for the Vagabond Writer
writers are a particular lot. You're careful to find space
for your books and your desk, and jealously guard your writing
time. You crave quiet so that you can concentrate on your
work. You're happy to type away in the dead of night or
at the crack of dawn.
Ah. Quiet, so very quiet ... except for the sound of the
sound of the cat licking herself. Phew, did the dog just
fart again? And what's that creaking noise? The room seems
... smaller somehow. Are the walls closing in on
It's too quiet! You've got cabin fever! You've got
to get out of here, escape to the beach, a writers'
convention, or even just the neighborhood coffeehouse.
is, you'll be leaving your desk behind, and you've got stories
to finish. What do you do?
Pens and paper work just fine for many writers. "That way,
it looks like you're taking notes at the office meeting
instead of writing a short story in which a woman escapes
an office meeting," says Haddayr
carry a Hipster
PDA with me at all times," says writer Wade Rockett.
"The index cards fit nicely in most size pockets and are
flexible enough that if I have to carry them in my jeans
they don't bulge or make it uncomfortable to sit. I use
Bullet Space Pen to write with. It's small and writes
I have to take extensive notes, like at cons, I bring my
Moleskine notebook," says Rockett.
Moleskines have been around for over 200 years. They come
in several varieties, but the classic design is a small
notebook with a sewn binding (which in addition to being
stronger than glue lets you open the notebook flat), a reinforced
pocket, and elastic band to secure the pages. Many authors
have used and loved Moleskines, including Neil Gaiman and
writers prefer other styles of notebook, like the Rhodia
pad or basic reporters' spiral pads. As attractive as
rich leather-bound notebooks are, few working writers actually
use them. Their expense is a hard justification for many,
and others find that attempting to write on fancy pages
is mainly a recipe for writers' block.
Adams carries a notebook with him everywhere, but agrees
that it isn't a perfect writing solution. "The disadvantage,
as with all hand-writing for me, is that I usually can't
scribble fast enough or long enough to keep up with my thoughts."
Parks carries a laptop with him out of necessity. "On
the few occasions I've been forced to take notes with pen
and paper, half of it is unreadable by the next day," he
best on-the-go writing device is one that is light, durable,
easy to use, and affordable, just in case it gets crushed
in an iron maiden while you're doing research at your local
Laptop computers are certainly much more affordable than
they used to be: new Macintosh and PC portables can both
be obtained for less than $1000, and older used models can
go for just a few hundred. Plus, laptop computers let you
carry those crucial-for-creativity tunes and movies with
you wherever you go.
tend to write exclusively on my Mac (desktop computer),"
says writer Dave Klecha. "Since I don't have a Mac laptop,
and I want to keep all my writing in one place, I have something
running on my Mac called VNC
Server. Properly configured with my high-speed internet
access, it lets me access my Mac (and my writing program)
from anywhere I am that has a high-speed Internet."
Swanberg says, "I usually write on my 12" Powerbook.
I got the smallest one for portability reasons. When I don't
want to carry that, I write on my Zaurus
PDA with an infrared keyboard. The problem with that
is I have to have a flat surface, so I can't do it on my
lap unless I have a clipboard. And well, if I have a clipboard,
I might as well have my Powerbook."
nice as it is to have all your notes, music, and movies
available in a single device, full-sized laptops can be
too delicate, expensive, and bulky if you find yourself,
say, fleeing from cannibal rednecks through a rocky graveyard.
Like Swanberg, many writers have found that modern PDAs
work as fine pocket-sized substitutes for laptop computers.
Those who don't want to juggle a cell phone, PDA, and external
keyboard have found devices like the "smartphone" Treo
built-in thumb keyboards are difficult for those with large
fingers or joint issues, and even a $400 device is too expensive
for many working writers. Author Nalo
Hopkinson is the happy owner of an AlphaSmart
Dana, a light, durable PalmOS device built into a full-sized
keyboard. The AlpaSmarts start at $139 new for the 3000
model and are compatible with both Mac and PC desktops.
Hopkinson reports that she gets 30 hours of use out of her
Dana before she needs to recharge it; more recent models
claim to operate over 700 hours on 3 AA batteries.
Because the device can run on AAs instead of just the built-in
rechargeable battery, she can take it to any country and
not worry about adapters for the charger.
AlphaSmart) weighs just over a pound," says Hopkinson. "I
can pick up my email on it if I'm at a hotspot. Plus, I
don't have to transcribe my notes afterwards. I love the
meant to survive a four-foot drop, and I can attest that
it does," she says. She further thinks the device would
probably survive a dive off a rooftop with at least its
memory card intact. "AlphaSmart products are made to be
used in schools, so they can take a beating."
Hopkinson once read of a horrified mother who discovered
that her son had squashed a fresh peach into his AlphaSmart's
keyboard. "She took the keyboard keys off and washed them,
carefully wiped down the machine and put the keys back on.
It worked fine."
The AlphaSmart gets my personal vote as the portable computer
wandering writers should investigate for themselves. It
seems likely to survive spurting blood, corpse slime, and
many bumpy expeditions into catacombs and abandoned factories.
And if you get locked in a closet, your air might run out
before your batteries do.
though Lucy A. Snyder is a confirmed gadget freak, she does
love pens and paper and admires those who can fill their
notebooks with elegant cursive. Sadly, her own handwriting
is an indecipherable scrawl, so she sticks with computers.
Her work has appeared in a wide variety of online and print
publications. You can learn (and read) more at her personal
site at www.sff.net/people/lucy-snyder.
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