(Disclaimer: Just like most of my posts on my NaNoPrep tips page, this isn’t specific to NaNoWriMo; it’s just a good time to break out tips like this.) A few years ago I came across a crowd-funding campaign for a portable, electric typewriter called a Hemingwrite. It provided a way to connect to your computer and retrieve what you wrote, but while using it, you would be free of distractions, because there was just a little screen for the words to go into–no browser, no social media, nothing that might normally pull you away from your writing. I really liked the idea of it, but it was quite pricey.
I don’t remember exactly how I first came across Alphasmart. I may have read an article about alternatives to the Hemingwrite (by this time called the Freewrite). But I did a little research and found out that the Alphasmart Neo was everything I might want in a portable, distraction-free word processor. The research told me that Alphasmart no longer produced new items, but that used Neos (and other Alphasmart items) could be found for sale on places like Amazon. Sure enough, I found several for an average of $30 a piece.
I dropped the hint to my husband that it would make a great Christmas present (I think it was during November last year that all of this happened), and he came through.
Just like the reviews said, this keyboard is exactly what I would want it to be! It can store separate files, saves as you go, has (from my experience so far) great battery life, and it runs on AA batteries. It has a small screen, which can be helpful in making sure you don’t see too much of your text at a time, distracting yourself while writing. But there are 5 options for font sizes so you can go from 6 lines with very small font all the way to 2 lines with really big font.
When you’re ready to transfer your writing to a computer, it’s a simple procedure. There’s a cable that plugs into the Neo, and then plugs into a USB port (if the cord doesn’t come with the Neo, it can be purchased separately). You open whatever program you want the text to go into–Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, etc–make sure you’re on the right file on the Neo, and then push the “send” button. It’s not a simple file transfer; it “types” the text onto your computer. The more text you have in the file, the longer it takes. You definitely want to do this when you aren’t going to need your computer for a few minutes, because it transfers it to the active program. If you click away to something else, it will continue transferring, trying to type into that other program. That is one of only 2 downsides I’ve found with the Neo so far.
The other downside is that some of the keyboard shortcuts take a while to get used to. (Note: I’m a PC user, so I don’t know how this is for Mac users.) If you’re like me, and used to using “end” and “home” buttons to quickly navigate your text, you will have to relearn some new commands. “Home” takes you to the beginning of the entire document, not just the beginning of the line. Some shortcuts and commands are on the underside of the keyboard, but I did end up looking up a manual online to find more (mine didn’t come with a manual).
Speaking of commands, the Neo has a built-in spell checker, word count function, find & replace, and other things that can be helpful for writers of all sorts.
I am really looking forward to seeing how it helps my NaNoWriMo next month; it’s already been of great use so far. I haven’t had much occasion to take the Neo away from home to write, mostly because it’s not as imperative to write wherever I am outside of NaNo. I have used it, though, for writing practice, outlining a story over the course of a couple of days, and I’m even writing this blog post on it. It’s more convenient than a laptop if I even just want to go sit on the couch to write, and as much as I enjoy writing by hand, it’s faster (I do still write by hand sometimes though).
How about you? What portable writing devices do you use–whether a laptop, tablet, paper & pencil, or anything else? Does the Neo look appealing to you?