distraction free writing
February 12, 2008 2:41 AM   Subscribe

What hardware and software give you the best writing experience? Hardware, like models of laptops, pdas, typewriters, keyboards, mice, etc Software like apps, webapps, userscripts, preferences, etc And in addition to your personal preference, what would you recommend to me if I want to have this gloarious writing experience on an all-day battery?
posted by oneous to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You'll probably get a few notes about this one - I asked almost this exact question a while back.

I have a Macbook and I use the program Scrivener to do long-form writing (novels). However, I'm an inveterate procrastinator, and was having serious difficulties doing any sort of work on the laptop, so it has become largely a surfing/music machine.

I got myself an Alphasmart Neo, and it is incredible. It seems pricy brand new, but they're used extensively in schools and you can pick up a second hand one for under a hundred bucks if you look hard enough. It's taken me a while to get into using it (I've been using Seinfeld's Chain Trick, and it's got me writing every day for the first time in ten years), but now that I am using it every day, it's fantastic. The screen isn't backlit, so a good desk lamp or natural light source is essential, but for clearing away everything non-essential and knocking out the words, it's perfect. I put new batteries in it when I got it last year, and haven't changed them yet. The manufacturers claim a 700 hour battery life with three AA's, but I've heard of people using them for a year straight, every day, and changing the batteries once. There's a very active Alphasmart group over at Flickr, and they also talk about other minimalist laptops and writing devices like the Asus EEE.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:58 AM on February 12, 2008

This is all personal preference.

Try different things and see what happens. My 2p. Write in notebooks when you're on the go. I use lined A5 notepads with ringed bindings and soft covers. Something like this. Your notebook should be close at hand, but I'll tend to turn to mine only when I'm bored, sat down and doing nothing else.

Consider getting a digital camera for snapping things that grab your interest, but which you haven't got time to write about.

Write on a word processor when you're at home. The actual word processor doesn't matter as long as it's reasonably fast. I alternate between using Apple Pages and Scrivener. I think I'll end up using Pages exclusively.

Use a full sized keyboard and monitor for your writing though. Type of PC or Mac doesn't really matter as long as you can get into your word processor quickly and you can find stuff you wrote ages ago easily.

Your writing space is most important. I prefer my attic with space enough at the side of the PC for scraps of paper, notepads, a drink and an ashtray. I prefer it brightly lit with a minimum of distractions. I like to listen to music though, but my computer does that for me.
posted by seanyboy at 3:10 AM on February 12, 2008

I love my NEC MobilePro 900c. Love it. I do all my writing on it.

I love it because it doesn't do anything particularly well except function as an electronic typewriter. The keyboard is great. I can touchtype on it. The screen is sharp. It is only 640x240. I was concerned about the height, and would still like more, but I'm used to it now. In full screen mode I get 17 full width lines of text on screen, which is plenty. I find it inadvertently helps in keeping you writing rather than editing.

For writing I've got Pocket Word installed (for the word count, via a ROM upgrade via HPC Factor), Mdict (for dictionary, thesaurus, and sometimes a cut down version of Wikipedia via thumb drive), and Mobipocket Reader for ebooks. I also have Adobe Reader, but it can be painfully slow.

What I would really love is something like Writeroom, but, alas...

What else is good about it? Instant on. Open it, close it, everything stays there in battery-backed RAM (also has non-volatile RAM). Battery life is okay. My battery was secondhand with the computer and its life seems to be about 3-4 hours - longer than my concentration span. You can still buy new batteries for it, and there are instructions online somewhere on rebuilding the battery with higher power cells. It has an active community.

While I do wish it was thinner, and the screen had a little more height, if it dies I would probably buy another one because of the keyboard (I thought, in the case of its demise, I might want an eee, but their keyboards are too small, and the opportunities for procrastination enormous).

(And on preview, it hasn't got the Alphasmart's battery life, but rocks everything else. BTW, here is a flickr photo comparing the two.
posted by hifimofo at 4:09 AM on February 12, 2008

In OS X I use a plethora of writing apps. I find that swapping between apps can be a way of solving problems by recontextualizing them.

TextWrangler for plain text jottings or WriteRoom when I really need to concentrate.

NovaMind for brainstorming

OmniOutliner for outlining

Ulysses for structured (chapter-oriented) writing

Final Draft for screenwriting although if I was starting now I would probably try to live with Montage despite its many issues for a professional writer.

Pages for WP stuff.

Leap to organize it all.
posted by unSane at 4:38 AM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Oh, and hardware, I'm currently on a MacBook Pro and a 24" iMac. Lots and lots of RAM. And a big backup drive for Time Machine.
posted by unSane at 4:44 AM on February 12, 2008

I've got a slightly dated 20" iMac. I quite like it, although a bigger screen would be nice.

I'm a keyboard snob, and recently got a new old stock Datadesk 101e keyboard (I wrote about it recently in my blog, in case anyone cares). Love it. For a mouse, I'm using the Logitech MX Revolution. It's very nice, but I'm not sure I can recommend it: the software driver is truly pathological, and without it, you can't take advantage of all the mouse's nifty features. I'm currently using it without Logitech's driver.

I do almost all my paying work in Word 2004. To say it is less than ideal is being kind, but I'm stuck with it. Yes, I know about OpenOffice, NeoOffice, etc. For stuff where I want a text editor, I use BBEdit. And because monospaced fonts matter, I use Bitstream Vera Sans Mono as my font in BBEdit.
posted by adamrice at 9:06 AM on February 12, 2008

I prefer to work on my desktop in my home office, mainly because I'm most comfortable when I'm wearing my old raggedly, beat-up sweats and T-shirt. An ergo "wave" keyboard is a must for me (carpal tunnel issues), as is a wrist support for my mouse. I got a 22" monitor last year and now I wonder how I got along without it.

Mr. Adams uses an HP laptop for all his writing, and when he writes in the home office, he uses the same laptop plugged into a docking station and with an external monitor. That way he keeps all his notes and research centralized on one computer.

We both write non-fiction and have daily, weekly and quarterly deadlines, so we're always on the lookout for ideas. We wear small digital recorders on lanyards around our necks so that whether we're driving, or shopping, or whatever and inspriation strikes we can record our notes.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:57 AM on February 12, 2008

If you want something like WriteRoom, check out Dark Room which is essentially a WriteRoom clone for Windows.
posted by YellowRex at 11:38 AM on February 12, 2008

Personally, I prefer Q10 to Dark Room as a WriteRoom clone for Windows. It is also free.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 11:47 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had an Alphasmart Dana for a while and it was sweet at first but ultimately I gave up on using it to write. Why? Well... it's speedy and snappy as long as you're adding text to the end of a document. But use that touch-pen to insert your cursor into page 15 of a 30-page document and it crawls, crawls, crawls... something about having to move all the subsequent text forward and redraw most of the screen with every keystroke just dragged. Too bad great machine. It even survived me dropping it out of a car at 40MPH.

I like my MacBook just fine. I use the built in text editor and am trying out WriteRoom.

For many years I loved Microsoft Word on my System 7 Mac Classic II. No distractions on that machine! This was before the internets, of course... and the small screen was great. I don't WANT 24 inches of space when writing. And it never crashed. There was nothing to fiddle with on it (by comparison to today).
posted by scarabic at 2:49 PM on February 12, 2008

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