Overcoming writer’s block with OmmWriter

OmmWriter for iPadThere are many reasons why you might be stuck with your writing, and there is even more advice out there how to break the block. One of the best advice I have seen is to write your way out: write even when you are not quite sure yet how to write it, heck, even write when you have nothing to write about! How can technology help you doing that?

I am a great fan of distraction free writing apps and I am using a couple of them (see my post on iA Writer). Distraction free writing apps are great even when you don’t have writing troubles, because their minimalistic interface will keep you in the flow. But when I am stuck, my greatest weapon (next to Kombucha drinks and good coffee) is OmmWriter!

OmmWriter (for Mac: $5 in App Store or name-your-own-price on OmmWriter’s homepage, for iPad $5, and also name-your-own-price for windows) is a strange bird in the flock of distraction free writing apps. While other apps are proud to offer you a writing environment that is as sterile as possible, OmmWriter at the first glance seems to add even more distraction to your writing experience! Writing on OmmWriter happens in a constant soundscape of background music and typing sound effects. While some people don’t like it, I love OmmWriters approach that is clearly centered around their vision to “recapture what technology has snatched away from us today: our capacity to concentrate.”

For the folks over at OmmWriter, our ability to concentrate is not only disturbed by all the formatting options and cluttered interfaces of full-scale word processors such as Pages and Word. They make the point that writing was once an engaging activity that stimulated a lot of different senses (vision, touch, smell, hearing), but that on computers is dominated by vision and the information on the screen. OmmWriter puts the other senses (and emotions) back in by drawing you into a zen environment complete with soothing background images and immersive soundscapes. The iPad app even improves the haptic experience of your writing; only smell is left out, but this is what good coffee is for!


Writing with OmmWriter feels like a day at the spa

On the Mac, OmmWriter starts up in full screen and and advises you to use earphones for an optimal writing experience. They are right! I am writing this review at home right now and started out with using my little MacBook loudspeaker, but it is just not the same as having the soundscape right inside your head. So get yourself some noise cancelling earphones, they are good for a lot of things anyways.

OmmWriter has a limited but useful set of tools that you can use to customize how your text is displayed: You can display your text with one of four different fonts, in four different sizes, and you can resize the area that is used for typing your text. However, these are global settings for viewing your text, not for formatting your text. OmmWriter does not let you do any formattings (not even through mark-up language), but this is okay, as the whole point is to get into the flow and forget about formatting. When you are done, you can copy and past your text into an app that lets you format it, or you can save it in OmmWriter as a *.txt, *.pdf, or *.rtf file.

OmmWriter’s strength comes in the range of background images and soundscapes you can choose from. There are eight background images (two of them slowly dynamically blend colours, similar to how the Spectrum screensaver does), seven background sounds (ranging from zen music to nature sounds to something that I can best describe as “inside the womb” sounds), and seven typing sound effects. It is possible to switch off the sounds, which may make sense when you are listening to your favourite writing music instead. However, I would suggest to always keep the typing sounds switched on. I simply love the instant gratification I get from typing with OmmWriter!

Once you start typing, all settings, the mouse, and the word counter will disappear and all you see is the text on the background. Be ready to be taken away!


Writing becomes an art again on the iPad

One of my biggest issues with writing on the touch-keyboard of the iPad is not necessarily that I can’t rest my fingers on the keys. When it comes to ten-finger-typing, I have a green belt at best, as I need to have a look down on the keyboard from time to time to re-orient myself. However, what I don’t like with many iPad writing apps is how little space remains in the landscape view once the keyboard is displayed.

OmmWriter on the iPad gives you a lot of space to see your text and the background image, thanks to a revolutionary keyboard that brings back some of the haptic joy of writing that is absent with normal keyboards (both physical and virtual)! In fact, I will go so far to say that OmmWriter has the most amazing typing interface that I have ever seen on a tablet!

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OmmWriter's keyboard brings something like a haptic experience back to your digital writing workflow. The keyboard moves back and forth under your fingers, and your inputs leave little marks that fade away in seconds.

OmmWriter does not add keys or shortcuts like iA Writer does (it can switch to qwertz and azerty though). It could do this maybe, but this would not follow Ommwriter’s design philosophy. No, OmmWriter profoundly changes your typing experience by offering a translucent, dynamic keyboard! You can see the background image beneath your keyboard, and your fingers will shake up and leave fading marks on the keyboard. All this draws you further into your writing project and lets you forget all the other things that happen around you.

Another thing that is surprising at first, but 100% in line with OmmWriter’s design philosophy, is that you can’t access the touch keyboard in the portrait mode. For the folks over at OmmWriter, the portrait mode is the dedicated reading mode in which you can read your work without any distractions. Not a bad idea, as I don’t think that you can realistically type in the portrait mode anyways, and it would certainly ruin OmmWriter’s superb typing experience described above.

However, what I like to do sometimes is to hook up my external keyboard with my docked iPad. This way I am still able to write in the portrait mode.

Otherwise, the iPad version comes with pretty much the same background images and soundscapes as the Mac version. One cool tweak I have noticed is that the winter theme (one of my favourites) is more dynamic on the iPad. If you look carefully, you can see how snow flakes are falling through the screen.


A really great app, but needs cloud support!

I am a really big fan of OmmWriter’s approach to writing. But having said this, I hope that they continue to update their apps to address a couple of things that interrupt the zen experience they so nicely create for your writing.

First, there is no cloud support that links your Mac with your iPad. Currently, the iPad version does not even support dropbox, but this might change soon according to the OmmWriter blog. I also wished the developers added an auto-correct function, as this would help me to type a little faster (or at least worry less about all the mistakes I make), and that they would offer additional backgrounds and soundscapes as free add-ons to download.

OmmWriter helps you to follow one simple rule: Don't multitask, just write.

Specifically for the Mac version, it would be nice if OmmWriter could support Lion’s full-screen mode. Right now, OmmWriter starts up taking the whole screen, but it is a full-screen mode on your normal desktop, which makes switching between apps a little bit complicated. Before going on, let me stress that you only want to switch away from OmmWriter if you really have to. The whole point of OmmWriter is that you don’t multitask and instead you are fully engaged with the text!

This is great for free-writing exercises, when you are writing your first draft (or draft zero), and when writing your blog. However, when I am fine-tuning and editing my writing, I often have to switch back to some PDF app. Unfortuantely, everytime I do so the music stops, just to start again when I am switching back to OmmWriter. The most obvious workaround is of course to use a different writing app for the later stages of your work, or to mute OmmWriter’s music and fire up your own ambient tunes. It would be nice if OmmWriter found a way to keep its music playing, but I guess that there are restrictions from the OS that don’t allow for that.


OmmWriter is my secret weapon to overcome writer’s block

Is OmmWriter my standard writing app? No, but I also feel that this is not what OmmWriter wants to be. It is not an app for fine-tuning and editing, but an app for the first draft and free writing. For me, OmmWriter is my secret weapon to overcome writer’s block, or just to get me started on something that I don’t want to write about yet. OmmWriter is for the special occasions. It is an app that helps me to write more creatively by engaging all my senses and producing emotional reactions.

It is really easy to get carried away when writing on OmmWriter, as you are so immersed in the experience. OmmWriter is a great tool for getting and keeping your flow going, and flow is after all one of the most important things when it comes to writing. For this reason, OmmWriter is an indispensable tool in my workflow, and I am sure I will use it even more once cloud support and full-screen mode have been added.

If you have tried out OmmWriter, on what side of the lover/hater divide do you fall? Please leave your comment below, and don’t forget to follow academiPad (jump back to the front page and check the side-bar) for more updates on tools and strategies for distraction-less writing.

Disclaimer: Feature image by OmmWriter, desk image by Martha Stewart. All other images by academiPad. Please consider sharing this article if you found it useful.

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  1. Jo says:

    Haha, I know this nagging feeling. I am pretending I do not care, but it is always there. But I keep pretending nonetheless… :-)

  2. galpod says:

    I tried OmmWriter, and I did not fall off my chair. When I write I have several windows open with other drafts, articles/notes, and I really need a thesaurus when I write. So I keep with word, and if I can’t overcome a writer’s block I do a quick free-writing and take it from there.

    • Jo says:

      Yes, free writing blocks often help. I often do these in OmmWriter, which I use without having any other apps open. I think that is the spirit of OmmWriter, as it is supposed to give you an immersed writing experience without worrying about style, references, and so on. In fact, using OmmWriter becomes distractive when switching between windows all the time, I find, because the music stops every time you leave the app.

      • galpod says:

        I guess it comes down to what your writing style is. I can’t write something without making sure I’m not making it up, but I know of other PhD students (in the same discipline) that are using OmmWriter and loving it. I know that you can go after and check, but for me it keeps nagging the back of my head, and if I have too many of them then it’s just too distracting. So I prefer to find the citation and put in the reference before I continue on to the next paragraph, and that’s really hard to do with OmmWriter. Also, it could be a matter of self-discipline. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but when I do free writing I don’t switch to other windows, I just write. So with OmmWriter I always feel like I’m being “babysat”, and that’s not my favourite feeling :)

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