In the year 2010, I was facing the fourth year that I was to attempt National Novel Writing Month or as it is affectionately known, NaNoWriMo. The goal of writing 50,000 words in a single month is a daunting task, but I knew if I wanted to become a novelist, it was a skill that I needed to learn. For my fourth attempt I needed to make a change in the way that I wrote, otherwise I feared that I would fail again. My main problem was not being able to write away from home where my desktop remained. I work on the road for many days in November and I always lost far too much time in my hotel room stays.
On the forums of the NaNoWriMo website, there were recommendations for an Alphasmart 3000 and the Alphasmart Neo to use instead of a laptop. These were writing tools that were designed for young students to write compositions in the classroom. I had never seen one before, but I was intrigued. I could take one of these with me on the road and do my writing and then use the “send” feature to upload my work into whatever word processor I was using. Learning that an Alphasmart 3000 was around $30 on eBay, I was sold. I did not want to invest in an expensive laptop only to discover that I did not enjoy writing away from home.
In October 2010, my AS3K arrived in the mail. The device was a transparent teal with grey keys and had a small window for digital text. I was not sure if I liked having such a tiny window as I worked, but since this was an experiment, I was willing to give it a try. I did not bother to buy the AS3K a protective sleeve. I simply tossed it into a cloth tote bag along with my pocket thesaurus. It was rugged enough to hold up to such abuse. When I went to my first write-in, I was amused by the number of people that stopped to ask me what I was writing on because they had never seen one.
Due to the small screen size, I was not certain if I would like writing on the Alphasmart, but became a convert to it. The screen is 4 lines high and 40 characters in length. The LCD screen has a high contrast and is easy to read. Since I am able to scroll up and down and do minor editing, I am able to keep my train of thought as I wrote, leaving the main editing to my desktop at home. During the write-in, I was not distracted by websurfing as the writers with netbooks or laptops were, all my time was funneled toward the written word. At the end of the evening, I discovered that the final word count of my project was much higher due to this. I also liked that I did not have to fight for a chair near a power outlet as the other writers did. My Alphasmart 3000 has all the power it needs. The biggest surprise was the satisfying click of the full sized keyboard that reminded me of the old-fashioned typewriter that I had back when I was kid. It was a joy to write on compared to the soft keyboards of more modern computers. After the write-in, I was able to come home and upload the text into my computer via a USB cable. The only drawback to the unit was that it did not have a word count feature and the word processing software is somewhat primitive.
I was able to conquer NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2010 and I credit this success to the acquisition of my Alphasmart 3000. It became my main writing machine when I was away from home for two years. I like the Alphasmarts for rough draft work. The small screen size helps prevent your inner editor from interrupting the flow of your writing and you get more words down that way. Later, in revision, I work in Scrivener on my desktop. Late in 2011, I decided to upgrade to the Alphasmart Neo and it is the machine that I use for my rough drafting today. The Neo has a slightly more comfortable keyboard, a screen that can hold up to 9 lines of text and it can hold more text. The word processing software is better and it has spell check, a thesaurus and a word count feature.
If you are a new writer in search of an inexpensive machine to use for NaNoWriMo, I recommend that you look into the Alphasmart 3000 as your first writing tool. Get a feel for the keys and the non-distraction writing format and you will never look back.