Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tools of the Trade

I’ve mentioned earlier in my blog a few items that are in my writing arsenal. Since it’s the holidays and sales are par for the course over the next couple weeks, I thought I’d discuss my writer’s assistants along with a few other things that aid in my wordcraft.

As a writer on the go, I’ll start with my portable writing companions first. Back when I was toiling through NaNoWriMo, I wanted something lightweight, compact but still capable of storing a novel-length work (and accompanying short stories), with the appropriate programs to allow me to store a large text document and transfer it to my desktop computer at the click of a button. I looked into laptops, but since I was still toiling away as a mere file clerk at that time, I wasn’t exactly rolling in the spending money. The answer was simple – a PDA would serve all the functions of a laptop that I needed in an affordable and easier to carry package. Enter the HP iPAQ rx1950 Pocket PC. This little beauty operates on Windows Mobile 5.0 and includes a basic version of MS Word for your writing needs, a memory card slot to expand its storage capacity, built-in WiFi for coffeeshop internet access, ActiveSynch to move your files to your desktop easily, and even has Windows Media Player if you want some video clips or music files to inspire you. You can even hit the easily accessible record button to dictate flashes of inspiration. The rx1950 is better than the Palm PDAs in that you can replace the battery if it ever craps out on you (and it will if you don’t keep it charged properly), but you have to be very gentle with tapping the stylus on the touch screen. Too much repetitive tapping in one area may damage your touchscreen. (Also, you can find the latest and greatest HP PDAs here.)

While we’re on the subject, a good accessory to this PDA is the Think Outside stowaway wireless IR keyboard. While it’s not quite a full-size laptop keyboard, the FN keys give you access to everything you need for touch typing so you don’t have to hunt and peck with the stylus to type. It corresponds well with the built-in infrared of the rx1950, folds up nicely for ease of storage, and it has an extremely long battery life to keep you typing well into the night.

My PDA carried me through much of the development on what would become my trilogy, but the actual writing of my three-book epic requires something a little more powerful, yet still affordable. For this, I turned to the HP Mini 110, a notebook laptop that has everything the techno-savvy writer needs to write away from home. It’s got Windows XP and the full Microsoft Office suite installed, which means I’ve got access to everything that I’d normally have on my desktop while I’m out and about. It’s got QuickSynch capability, so transferring your files back and forth is just as easy as with the PDA, and I’d dare say that it’s easier to use the Mini’s built-in WiFi capability for those moments when I need to fact-check something online. It’s not as versatile as your average laptop – there’s no CD/DVD drive, but there are three USB ports to plug in everything from flash drives to headphones and everything in-between, and the optional 6-cell battery puts the Mini at a nice angle to use the keyboard comfortably. I’ve only had it for a couple months so I don’t know what drawbacks might crop up after a year or two of constant use, but I’ve fallen in love with it already. (And again, you can find more HP laptop options here.)

Not every tool of the writer’s trade has to be high tech, though. Some of the best are actually very mundane. I tend to keep a stack of index cards on my desk for jotting down the odd note, or for writing out summaries of my chapters to see if they need to be rearranged to improve story flow. There’s also something to be said for carrying around a pad of paper, if you want to go that route, too. Both options require a reliable pen on hand at all times, and I’ve got them scattered everywhere. A writer without a pen, after all, defeats the classic stereotype.

And there you have it, the equipment in my writing arsenal. There are others, of course, including digital recorders, cell phones and Blackberry devices, and even Post-it notes. Not all of them will be your cup of tea, but with a little experimentation, you may find just the right tool to aid you with your own wordcraft.

1 comment:

  1. How is it that it took me this long to realize I could use my PDA's memory card in my HP Mini? Yet another reason I love this thing!


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