When it comes to writing tools, discovering them is half the fun. Over the years I’ve figured out what pens and pencils I like, which journals hold up the best, and even what software works best for my brain.
Here’s a quick run-down of my current writing setup:
I write on a Surface Pro running Scrivener, synced to my iOS version of Scrivener for updates on the go, although I rarely write entire pages of fiction on my phone. I use Leuchtermm for my “regular” journal and Field Notes for my pocket observations, both in the dotted form. My pens are Zebra Sarasa Clip, and my pencils are Golden Bear. I use an ancient stationary Microsoft mouse with an enormous thumb trackball the size of a plum, and a mechanical keyboard from Das Keyboard with Cherry brown switches. The crown jewel of my office is an Aeron chair, snagged for fifty bucks at a moving sale, and so comfortable that I miss it whenever I travel.
Really, I don’t need anything else! But like most people I’m drawn to shiny gadgets, especially those that I can’t afford. Enter the beautiful monstrosity known as the Freewrite. Originally a Kickstarter project, it’s a $549 mechanical keyboard with a small E-ink screen attached. If you flip a switch, it will upload what you’ve just written to the cloud. But it’s got no apps, no internet, and no distractions, making it perfect for drafting prose.
Obviously I wanted one. So shiny! So retro! But there was no way on Earth I was dropping that much money on a single-use gadget. Instead, I bought a different device with the same basic purpose: An Alphasmart NEO2.
Writing with the Alphasmart NEO
Like the Freewrite, the Alphasmart NEO is basically a mechanical keyboard with small screen and a basic piece of word processing software installed. The NEO2 came out in 2004 and was used in many classrooms around the country. Now, they’re cluttering up eBay, many of them scuffed and worn, but with plenty of life left in them.
The big difference between the devices? The Alphasmart doesn’t wirelessly upload your words to the cloud. And it’s not nearly as pretty, I suppose. But the functionality is similar. After you’re done writing you connect the Alphasmart to your computer with a USB cable, open whatever program you want your words transferred into, and hit the SEND button. Then the NEO types your words into your screen, as if a ghost were operating your computer while you watch.
When I first tried this, it made me laugh! There’s a little progress bar on the Alphasmart with a percentage counter that goes up to 100, and it takes a minute or two to send the text. It made me feel like I was in an eighties movie trying to defuse a bomb before the time ran out.
The best difference between the Freewrite and the Alphasmart? The latter costs about thirty bucks.
Why bother with an old word processor from 2004? The advantage of these devices is a distraction-free experience. There’s no internet connectivity, no distracting apps, no Twitter, and no notifications. It’s for composing, period.
I’m typing this post on a NEO, and I find myself enjoying the tactile sensation of the keys. The small screen is useful for catching typos and fixing a sentence or two, but it prevents me from returning to prior paragraphs and picking my words apart. Sure, I can have a “distraction-free” experience with a pen and paper, but I prefer typing to writing.
It’s fair to ask why I can’t simply ignore the internet on my computer and stay focused on the task at hand without gadgets like this one. Well, I can, and I have. But as anyone who uses tools will tell you, it’s a pleasure to have a gadget that does one thing very well.
I expect that most days I’ll continue to use Scrivener on my computer to write. But the Alphasmart is perfect for blogging on the couch at night, or heading off to a coffee shop to bang out a thousand words without the temptation of Twitter, or just having fun with an old-school gadget.
How do you minimize distractions while you write? If you’ve got a tip, drop it in the comments below. And happy writing!