Writing on the Go

I write to you from the Itty Bitty writing set up, to assert that you can write anywhere, any time, in any way. I have friends who swear by dictation (I’m looking over my shoulder to see if saying that has summoned Martin Shoemaker, it usually does). I believe Amanda Green has spoken of her travails with the book (or was it books) that insisted on being written longhand on yellow legal pads. I’m not judging. David Pascoe has a sweet raspberry pi set up that looks amazing. Me? Well, I decided if I were going to write at lunch, with no place to sit down… the entire lab crew shares a cubicle, and our de facto IT guy actually sits in it. You don’t sit at someone else’s desk, that’s like sleeping in their bed or something. Anyway, at lunch I can sit in my car and veg, or I can sit in a quiet conference room and do this.

So what is this, you ask? I’m glad you asked. I’m currently writing on my phone, in an email, since my theoretically ‘offline’ documents in Google Drive refuse to open. I’m a trifle annoyed by that, but if I have time once this post is complete, I’ll see if the settings are switched so I can’t work outside WiFi (I don’t have that at work, either). But the email works, I don’t even have to send it, it’ll be here when I’m back on the home network. I’ll probably even have time for a bit of fiction, since I have an hour to do this.

And no, my thumbs are not flying over the screen a million miles a minute, as amusing as that mental image may be. I could take lessons from the daughters, but what I’ve got instead is a little bitty Bluetooth keyboard, slightly too large to stuff into my lunchbox (more’s the pity) but just big enough for my medium sized hands (I know their size, that’s the size nitrile gloves I wear) to type on in my hybrid touch/look style. I never did master touch typing, although after hundreds of thousands of words (nearing a million? I haven’t added them up) I do tend to know where the keys are. Of course, autocorrect thinks it knows best, and while that’s handy when I’m all thumbs, it’s annoying as heck when I’m actually typing. The keyboard doesn’t work for my First Reader, his hands are a bit too big for him not to be constantly bashing two keys at a time. So your mileage may vary. There are squishy roll-up keyboards that are full-sized, but I don’t like how they feel.

However you do it, writing on the go is a necessary Evil. If I waited until the moment was perfect, my back fully supported, the monitors at just the right angle, the optimal selection of music playing… I’d never write again. A kid would knock on the door. “I have a question… how do you clean up toxic waste candy? Will it stain the floors blue? Can you please look at this? Did you know if you drop the bottle of Katsu Sauce, it exploded and glass slides all across the tiles and under the fridge…?”

So yeah, writing when I can cram in a moment of relative peace is the only way to go, anymore. Eating doesn’t take long, after all, and an hour is generous. I know for the longest time David Burkhead was posting his daily lunch-word count, and it was inspiring. I probably won’t manage this daily, but I had to do *something* with my changed schedule. I’m working Fridays and Saturdays, and my usual time for writing the MCG vaporized. I also don’t have time to keep up with publishing industry news, so you’re more likely to get thoughts on writing from me. And at some point, the now long-delayed post on covers, which requires the Real Computer (TM) and more time than I have been able to carve out of my schedule as of yet. It’s ok. It’s all good.

Life changes, and if you can’t roll with the waves, you’re going to get worn down to a nubbin. Sometimes you have to give things up entirely, but I’m stubborn. I’m not giving up on writing. I just have to work at finding the time, the place, and the equipment that fits the first two requirements. I happened to have the keyboard (I got it originally to pair with my tablet, and I could be writing with the tablet, but I don’t have much space at all to stow anything here. Took me a week to find out there’s a hook in the cubicle we share for my coat) so I didn’t have to lay out cash, but I think it was less than $20 on Amazon. The phone is, well, the phone. I practically have my entire life on this phone by now. If I had to carry a notebook, I would, but I can write faster this way, and I’m trying to cram as many words in as possible. Which reminds me I do want to create some fiction words today, as well.

Feel free to comment and talk about your writing-on-the-go improvisations, or any other topic that tickles your fancy. I won’t be on to comment much (maybe lunchtime) until evening after work, so be kind to one another!

48 thoughts on “Writing on the Go

  1. Myself, I write notes, since ideas are what come to me when I’m out and about. I jot down any idea that pops in my head, any snippet of a scene (even if I have no idea where it goes) or worldbuilding notes. I write them on a notebook, and have a backup pad of paper that also doubles as ‘take down notes for other things, like grocery shopping’. The page with writing ideas gets torn out and put in the notebook.

    I’ve got a pad of paper and a pen, and an understanding husband if I suddenly turn on the bedside lamp and start scribbling, because my brain seems to like coming up with plots and ideas just as I start drifting off to sleep.

    I also have a completely offline, itty bitty little ASUS EEEpc, a 701c(?) model. It fits into my shoulderbag; though I am quite delighted by the new ASUS models of laptop since they’re slender, light and have lots of battery time (disclaimer: I’m a massive ASUS fan, and have been since netbooks, which are still my preferential thing to carry around, not Chromebooks) and I’d love to buy one of the new Zenbooks, but ah, budget, and there’s nothing wrong with my current little netbook.

    I personally prefer offline models of getting writing down because there is no guarantee I’ll have constant Internet while I’m out and about, and I find it more comforting that way – I don’t have to worry about whether or not my data is secure (in that ‘well shit I dc-ed did my notes get saved before I dropped out?’ uncertainty) and I can keep track of the battery myself.

    1. Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I had a Psion palmtop I took to work and used between tape mounts to write radio plays. I’d go gome and hook it to my PC with a cable (!), and upload my text files to be formatted in Wordstar (!!) and printed out on my dot-matrix printer(!!!).

      Nowadays I keep a tablet and a Bluetooth leyboard in my truck. Don’t use them enough…

      1. Sorry–that was a general reply. WordPress glitched. I easn’t directing any dinosaur comments at you. 🙂

        1. “C” type USB ports are even thinner and it looks like that is what id setting the thickness of this model.

  2. Note taking. I tend to be a little old school about that. Have a spiral notepad that fits my back pocket nicely (nice and thick too) and my click pen fits the spiral nicely. Use this for jotting down ideas, scenes, conversations, and other good stuff when I am out at drop-ins with the Squire. Works well since I can scribble faster than I can type and some of the support staff frown about electronic device use. Pen and paper though are good to go. When I get enough I will transfer them to the actual computer. Tried voice diction but it doesn’t work well with a toddler or several running around. Lot’s of words end up in there that don’t belong.

      1. I print “block” letters, just as fast as cursive for me and more legible. Speaking of cursive. I ran across a bunch of letters I wrote to home when I was overseas *mumble* years ago. All in cursive, and I am going to have to sit down one day and try to decipher the beasts. For posterity of course. The Squire may one day want to know what his dad did when he was young and very foolish.

  3. My laptop glitched just before my last trip. So I grabbed the old mothballed Gateway that’s been lobotomized twice and needs a new battery. 7.5 inches by 10. Lightweight. 3/4th scale keyboard. With Windows 7. I’d forgotten how much I liked it. Maybe I’ll buy it that new battery instead of taking the newer, heavier, larger laptop in for repairs. It fit on the corners of various furniture beside my chair, I can hold it in one hand and hunt-and-peck type while standing in hallways. No space problem using it in the tiny rental car. Being old and cheap, it also served as a tray . . .

    :: sigh :: Yes, I know I’ll have to buy a new something pretty soon. But this reversion to smaller was really nice. So long as It has a keyboard, I’ll be going this size or smaller next time.

    1. Well, it’s been done, and since you (like me) are a person of vintageness, you may have seen it: The Quadram Datavue 25, probably the best-known of the “lunchbox PC” category from the mid-1980s. The laptop format soon drove the lunchbox off the edge of the Earth, but it did exist and I had one.

        1. I used to sell the ULTIMATE lunchbox PC, the Compaq Portable. It was a 286 with a TEN MEGABYTE hard drive!!! Man, I wanted one of those.

          I was the proud owner of an original IBM PC with two floppies. 64K of ram, my friends. Somebody gave it to me. I was the King, baby!

          1. First office job I ever had (‘actuarial assistant’ – looked up numbers from 5′ high piles of computer reports, copied them onto physical spreadsheets, and ran a 10-key on them. Rode a pterodactyl to work, too.) we had *1* PC to share among us peons – it fit into a large ox box, and you needed to sign up to use it, lug it to your cube, set it up, then run some primitive SS program on a small amber screen… I usually didn’t bother – I was fast on 10-key.

            ‘Lunch box’ only if you were bringing a 5-course meal for lunch.

      1. The lunchbox format still exists as a portable gaming machine and/or workstation form factor.

    2. well, with an old hard-sided lunch box, there ought to be… it’s just that mine is a lil’ squishy one. I use it to prop the phone against (like at this moment while I’m responding to comments).

  4. It’s not exactly “on the go,” but during the six months when I was sharing the house with not only the First Reader and the Exuberant Hound, but also with younger daughter the Fashionista and her husband (who worked from home. On the telephone.) I got a lot of practice in picking up my laptop and scurrying to the room where I was least likely to be interrupted. The end of the house with wi-fi access was preferable, since I like to backup work to the cloud; but the end of the house without wi-fi had the advantage that I couldn’t goof off browsing the Internet.

    It also meant that I needed to keep all my research notes on the computer. I’ve slacked off badly since the kids moved out; right now I’ve got 5 books on guerrilla activity in Greece stacked up next to the coffee cup and two printouts of the chronology of this and the previous book on the other table. (Two because they’re inconsistent; I need to beat the timeline into shape.)

      1. And nothing wrong with [Insert here] notes, thanks to the gods of Find and Replace. And leaving your books at home does eliminate the problem of looking up a passage in Ill Met By Moonlight and then re-reading the entire rest of the book because Paddy Leigh Fermor’s adventures are such fun.

        The chapter I just finished has a couple of characters named WHOSIT and THIRD because I didn’t want to stop writing long enough to check my list of possible names for this culture. Which is on the computer.

  5. I have a little Asus Windows10 tablet with an attached keyboard, 10″x7″ that fits in a carry bag and doesn’t weight much. Battery life is ~8 hours, it runs Word, Open Office, all that stuff. I find the keyboard a little small for my giant monkey hands, bit infinitely superior to trying to type on an iPad. I can sit and work with this thing at a coffee shop or whatever, and I don’t break my neck lugging it around. Super cheap too, $250 CDN. I’ve seen similar ones in the $200-$400 range.

    I also found a wireless keyboard the other day, Logitech K400+, runs by a USB plug. With an adapter it would plug in to the microUSB of a phone or what have you, and get you a decent sized keyboard. I’m using it on a Raspi 3 to play music in the barn. (Old 1970s receivers still sound just as good, my friends.)

    Lots of portable stuff to work on these days, that’s for sure.

    If you’re super duper broke (I’ve been there, oh yes) you can get a Raspberry Pi 3 for $25US, that thing is now a viable home computer. Add crappy keyboard, crappy mouse and I-found-it-in-the-garbage monitor, you’re up and writing.

    Add a little 7″ touch screen for ~$70us from Adafruit, all plug-and-play.
    Some assembly required, and you’ll have to fiddle with the operating system, but you are fully portable for around a hundred bucks.

    1. Family friend pointed me in the direction of a full sized bluetooth keyboard for tablets/phones. Cheap at about $7 ++ on Ebay. May think about getting one for travelling. Would mean that I wouldn’t need to lug the laptop with me since I do have a 7″ tablet that’s almost useless for most things.

      1. I like this little Bluetooth keyboard, and actually have a couple of them in with all the other assorted computer detritus. Funny how nice, keyboards, and cables (not to mention monitors, etc.) accumulate when you aren’t looking. Except when you really need that one special cable.

  6. My solution was a Surface Pro 2 purchased just about when the Surface Pro 4 was announced.

      1. I’ve been drooling over the surface for some time. I just can’t justify the cost. I went with a 10′ Lenovo tablet for my art needs (and portable school notes) but it’s bulkier than I want for the current very limited work setting.

        1. yeah technically the one i have used to be almost top of the line – 8 gb ram 256 gb ssd- but was just under half price because it was two models old.

  7. I actually switched to writing from art in large part because it doesn’t depend on location or materials. My computer broke. I moved. I had a baby. All of my art supplies are somewhere, but I don’t know where and I can’t find a good place because it requires a lot of layout.

    (I need to start putting money to a modern computer and tablet, that would solve that. But in the meantime… writing.)

    It’s really nice to be able to progress without needing to find my markers.

  8. I hang my head. I can get at least an hour of writing time almost every night, and more on weekends, now that the youngest is 13 – and I often don’t. It’s just discipline, which I’m into my 6th decade of not having. Which is why I’m a barely-barely-published amateur (I’ve got paid – once). You guys are tough and inspiring.

    OTOH, do crank about 20 blog posts/month. Which is not nothing, but is neither the Novel Which Shall Not Be Named nor any of a growing pile of half-finished short fiction.

    1. I feel for you. One set of characters shut up and different characters/stories pop up in their place. :/

    2. It’s hard to build a habit of writing when you start in the evening, when you’re tired already. Do you have any chance of carving out an early-morning hour, like from 5 to 6?

  9. I’m pecking at a smartphone screen while what remains of my brain is smoking from info overload. I carry a Moleskin book (pocket sized) for ideas and the tag end of a pad of research-note paper in case the Muse attacks. I hope she takes the rest of the night off. Or sticks with non-fix.

  10. On using Google docs offline — first of all, when you are online, make sure that the ones you want are set to available offline BOTH on google drive and google docs. I’m not sure why setting it in one doesn’t set it In the other, but I’ve found I need to do both. Then it happily let’s me work on them offline. Also, when doing new work, if you forgot to make the old file available offline, go ahead and make a new file. I tend to make blah20170409a — the a indicating that it’s an extra file, so I can easily connect it to the file I should have working in for later copy and paste.

    Offline google docs works fine, but it does take a little online setup ahead of time.

  11. My story “Fog Traffic” is set at an airport. It was also largely written at a airport. A flight delay made me miss a connection, and I was stuck in Ohare for almost eight hours. I took that as an opportunity for research and inspiration.

  12. I got a tablet for the one summer that I wasn’t allowed to have my computer at camp. I hate writing on it (touch screens are the bane of my existence), but it did the job better than pen and paper. I used it again a few weeks ago on a long plane ride because a short story struck me and wouldn’t wait for the plane ride to end.

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