Introducing my AlphaSmart

I have, since sometime in 2012, been without a laptop computer. This has been extremely limiting for my mobile writing but I’ve gotten used to using Athena, my Massive Gaming Desktop Bohemoth for all my novel writing. While she is great for music, video, gaming and all sorts of other programs, it is very difficult to lug a tower around with you whenever you want to write, and while I adore my office and have found the habit of sitting in the same chair every morning to be very good for productivity and consistency, life doesn’t always allow us those set times. So, in response I’ve been shopping for an alternative.

One of my most googled searches was, “Ideal Writer Setup.”

I was thinking I’d get some sort of recommendation of a good tool for writing on the go. I needed three things: Something I could type on, something that I could limit distractions on, and something portable.

My husband and I skimmed through countless PCs, but we’re cheap and none of the ones we saw really seemed to fit what I had in mind. I was also feeling frustrated about the idea of having to purchase another copy of my beloved Scrivener just so that I could sync up my two projects.

Then, I found it. Exactly what I wanted: the most basic of basic typewriters.

An AlphaSmart Neo2.

Now, some people just use their tablets and to them, I say, “Good. Enjoy that.”

I have an older eReader-style tablet but I’ve never needed one of the bigger tablet PCs. I tried to sync a bluetooth keyboard to it, but the battery life is so poor on my eReader when I’m using it for applications.

When I was in college,tablets were hopelessly out of my student price range and I had a perfect functioning laptop. And now, it still makes my eye twitch to spend a couple hundred dollars on a device that will be so dependent on the internet for syncing and storing. (Though I won’t lie, I’d love to have a Microsoft Surface Pro 4)

Still. My AlphaSmart is better than all of that.

By KeesvL at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Koman90., Public Domain,

This device is a Smart Keyboard that was built in 2004. It lets you type, it lets you see four lines of what you type, it runs on 3 AA batteries and saves every keystroke as you make it, making it practically impossible to lose your work. It also calculates word counts.

For me? This is ideal. I spend 35$ and while there are a couple of keys that aren’t as responsive (Specifically the number four for some reason) and I’ve noticed that tapping the corner in an uneven manner will shut the entire system down, making the device difficult to use while moving around or jostling, I’ve found that the lack of distractions make any blocks I’ve had with my writing in the last few weeks completely worth it. And! Even when it turns itself off, I’ve never lost a single word.

Best of all, because it doesn’t require connection to the internet, I can use it ANYWHERE and the long battery life makes it ideal to sit wherever I want in a restaurant or cafe. I’m no longer tied to the power cord.

I won’t say this works for everything. After all, while I wrote this blog post on my Neo2, I still had to do all my editing and formatting on WordPress. I also don’t trust this device for any project that requires a lot of formatting or page previews. But for straight ‘Write The Thing’ effectiveness? It’s fantastic.

I’ve been able to write outside, on the couch, at cafes and most importantly, during my lunch break at work. It’s light and fits in one of my medium sized tote bags.

I was introduced to this device on the NaNoWriMo message boards and there are a lot of people who are fans.

If you are a writer who has to have access to their entire manuscript at all times while writing, this might not be the tool for you. I tend to get bogged down if I focus too much on what I’ve written before and that makes it difficult to move forward. I also am they type of person who takes a lot of notes on paper during the day. The AlphaSmart lets me take those notes directly with a keyboard and then later load them up to the document in question.

You can hold up to 8 files on the AlphaSmart at any given time for a total of about 10k words per file. As I have never in my life written that many words at one time in one sitting, I think the space restrictions will be fine for me.

I’ve designated files 1-7 for Mon-Sun and then file 8 for my notes and misc. Thoughts that needed to be uploaded. After I made a saved copy on Scrivener and Word, I’ve turned around and cleared the file, ready for the next go around.

This isn’t going to replace a laptop or a tablet. There are no apps, there isn’t any access to email and the font is the most basic of basic 90s style tech. Over all, the entire device resembles an overly large calculator. But I’m so pleased.

What sort of methods do you use for your writing? Do you use a tablet or longhand everything? Let me know in the comments below.