Those who follow my ImmerseOrDie reviews will know that I spend a good deal of time each day on a treadmill, reading ebooks and writing reports about why they did or did not hold my attention.
But many of you don’t know that I also write books on that treadmill. Or at least, I’ve been trying to. Several times over the last few years, I’ve tried to get into the more healthful habit of writing while walking. We’re not talking about a blistering pace here. My sweet spot of productivity—to the extent I’ve had any—seems to be somewhere between 1.0 and 2.2 mph, depending on what I’m working on.
But each time I’ve tried, the limiting factor has been the keyboard. Even though I love the mechanical keyboard that has eliminated my repetitive strain problems (the QuickFire Ultimate from Cooler Master), walking in place on a treadmill puts an entirely new order of complication on things. The simple matter of trying to keep my hands pinned to a fixed place in front of me while my body wobbles and totters (front to back, side to side, up and down, etc.) is enough to drive spikes of pain up my arms, after only an hour of work. So every effort I’ve made to adapt the treadmill to my writing process has failed.
Last fall, I took delivery of a crazy new concept in keyboards. The TREWGrip. At first glance, it looks like some futuristic cross between a space-ship remote and a serving tray, but looks can be very deceiving.
This is not the first alternative keyboard concept I’ve tried in my search for walkery writingness, but the other contenders, like the AlphaGrip, had a serious flaw: I had to learn a bizarre new key layout, which meant I had to abandon 30 years of touch-typing experience. And even after I had mastered the AlphaGrip, my top speed was only about 35 wpm. To a touch-typist accustomed to 80+ wpm, treadmill time was no longer an ergonomic discomfort, but my productivity plummeted due to the much slower rate of getting the words out.
But TREWGrip completely avoids that problem, because the designers did something no other keyboard I’ve ever seen has thought to do: they preserved the traditional QWERTY layout.
At first glance, the bizarre clamshell layout makes it seem impossible, but imagine this… Imagine that your hands are positioned on your normal keyboard. Now slice the keyboard in half, right between your two hands. Then grab one half in each hand, keeping your fingers in place on the home row and placing your thumbs underneath the front edge, below the severed space bar. Now pick the two halves up and turn them like you’re reading a book, butting the tops of the keyboard halves together in front of you so that you’re now looking at the bottom surface of the keyboard.
But notice that your fingers are still in typing position. You can actually type like that! The same familiar movements still take your fingers to the same familiar letters. In about an hour, I was typing comfortably, and within two days I was back up to my normal speed. The folks at TREWGrip simply moved the space bar to the “back,” where your thumbs are, and then they put an LED letter display there too, so that as you type, you can actually see what letters you’re pressing, as the corresponding LED letters light up.
The next thing they did was build a space-mouse into the package, giving you left and right mouse buttons (next to the space bar), and you control the mouse position by tilting the keyboard assembly left, right, forward, or back. It’s entirely intuitive and works brilliantly.
So now, when I’m walking on the treadmill, my hands are completely free to wobble and totter with me—they’re not pinned to a stationary point in space. And better yet, I don’t have to reach back and forth as I move from keyboard to mouse. It’s all right there in one device, and it’s so effortless, I can even write source code on it, which is saying quite a lot about it’s completeness.
In addition to the treadmill, I’ve even started using it with my Android phone, which mounts conveniently into the gap on the “back” of the keyboard, right between my hands. So not only can I write while walking on my treadmill, I’ve actually started using my phone as a primary authoring platform. I haven’t touched my laptop in months. Now when I want to get out to do some writing in a coffee shop or at the library, I just grab my TREWGrip and go. My phone is already with me.
It really is changing my life, making my writing life much more spontaneously portable than it used to be, and giving me complete freedom of the city. Now the only problem is deciding whether to keep the TREWGrip with my treadmill or in my car.
I might have to get a second one.