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.

AS_Neo
By KeesvL at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Koman90., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9587860

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.

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5 Tips for getting the F*ck out of bed

Happy Saturday dear Readers.

It’s day 38 of my ‘Wake Up Every Day and Write’ Streak and I’ve learned a few thing that I feel others who are also trying to create a habit will appreciate in walking this writing path.

  1. Keep your alarm clock across the room

I have a habit of slipping my finger over the snooze button about six or seven times when I am trying to wake up. Bonus pro-tip- make the song or alarm something truly obnoxious. If you have a partner that you’re sharing your room with, make sure that they despise or hate the sound in question so that they forcibly boot-kick you out of bed.

2. Programmable Caffeination Delivery systems.

Most people are coffee people, and luckily for you people, there are lovely and cheap coffee pots that come with a clock and a programmable function that lets your machine make that sweet elixir of life hot and fresh when you wake up. Set that mo-fo up before you go to sleep and you’ll scramble to your alarm turning off the wails of whatever heinous sound  you’ve set to torture yourself with KNOWING there is a warm and sweet drought of modern magical miracles waiting for you.

3. Keep your routine simple.

You’re getting up to write, not be on the cover of People. Step away from the mirror. No one needs to be afraid before they get to the words. Don’t worry about getting ready for the whole day. Just get your butt out of bed and into the chair. The chair has no eyes. It doesn’t care how weird you look after getting up. I try to keep my up-to-chair time within the 5 minute mark but I’m not always successful, especially if I check Twitter or Facebook first. Which leads me to tip number four.

4. Don’t check social media before you write

I break this rule all the time. Y’all can call me out, but it’s no use.

On the days that I can resist talking to people, it’s a really good day. I usually send out a ‘Hey guys I did it again!’ type tweet and then move along with the day. Don’t scroll through! If you’re using it to keep accountable, state your bit and move along.

5. Remember that every day you get the first word you already won

Writing is pretty easy when it comes down to sitting in a corner and telling myself stories. Its getting up and doing it every day that’s hard. It’s the days where you get done with a manuscript and feel that you just made no difference on that particular plot hole or your characters sounds like cardboard cut outs or you went back to find your place and found you accidentally wrote the same scene twice. It’s easy to say, “Screw this” and go back to sleep. It’s hard to push through and do the thing anyway. But if you’ve got a streak it makes it easier. If you even manage to do it twice in a row, that’s a streak! So keep on.

I tell myself this stuff as much as I’m telling the rest of y’all. But you know what? We got this. We can do this and it’s going to be ok.

Hit me up on Twitter, @dracoangelica if you’re looking for accountability buddies. DM me there or post a comment. I’m always interested in commiserating with fellow habit makers. Happy day 38!

Set Backs or Channeling the Turtle

Setbacks suck.

I have been having a great year so far. Having a four day weekend to start the year off with helped a lot in getting some headway on my writing goals. I’ve written over a thousand words every day since 2016 started. But that’s not what we’re going to talk about today.

Sometimes when we’re going forward, we trip. And it sucks because no matter how far we might have come, it’s difficult to remember our progress because we’re too busy spitting dirt out of our mouths.

For example, I over slept Saturday and Sunday before, missing my ‘up by 5:30am’ self-imposed ‘Up-Time’ on Days 31 and 32 of my ‘Write-Every-Day’ challenge.

I’ve always struggled with perfectionism. It paralyses me, this deep, inner belief that I have to not just, DO the thing I attempt, but also be the Best and most Perfect at that thing.

So on Saturday and Sunday when I overslept, I was feeling very grumpy about it.

I had some choices when I realized what I’d done.

I could have rolled over and gone back to bed, tossing this whole ‘Get Up Early’ thing in the trash and declare that it just Didn’t Work and I apparently had lost my ability to produce. All because I did one day ‘imperfectly’.

I didn’t do that, but I thought about it.
I got up and put 277 words on my board then took a nap and tackled more words later that day. On Sunday though, I overslept by an hour.

When I realized how far I’d fallen off my timeline, I felt terrible. Suddenly, this writing thing I’ve been doing didn’t feel like fun, it felt like an obligation. It wasn’t something I was choosing to do, but something I HAD to do and I have and resist ‘having’ to do anything.

In the past, this would have been the point of quitting.
I had not only done it imperfectly once, I’d done it imperfectly twice in a row. Imperfection was becoming the new streak.

I didn’t give up this weekend though. I chose to go back to sleep with the intense determination that I’d get up at 9 and catch up the words and that would be good enough. Because it doesn’t matter when I get up as long as those words are on the board, period.

There are times where the things I want to do just don’t work out the way I want and that is ok. I am still trying and I am still trying and still moving forward even if it didn’t go according to plan.

I was talking to Elizabeth (she’s been on the blog before) Saturday night about how hard it is to see the bigger picture of your achievements when you’re in the middle of trying to make them happen.

She’s published a book and is struggling her way through finishing her second one. She works two jobs and has a lot of Life things that have crept up on her like an angry badger over the last two months. She was lamenting at her lack of being able to carve her time out to write between all her obligations but completely seemed to forget the fact that she’d written over 144k worth of words last year despite challenges that I know I didn’t have.

My friend is the turtle and I am the hare.
As long as she can do her words at some point, it doesn’t matter how many there are at a time, because she knows that in the end she’ll wind up with enough to build the book.

I’m more impatient, needing that book NOW.

So many times in the last two years of pursuing writing, I have quit. I have stopped for days, weeks, and months out of frustration for not meeting that mental goal of perfection.

But it’s not about who is the fastest.
It’s not about who gets there soonest.
It’s not about being best.
It’s about doing what you want to do. Every day.

I have to do it a little at a time and sometimes that means I will be late.

If you’re reading this, it’s not because you want the perspective of an expert. It’s because you want to hear the commiseration of a fellow writer. A fellow trail partner on the road to making a living out of this little writing thing we all love to do.

I have over 70 pages on my current Novella and that’s something I didn’t have a month ago.
I didn’t skip writing Sunday even though I was late.
I didn’t skip yesterday.
And here I am today.

With each setback comes the opportunity to dust ourselves off and keep going. And that’s what we need to keep doing.
Channel the turtle in your writing and know that you can make it happen if you focus.

Inspiration and the Habit

Whenever I listen to writers who have more experience than me, writers who are farther than I am down their own publishing/creating/business journey, they usually say that they’ve “been writing stories for as long as they can remember”.

Well I’ve been reading stories for as long as I can remember. My family is definitely a book family. All of us have some wall or another devoted to the collection of our favorite texts. And these are stories that get passed on.

I started writing when I hit puberty. I remember when I realized that it was more than just writing that made an author.

I used to think that when I read a book, the writer had sat down and just pulled the story out of their head like they were unwinding a skein of yarn and just laid a perfect coil of fiber on the page, mailed it to a printer and that was the end of it. It was David Edding’s book “The Rivan Codex” that burst my illusions about the publishing industry.

In the book, Eddings is candid about what he had to do to publish and polish his many fantasy epics. Eddings stated that he didn’t feel like any fantasy writer would ever be able to write a good fantasy without a degree in medieval history, which I think now, is very much a reflection of his time period. We live in a constant changing and ever fluctuating world and while the formulaic books by Eddings did form the backbone of my childhood expectation of what a story was.

The one thing he didn’t talk about what the habits and methods to getting one’s story out of your head and onto the page.

It was a DragonCon, I’m not sure if it was 2008 or 2009, where my Author SuperHero-Idol Mercedes Lackey was at a Women of Sci/Fi and Fantasy panel that the key to getting a book finished was summed up by, “Get your ass into the chair.”

Floored.

I had all these moments where I’d relied on inspiration, on that ‘IDEA’ spark. Then I’d pour out my work in a flurry of excitement, throwing out hundreds and sometimes thousands of words on a page, before running out of steam and happily filing that story to a file.

But then I’d go pick up that brilliant story only to find I had no idea where I was going from there.

It can happen where a writer throws out a fully formed story on the first try, sort of like a potter throwing a pot on the first try, but every potter would point out that’s rare. It was a lesson I badly needed.

Inspiration is a part of writing. You can’t tell a story if you don’t have the creative idea to pull from. But it doesn’t get TOLD that way. It gets told by getting into a routine and putting work into it every day.

For 2016 I’m going to tell stories. Every day. Whether its days like today where I am a bit parched from the New Year’s festivities or days where I’ve had plenty of sleep and can slam out entire chapters.

Thank you for joining me on this road towards publication, this road towards sharing good stories with the world. Thank you for watching one more traveler plinking out the words to make the chapter to make the book that I hope will entertain someone. Happy 2016.

Mondays, Perseverance and Clean Starts

Every year I think, “This time, this time I’m going to do it better.”

Maybe its the clean calendar, full of open days that have no obligations or memories attached to them yet. It makes a new year feel like a new notebook. Pages fresh and clean, no blot outs, no torn pages…everything has the potential to be new.

But those new notebooks come with a lot of pressure. You are taking a thing that is beautifully pure, unvarnished with your mistakes and you pour yourself into it, ink drop by pencil scratch.

New Years are like that.

2015 brought a lot of changes into my life. We bought a house. We got a Roommate. My location for my Wage Labor job changed. My husband made it through another semester of college. We got Star Wars. My roller derby team disbanded. My parents moved. My sister brought a new man into our family. I’ve gained pets with my roommate. I’ve had to throw away old things, relocate the things I have, and then turn around to get new things to replace the things that no longer fit.

Writing is like that for me. Always changing. Always moving. Most of the time, forward, as new ideas and new stories come to me. Sometimes backwards as life gets in the way of the thing I really Want to do.

Yesterday, after returning home from the holidays, I began to re-organize my kitchen. My kitchen is the hearth in my home. We all have to eat after all, and if you’re going to eat, you’re going to need a tidy place to make the food.

I also reorganized my current work in progress. My process for both is similar.

For my kitchen I took out everything that I had in each cabinet, looked at it, matched Like with Like and returned it, stacking it neatly so that I could find what I needed. For my novella, I pulled up Scrivener, and then copied and pasted in my project, scene by scene, labeling each card with the character’s POV and folding them together so as to make better sense of where the heck these two crazy kids are going.

Every year is the year we’re going to do it better. And it starts with doing better every day.

It’s so much easier to take it a day. A page. A cabinet at a time. And that is my goal for 2016.

One word.
One step.
One day at a time.

On Being Stuck (Or: Another NaNoWriMo Update)

I’m extremely behind on my NaNoWriMo today.

And yesterday.

And the day before that.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve made any significant progress for days. Which is hard because I want to be doing well and I want to be putting those words in, but I am suddenly hitting all those road blocks that hit me every time I try and get through a project like this.

I wish I knew what I was doing wrong. Other than not writing which is always the wrong option.

My first trip up came with hardware. The tablet that I use to write away from home is called Winston because it, like the great Churchhill for which it was named, has narcolepsy and will shut itself down whenever it wants. This is also a busy time of the year at my day job along with the pressures that comes with the holidays.

I keep telling myself not to give up. Reminding myself that I’ve pulled off bigger wordcounts in less time before. But it, so far hasn’t been great.

It’s very tempting on this blog not to report my struggling. I feel, like Facebook or any other version of social mediums, that it’s best not to air your ‘dirty laundry’

But let’s be honest. All writers have these moments. Moments of sitting where the words won’t come or where we just type at ourselves and make no sense and get frustrated.

I recommend that if you are in this situation that you NOT follow my lead which is binge watching Parks and Recreations on Netflix while playing ‘Bejeweled’ on Zen mode for four hours. Or, as I did today, bake and cook for the entirety of the day. (Though, at least if you’re cooking you get bread, brownies, glazed chicken, as well as a side dish of rice and gravy). I think that’s why I turn to games and cooking when the writing gets hard. It’s a place where I can see tangible results instead of a muddy stream of words.

My plan for tomorrow is dictation. Maybe if I can speak the story and type it out, I can break through the string of no writing days. We shall see.

When you’re going through the muddy middle, don’t sit in the middle. Just keep walking.

Nano Update Part 4

Well, just like a business has it’s dips and peaks, my NaNo is now officially in what I believe professionals call, “The Swampy Middle.”

My protagonists are struggling to find their purpose and since I am not much of an outline writer, we are having issues staying on top in the composing and drafting process of writing. I have a basic road that I’m following, but as overall structure of my novel is something I am coming up with as I go, I’m running into problems with keeping everything on track. Tangents happen at this stage in writing for me.

I think I’ve used the metaphor of gardener versus architect before and this part is the most apt to compare the two. As I am letting my little seeds sprout and watering them and tending them, they have all decided that they are going to lean to the right at the same time. So I have to figure out a way to get them to straighten up OR make up my mind if right is the way that the story is going to go.

In short, I hate this part.

Writing is fun. It is the process of creating and sharing what is in my head with people who live outside of it. Yet, when I get to the hard parts like this, it’s easy to let the distractions of the outside world interfere more with the creation process. After all, no one is going to tell me that I’m not being productive if I spend my non-writing time cleaning my house or cooking. If I’m focused for an hour on the household budget when I should be digging into the word garden, only I know that I’m procrastinating.

Heads up everyone: I’m procrastinating.

Right now the benchmark for NaNoWriMo should be 16067 and the last I checked, I’m sitting in the 11000s. So, welcome to the land of catching up.

I’d be more worried about it if I knew I had less time. My new goal for writing is to pound out at least 2k a day until I catch up and then TRY and have a day where I have some word slack so I can enjoy the holidays without knowing that my word count is going to kill me. I have had some technical challenges in using a tablet to write instead of a laptop. (Another story…).

How is everyone else doing? If you’re participating in NaNo, please leave a comment and share your woes. We’re all in this mess together after all and it’s ok if you’re also stuck in the trenches of the swampy middle. Just as long as we keep walking, we’ll eventually get out of here.