Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Your Cheatin’ Heart

Since I haven’t posted in a while, that must mean The Novel is going well. I’m happy to say that is the case. And that’s all I’m going to say. Watch this space.

What is helping the process along, and what I have put aside The Novel to blog about, is my latest gadget. As some of you may know, I have been on a life-long quest for the perfect writing gadget. I’ve had many successes over the years, but none as versatile, user friendly and fit for purpose as the AlphaSmart Neo. I have sung the praises of the Neo in several articles, so I won’t reprise them here, except to say the Neo, with its lightweight, rugged design, long battery life and low price tag still fills a significant writing niche, but that gap, I am afraid, is rapidly shrinking. Advances in technology have recently seen my old nemesis, the laptop, regain its position at the top of the heap.

In the not-too-distant past, laptops were too expensive, too fiddly, too heavy and had too short a battery life to be seriously considered as a solution for writing on the go (as I do). But now a line of mini-laptops has arrived that are lightweight and boast a battery life of up to 10 hours.

Now, that may seem paltry next to Neo’s 700 hours, but you can clearly get through a typical writing day on that, and the other advantages make up for the inconvenience of having to be near an electrical outlet for two hours a day.

The biggest innovation, however, is not the weight or the battery life, but the price. Many of these mini-laptops are as cheap as (or cheaper than) the Neo, which raises the question, “Why restrict yourself to the limitations of a Neo when you can get the functionality of a full-featured computer for the same price?”

Why, indeed? So, fickle thing that I am, I have forsaken my Neo for another pretty face. I am such a gadget slut.

The little Acer I received for my birthday (my birthday is actually two weeks away, but my wife wanted to buy this before the VAT rose back to 17%) is every bit as light as the Neo and actually smaller. It has more speed and twice the disk space of my desktop and it is rapidly becoming by “base” PC. I can even access the Internet with it; in fact, I wrote and uploaded this blog post on it—no composing on the Neo and downloading to the desk top PC for the subsequent editing and uploading.

Unfortunately, no gadget is without its weak points, and the Acer, as well as most of the mini-laptop range, suffers in the keyboard department. I am fortunate in that I have dainty fingers, but most normal people would find themselves frustrated by these diminutive keyboards. This is the most noticeable drawback, as the Neo had the type of keyboard writers dream of—quiet, smooth as silk, responsive. But as I said, I can live with this; you may not be able to.

Other drawbacks: even though it is small and light and has adequate battery life, you still need to carry the electrical cables with you just in case you run low on juice, or if you want to keep it topped up. This adds to the weight overhead, and the general portability of the device. Also, preliminary test show it is also not as comfortable to use and I can’t actually open it fully on the bus, which was the whole purpose for buying it in the first place. I can open it enough to work with it, but it isn’t as convenient as the Neo. But I fully anticipate it will be easier to use on the train, where I often could not even take out my other laptop due to its size, and in the pubs, where lugging my huge Dell around was a real inconvenience.

Despite those drawbacks, and the touchpad (which I hate) and the small screen (which is big enough, but pales next to the wide screen of my Dell) I am happy with the Acer, and plan to make it my gadget of choice for 2010.

Now, let’s see what 2011 brings!

OF NOTE: a year ago, when my desktop PC began slowing down, I did an on-line search for tools to check it and fix it. I came across PC Tools and purchased a trial version which was worthless, and moved on. Over the year, this company has continued to SPAM me and this past week they billed my credit card £29.95 for a year’s extension on their software license. A quick web search revealed this is their business model, scamming people into testing their product and then getting a grip on their credit cards and not letting go. People reported going through a lot of time and effort getting them to return the money, only to find they were charged yet again. The only solution offered was to “lose” your card and have your bank issue a new one.

I personally don’t have the time to chase these charlatans down, so I am eating the £29.95 and chalking it up as a lesson learned. My credit card is up for renewal soon, anyway, so they will not be able to charge me again. But I wanted to let people know about PC Tools and their business practices so you can avoid being taken.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Speed Writing

Gosh, 47 days without a post! Bet you thought I gave up writing or something. Quite the opposite.

After months (many months, years actually, but "months" doesn't make me sound like so much of a slacker) of dithering and procrastination and trying to come up with a formula that would motivate me to write, I seem to have accidentally stumbled upon something that works, so if I don't post here as often as I used to, it's because I'm being more productive in a 'real' writing sense.

I won't go into details, because what is working for me is not likely to work for you, but to satisfy your curiosity—and to give you a peek into my method on the off chance you might find motivation in it as well—I’ll tell you this much:

I shifted my focus away from a set amount of time each day to a set amount of words. Over the past years, I have proven time and again that I can easily fritter away the hour or two I put aside for writing, but now that I know I can't stop until I finish a set number of words, those words come, and they come quickly.

Also, it's gratifying hitting targets every day as it provides a sense of accomplishment throughout a process that traditionally has been a slog.

The quick writing has other advantages, as well. In the past, I used to agonize over every paragraph and finish the book having rewritten lots of it along the way. So when I read it over, I think, “Well, that’s not too bad,” and I tinker with a few bits of it, pronounce it done and send it out. My purpose now is to get to the end of the story with nothing but the skeleton of a plot and a heap of words that screams for a re-write. Yeah, I’m actually trying to write something what, when I get to the end, will be obviously shit.

And I have to say, I’m doing a darn good job of it.