laptops, that I would use as well.

And I already do use a kind of “distraction free” writing environment customized to me needs. For me that is a VIM with the “Goyo” plugin, running inside a tmux console, in the terminal app.

Goya, provides a simple centered writing space similar to what other “distraction free” editors would provide. I use the tmux feature to hide the status bar, and I usually run the terminal in full screen. For me that is quite sufficient, as I have tmux usually always running, for opening new terminals, doing programming, connecting to servers etc. And as a Vim enthusiast and heavy user, I am quite comfortable with the cumbersome keyboard shortcuts.

Just getting the instant standby operation as smooth as on the Mac when creating a custom device and motherboard, would probably be an intense experience of yak shaving, I thought about the option to just use a Mac based laptop for the ideal basic writing machine.

It would require the discipline of only using the machine for writing and sending email, but some discipline is required for writing as well. And getting something like a used small MacBookAir, to set it all up, would probably not be even that expensive.

And even for software options for my brother, a few came to my mind. There exists an app called “Typora” for the Mac, which provides a very streamlined and distraction free option for producing “Markdown” documents, without the hassle of actually needing to write markup, as it is a WYSIWYG Markdown Editor. It has a distraction free fullscreen mode, and is as basic and minimal as it gets.

Other than that, the Machine could probably be dumbed down to the essentials, WiFi could be disabled, and with a cleaned up Dock, it could distraction free as well. Considering that Typora would be kept in Fullscreen anyways, and the Machine would wake up to the empty page or last document of the editor.

And even for the requirement of sending the occasional email without getting sidetracked by an obnoxious display of the inbox I think I saw a solution in the experimental “Plain Email” that kind of provides a distraction free Email Composer.

I am not quite sure if “Plain Email” is ready for actual use, but given the constraints I would be curious to try it, and see if we can get such a machine to work as to our intentions.