The right tool

by Pari

I’m sitting here in the airport in Albuquerque, getting acquainted with my new Eee PC. It’s six inches long and about five inches wide. The keyboard is tiny, made for literary gnats perhaps. But I’m determined. I want to use this little baby when I travel. I want to throw it into my purse (it’s solid state so it can take some abuse) and take it to Tae Kwon Do when the kids are in class. I want to go to the coffee shop with it.

In short, I want it to strip me of excuses.

Let me backtrack here. I am sooooooooooo not a technology nut. I shun all those electronic innovations–no iPod, no iPhone. Nada.

I’m a writer in search of the right tools to do my job as conveniently as possible.

Not that long ago, just having a laptop was an incredible gift, a revolution for people who wanted to work on the go. After prices went down far enough, my husband and I bought one. I thought it would revolutionize my work.

Well, it didn’t.

For some reason, I was scared of that computer. I was scared to use it, to lose it, that it would get stolen, that I’d lose all my work. I didn’t trust thumb drives either. Still, determined to work no matter what, I lugged that thing around on all my trips. Only problem was that after I pulled it out for security, it never came out of its case again.

It’s embarrassing to admit that I was so uncomfortable, so intimidated by technology.

When I finally learned how to use it with ease, I still felt creatively constipated. We just never bonded.  A pencil and paper yielded more satisfying results.

And now, I’ve got this microscopic machine. Eee PC. Hell, I even like its name.

Today, the main challenge is that I keep hitting the "Enter" key when I mean to hit "Shift." I’m also hunching my shoulders like some kind of she-ghoul. Typing is slow, but the keyboard action is fine.

Sure. I’m predisposed to liking this new instrument in my repertoire. I bought it with birthday money, so it feels more like it’s mine, just for me. It’s a little buddy, a friend that is going to help me do the job I need to do, to write every single day, to practice and hone my craft by doing, doing, doing.

I know too many people who postpone writing for thousands of different reasons. Many of them have to do with instruments: "My computer crashed." "I don’t have the right paper." "My laptop is too heavy, too slow." "My monitor is too big, too small, too bright, too dark." "I can’t get rid of the damn anti-virus software."

I’m not saying that the Eee PC is going to change all of that for me, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Maybe it doesn’t even have to do with this new tool at all, maybe it’s simply my attitude toward it. Whatever the reason, it seems to be working.

I sure am.

My questions for you today:
What writing tools do you use: big computer, laptop, pen & paper, charcoal & papyrus?
How do you relate to them?
Have you ever bought an instrument that opened your mind, eased the process?
Have you ever experienced the opposite effect?

35 thoughts on “The right tool

  1. J.D. Rhoades

    Pari, I think it’s safe to say that were it not for the PC, I wouldn’t be writing for publication. My typing, even after all these years, is so horrible that any page I try to do on a typewriter is likely to end up having enough Wite-Out on it to make it rigid. it was such a revelation, when I first used my roommate’s MAC II back in college, to be able to simply back up over an error, retype and go on. And the Interwebs put me in touch with the people who first encouraged me to write for anyone but my own little notebooks.

    Right now, I go back and forth between our tower computer in the front alcove to a laptop which I also use for the day job. Wireless networking makes it easy to transfer the WIP to whatever machine I’m working on, and I also make sure to back everything up to the thumb drive clipped to my keychain.

    That Eee PC dingus looks pretty slick. I think people are beginning to realize that the purposes for which they use their computer 90% of the time–word processing , e-mail, storing photos, maybe a little web surfing–don’t really require a huge PC with a boatload of RAM and a state of the art processor. So the day to day machines are getting smaller and ruggeder.

  2. billie

    The charcoal and papyrus sounds intriguing to me!

    I resisted the shift to computer for a long time. Since I was 3 years old my writing tools of preference were yellow legal pads and a certain kind of blue ballpoint pen.

    Once I had a draft on paper, I’d use the typewriter to edit and get a typed copy.

    I used the computer that way for awhile, but when I seriously started writing after having children – all extra steps had to go. Now I mostly write everything on my iBook, but I always have a legal pad (white nowadays) and a good pen w/in arm’s reach. If anything gets stuck, writing on the page with a pen is sure to unstick it.

    Funny about the technology shift to smaller and more portable. I’m seriously thinking of going back to a desktop with big screen and ergonomic keyboard, really good and well-positioned chair, etc. I feel like my laptop habits are not good for my forearms/wrists/etc. Not having serious problems yet but – I don’t want to.

    One thing I do love about the laptop and pad/pen – I can take them into the thick of things when writing “in the field.” Some of the best writing and getting myself through a stuck place in the first one happened when I took my laptop into a crowded, noisy pub where one of my characters hung out. It was too dark to write on a pad, but with the laptop I could see to type. Somehow going into the frenzy of that pub got me to the core of the character’s mind and body and things started flowing. I found his voice.

    I also always have a Moleskine with me and have written entire scenes in them on the fly – in the car, by the side of the road, etc.

    I did fancy one of those tiny Japanese Sony’s that was the size of a book – had it been a Mac I’d have gone for it. 🙂

    Enjoy your new tool – I’m going to go look at one online right now!

  3. Wilfred Bereswill

    I’m a PC guy all the way. If I had to write things out, I’d quit.

    Including my two daughters in college, I have 6 computers in the house and then there’s the day job laptop.

    I’m not sure the Eee pc is right for me with it’s tiny keyboard, but after watching my daughter use her Mac, I may convert. That Mac Air looks pretty nice.

  4. Donna

    Oooooh Pari, that looks so yummy I think I might get one on the way home from work :o)Does it have a word processing programme that comes with it? Or did you have to buy something in addition? I can’t work it out from the site – technical numpty that I am!Donna

  5. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Hi everybody,I lied . . . I WAS in the airport when I wrote the piece. Now, I’m home. Just got back.

    J.D.,I don’t know if I’d be a novelist if it weren’t for the PC. Many of the same issues.

    You’re right about people becoming more sophisticated about their tools (why is that sounding like a porn line this morn?). The Eee PC basically has everything my big desk computer has, but I can throw it in my purse.

    BTW: I dropped it twice on my trip to Seattle and it’s just fine.

  6. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Will . . . I had no idea you loved computers so much. Wow.

    The Eee PC’s keyboard does take some getting used to. I think someone with big fingers might find it more challenging. However, if that person text messages or uses an iphone or anything like that on a regular basis, that same keyboard would seem gigantic.

  7. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Donna,One of the things that makes me happiest is that it came loaded with a bunch of programs including Open Office. If you’re accustomed to using MSWord, it’ll be a piece of cake. You can save documents in several word processing programs/methods so that they can be transferred from machine to machine.

    It also comes with an internet/email card so that you can conduct business on the road (I still don’t do THAT much) if you can find wifi.

  8. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Alex,That’s really interesting about writing with pen and paper on the road. I’ve tried that but end up forgetting to input it into the computer and then finding the scenes later.

    I’m fascinated by this discussion so far. It’s very cool to learn about how people write . . . the physical mechanics of it.

  9. Scott


    Two manuscripts into my storytelling career (I’m currently a tech writer), I am comfortable writing on the laptop as well as pen-and-ink. My main method of writing is my MacBook Pro 15-in. laptop. I use a USB key to keep my books and stories on it. This way, I can go from my office laptop to my home Mac and work anywhere. On vacations, I do *not* take my laptop. I take a comp book and pens. I find the scratch of the pen on paper and the slower pace to be calming. Yes, there are times when the ideas are flowing and I long for the speed of typing. However, when I’m stuck, I’ll turn off the laptop, pick up the pen, and write longhand. It’s quite conducive to getting around the roadblock. I also have MacSpeech Dictate, a speech recognition program. It’s about 92% accurate. I enjoy sitting at my laptop, eyes closed, and dictating into the machine. Yes, I have to say words like “Comma, Period, Open Quotes” but it’s nice to save my fingers and wrists. What’s also nice is that I can dictate my longhand writing into the machine without having to type it in. I am hopeful that Dictate will allow me to increase the speed of my writing.

  10. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Scott,Thanks for stopping by Murderati — and for carrying the discussion to your blog as well.

    When I was flying home last night, I heard a man talking — I thought — to himself. I looked all around and saw him sitting with a laptop close to his mouth.

    I think computerized dictation is a wonderful advance, one that will benefit one of my children who has a vision impairment as well as all those people who didn’t learn typing as I did.

    The more tools we have, the less excuses there should be.

    And, I do agree with you about pen and paper helping knock through roadblocks. I think each tool requires a different processing ability and sometimes we need to shake that up.

  11. Stacey Cochran

    A lot of you guys know I teach at NC State University. For the longest time (like ten years), I always wrote comments on student papers with pen and paper.

    I realized this semester that my comments were often not as good if hand-written, than if type-written. I’m able to much faster on the computer and keyboard, and it’s easy to erase a typo or stupid comment.

    With hand-writing, once the ink is on their paper, there’s really know way to erase it.

    It’s fascinating, but I’ve actually gotten to the point where it truly is easier to type and print comments on student paper.

    Speaking of which…. I need to go grade.

    Rock on, people!

    P.S. Have you seen the biggest dick?

  12. Louise Ure

    That Eee PC looks very cool, Pari. You’ve come a long way from that girl who didn’t know how to answer her cell phone.

    I still love my desktop Mac for writing. But I’m happy to jot notes about dialogue, or plot ideas, or character descriptions in longhand.

  13. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Stacey,That’s an interesting observation about your notes, very interesting.

    In our critique group, we type up general responses and then put the nits on the text itself. It works well for us all.

    As to your BLOGCAST — it’s an interesting tool and I’ll be curious to know how it works for you.

    However, I’m mixed about keeping it up here because we’re not a political site; that’s one of the things we agreed on when we formed Murderati.

    ++So . . . without flaming anyone — if someone objects, let me know and I’ll just delete the link.

  14. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Um, Louise,I still don’t answer the cell phone .

    Last night when I got home, I showed my husband the little computer and I wasn’t sure if his jaw dropped because I’d bought it (and it’s mighty inexpensive price) OR the fact that I’d faced my general technophobia square on and was talking about the machine like a pro.

  15. Wilfred Bereswill

    Oh, Pari,

    Just because I have 6 computers in the household, doesn’t mean I have an affection for them. In fact I have a love/hate relationship with computers.

    I would find it difficult to live without them, but I’d do fine with just a laptop, remote mouse and keyboard. Having a wireless network at home is great, especially now that I have an external hard drive that I back all my work up on and a networked laser printer.

    The hate part stems from my oldest daughter’s tenacy to download the nastiest viruses on her laptop and I have to do cleanup monthly. Last time I had to reformat her hard drive and reload everything. Which is why I never allow her to tie into my home network.

  16. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Will,What’s your daughter doing that she’s a virus magnet? I need to know for when my kids get more computer savvy.

    Stephen,Does your wife like her Eee.You know, I actually like taking the kids to TKD — especially when I’m traveling a lot. At least this way I get to see my buddies even if I don’t get to go to class as often. I do miss the community of it.

  17. billie

    Pari, I checked out the eee PC and wow! It’s adorable and I like that it’s Linux. I immediately emailed my husband (the software architect and Mac’o-phile) who emailed back and said “yeah, but you really need to see the Mac Airbook.” Typical.

    A Moleskine is a blank notebook – you can get it lined or plain, and in a few different sizes. It has pockets in the back to stick stuff like business cards, etc. I love them b/c they’re a handy size and important-looking enough that they don’t seem to get lost. And when they’re full they shelve well. I love reading back through the old ones – they each carry a sort of record of the making of the novel I was working on at the time.

  18. Wilfred Bereswill

    Pari, I don’t think it’s Facebook or MySpace, but it’s the links from those social networks. It can also be the “Fake” Friend Requests you get.

    I decided a long time ago to banish her from my home network. My middle daughter has a Mac and she is virus-free.

    My youngest is smart enough (in most cases) to listen to my advice. She knows how to shut down those programs that want to install themselves for whatever reason.

  19. Donna

    Pari – I just bought one – it’s gorgeous, it’s turquoise it fits in my handbag and it was so easy to get started that even *I* managed to do it :o) The keyboard isn’t a problem even with my pudgy fingers. And I’ve had great fun with the voice recognition bit, since it only recognises what I’m saying if I speak in a voice that makes me sound as though I’m wearing leather thigh boots and brandishing a pair of handcuffs :o)

    Thanks so much for the tip.

  20. JT Ellison

    Sorry to be late — had a bookclub thing this morning. Man, am I out of practice!

    Pari, Randy took delivery of his Eee a couple of weeks ago, and is in love. They are about to come out with one that’s 2 inches bigger which should ease the keyboard constraints. We’re ridiculous — two laptops, one desktop, one Eee, a iPhone on the way, a Blackberry, a new Nano and an old Nano… I like my options open.

    Though I do all my writing on the laptop now. I email the manuscript to myself after each session, transfer it to the desktop for backup. I’ve been traveling with my laptop and using it lately, which pleases me to no end. That new Eee is in my future though, something to ensure I can work on the road without dragging the laptop.

  21. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Sorry to go quiet again – four days away – 2000 digital images, most of which were downloaded from memory card to lap-top while we were on the road.

    And yes, I write on the lap-top, while we’re actually on the road, in the car – but no, not while I’m driving. A lot of the books get done that way, on the motorway, usually – I find as I get older that trying to type while we’re on the twisty-twiny country roads makes me car-sick.

    Having said that, I’m just as happy with a pad of paper and a pencil. Got to be a pencil, though, not a pen. And I have one of those little pencil sharpeners in a box, so you don’t have to sit amid a pile of shavings and I always have a sharp lead to work with.

    For me, there’s no excuse not to get the words down. I don’t have time to write, I MAKE time. And if I can’t get to my lap-top, I find my neck-top computer works just fine.

  22. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Billie,I like the Linux system and feel a lot safer when it comes to viruses.

    Thanks for explaining Moleskeins to me. I have so many notebooks; it would be nice to carry one kind to give me a visual cue in the piles of detritus that line my workspaces.

    Will,Ouch.I’d better get cracking on making sure my kids listen to me . . . yeah, right.

  23. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Donna,I haven’t tried the voice recognition yet. And, turquoise? I am SO jealous. I got a bland one because they didn’t have any other colors that day and I was too impatient to wait.

    I hope you enjoy it.

  24. Amanda Stevens

    Well, I wrote my first two novels on an IBM Selectric. Anyone remember those? Not quite the Stone Age, but close. Lots of challenges back then. If you made a bad enough boo-boo, you had to retype the whole page. Sometimes the whole chapter. Sometimes the whole manuscript. When I got my first computer and learned how to cut and paste, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

    Nowadays, I still use a desktop for writing and my laptop for everything else. I bought an AlphaSmart when they first came out, but I hated it. I’m too much of an edit-as-you-go writer.

  25. Pari Noskin Taichert

    J.T.,Another advantage of the Eee is that it’s so small, you can stash it and no one knows you’ve got a computer unless you want them to. Well, no one but the people reading this blog . . .

    Zoe,I love it, love your entire comment.

    You’re just such an inspiration.

    Now, I do have to say though that I like mechanical pencils far more than the kind that need sharpening and it has more to do with the feel of the point on the paper than the task of sharpening.

    Aren’t we a strange lot?

  26. Fran

    That really is such a fabulous little machine, Pari! I can’t wait to show one to Lillian; she’s going to want one, I just know it.

    I have to write on a computer. I love paper and pen, but I can’t write as fast as I want to that way. It frustrates me. But I have to have a notebook for ideas. And I do. Sadly, what I most frequently can’t find is a writing implement of any sort.

    It was SO great to see you! Thank you for making the trip. And oh, double thank you for the lovely, tiny Native pot! It does remind us of New Mexico, which we still call “home”.

  27. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Fran,I had a wonderful time. Seattle Mystery Bookshop is a must-visit for all mystery writers. Really. It’s just fabulous.

    You’re also welcome; I thought you’d like the pot.

    And, may I quote you about SOCORRO for a small flyer I’m making?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *