My netbook has increased my writing time and made writing fun again

Buying a netbook computer has boosted my writing output considerably, and it has given me a renewed enthusiasm for writing.

Even though it looks as if I haven’t written much for the last 12 months, I have. I have written a lot. I just haven’t been doing it on a computer because my writing time is away from home—travelling to and from work and snatched during lunch hours. I have been writing by hand.

I filled around 30 notebooks. I have written lots of blogs. Most of them are still in my notebook. Some of them are obsolete now because they are no longer relevant.

I also wrote 30,000 words of my workshop novel.

30,000 words. 120 pages. Ten pages a month, and they weren’t even good pages.

Writing by hand comes with its own particular problems, of which I’ll blog about separately (the blog’s written, I just have to find which notebook it’s in) but the main problems for me were:

  • It’s incredibly slow
  • I don’t re-write hand-written text as I go because the re-writing slows me down. I do rewrite on the PC, because it’s easy to do. This means the handwritten text is less polished than the typed
  • I have terrible handwriting. By the time I transfer the it to computer I can’t even read half of it, and I have no idea what I meant by the cryptic notes I made for myself at the time.

I know a writer who writes all his first drafts by hand. He wouldn’t do it any other way (and it’s not an age thing, because he’s younger than me). But I can’t write at that speed forever. I would only finish one novel every ten years.

Two months ago I bought a netbook computer. As a writer I had some specific requirements.

  • A keyboard that I could type on
  • Microsoft Word
  • At least 1 megabyte of memory (so that I could run Office programs easily) and with more than one open at a time
  • It had to fit into my handbag and be light enough for me to carry with comfort if I decided to, say, walk home from work

Things like wireless access and price were important, but not deciders.

I spent a lot of time in computer shops typing “A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”. (Have you ever noticed, by the way, that all demo computers are at least two months old? In all the time that I looked I never saw one computer where the Microsoft trial was still running.)

Some computers were just too small. The Asus Eee PC, for example, was cute, but I simply could not type accurately. Some computers had good keyboards but when I picked them up they weighed a lot. Who wants to walk around with the equivalent of a bag of sugar in their bag? Not me.

I finally settled on the Acer Aspire One. The price had come down, it was being sold with XP and it had 1MB of memory so I knew I could put Word onto it. I specifically wanted Word so that I could update the document from either my desktop PC or the netbook, depending on where I was at the time. And it was the smallest keyboard that I could type with relative accuracy on.

It took courage to take it out in public the first few times. I felt really stupid. The first week I just carried it around in the bag. Then one morning I got brave, sat down in my local McDonalds with a coffee and muffin, and forced myself to use it.

It was a month before I would take it out every day and considered it normal. But now I do it over a coffee in the morning and in a small cafe over lunch. (You need to pick your lunch spots carefully. Choose quiet ones that are never full, and do later lunches, if you can. And don’t stay forever. There’s a backlash right now over people with computers who hog tables for hours over one coffee. My own etiquette rules are: always buy food as well as a drink, and never use the cafe’s power, only your battery.)

It’s costing me more in food (and I think I’m gaining weight) but the writing benefits are well worth it. Since I’ve had the netbook I have completed my workshop novel (another 30,000 words) , and written a second draft.

Not only that, I have more enthusiasm for writing. I didn’t realise how much writing by hand was holding me back.

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