Six Essential Gadgets for Writers – Part I

There are six essential writing gadgets that nobody who writes for publication (or intends to get published) can do without. Of course, this is just my opinion, and there will no doubt be some readers who disagree with one or more of my six essentials, but outlining my view might at least get you thinking about your own feelings on the topic. Here then, are my six essential writing gadgets, along with details of the various devices that I am currently using in my own set up

The Desktop PC
Although desktop computers are now so widely used that they have lost much of their original ‘gadget’ status, PCs really are an essential gadget for any serious writer. Whilst electronic and perhaps even manual typewriters still have their (somewhat limited) uses, producing text on a PC is something that the vast majority of publishing houses, production companies and magazine editors have come to expect as the norm. Submitting copies of your text in digital format makes life a lot easier for the powers that be, and anything that you can do to make their lives easier is more likely to help you sell your work.

I have written on a number of desktop computers over the last twenty-five years. I launched my career on an Amstrad PCW8512 and I’m currently using a Dell Dimension 5100 that I purchased a couple of years ago. The great thing about writing is that it isn’t an activity that demands ever-faster processing speeds (which was just as well back in the 80s!), so I’m not the kind of person who upgrades just for the sake of it.

The Laptop or Netbook
This is where some of you might think that my definition of ‘essential gadget’ is questionable, but for me a portable writing device has always played a big part in my work. I enjoy sitting at my desk and writing, but I also like to make the best possible use of what might otherwise be ‘downtime’. Being able to write on long train journeys or in the car (not when driving, obviously) is always a boon. And then there are the evenings when I might want to write without going back into to my home office. This blog entry, for example, is being written on my current portable writing device – an ASUS Eee PC running Linux.  I’ll discuss the Eee PC in detail in a future post, but it’s worth mentioning here that you can also get an eee PC with Windows. I chose the Linux OS simply because it’s very quick to boot up and down, which makes it ideal for portable writing purposes.

Before the ASUS Eee PC I used to write on an Alphasmart Dana, but I found the built-in word processor to be a tad unstable, and I upgraded to the Asus after receiving one too many ‘Fatal Error’ messages. Prior to that, I used an early IBM Thinkpad and – my personal favourite for taking notes on the move – a Psion 3a. I love my ASUS, which gives me the ability to surf the internet and upload documents to Google Docs via WiFi, but even now I miss the incredible battery life and simplicity of the Psion 3a. The Alphasmart Dana came very close to replacing the Psion in both respects, but having the machine lock up several times brought that particular working relationship to a premature end.

Word Processing Software
The next item on my list of essential gadgets for writers is suitable word processing software. Although desktop and laptop computers often come bundled with a word processor, I think it is well worth taking a look around to find out what options are available before you commit yourself to writing on a single platform.

When I am writing text for books on my desktop PC I use Microsoft Word. Some writers hate Word (usually because they have a built-in dislike for Microsoft), but it has served me well for many years (albeit in different incarnations) and the fact that the vast majority of publishers can read Word files (or at least RTF files, which Word can also save as) is a definite boon. For screenwriting I use a piece of software called Final Draft, and when I’m writing on the ASUS eee PC I use Open Office. The latter is an open source (that means free!) office package which is available for Windows, Linux and Mac and provides full cross compatibility.

In my next post I’ll discuss the last three ‘gadgets’ for writers that I consider essential. Until then, happy writing!

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The Gadget Man

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