How an Alphasmart 3000 Helped Me Conquer NaNoWriMo

Alphasmart 3000In 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.

Author Interview: Scott Dutton

Due to my love of the work of Edgar Rich Burroughs, I came across Scott’s novel, Return to Barsoom and fell in love with it. Thankfully, Scott has agreed to share more about his work and his insights as an author here on No Wasted Ink.

Author Scott DuttonMy name is Scott Dutton. I primarily practice as an art director/graphic designer. I have considerable experience in magazines, and currently work in marketing in a corporate environment. Outside of that, I am one of the many designers moving to ebooks as part of the future of publishing. I intend to create and design my own written/illustrated works, as well as providing packaging services to authors that understand the business advantage quality design brings to the marketplace.

When and why did you begin writing?

Storytelling has always been central to my life. I was fascinated with the science fiction and fantasy television shows of the 60s and 70s, Star Trek, Irwin Allen’s shows, and so on and that led directly into comic books. I started drawing and creating my own stories to entertain myself, and showed a talent for writing that was encouraged by teachers. It wasn’t until I got into my early teens that I began writing and drawing my own comics.

I went to art school for my training in design and illustration, and throughout my 20s worked part-time in comics, but was not overly successful at it. It wasn’t until I self-published my own work as part of the small press that I found my voice. During this time, I also did straight prose work, but lacked the focus to finish anything substantial.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

Return to Barsoom was one of those projects started in my early 20s. I worked on it off and on for about 20 years, finally finishing it in 2009. It served two purposes, bringing my ideas to Burroughs’ world and to demonstrate my design capabilities to the emerging ebook design market.

What inspired you to write this book?

I very much loved reading Burroughs’ books, beginning with Tarzan of the Apes when I was 12. Later, I read the John Carter of Mars series and the bulk of his other works. By far, I felt his best concepts and a continuing freshness were found in the Mars series.

As I talk about on the book’s page on my site I loved the books, and it’s natural if you immerse yourself in that world to think about what you might do with it if you made it your own. There are a lot of pastiches out there that play out very closely to how Burroughs’ thought of the world. They choose to be reverential to the original stories. That’s a valid approach. For myself, I thought that would be a bit constraining and unremarkable at that time.

We’re now a hundred years beyond the society that created John Carter of Mars, and much of how we view our place in the world has changed. I describe Burroughs’ approach as colonial fiction; the virtuous western man will invariably rise to the top over other cultures. In Tarzan, it was over the apes and black African culture. In John Carter, it is the decaying and warring factions of red and green men.

Having come of age in the latter part of the 20th century, I think we now know the myth of western superiority, or at least we should.

That fit in with what we know about the real Mars. If you start from the position that we’ve lost contact with Mars since the 1940s (the last Burroughs story), and we know our Mars is a cold, desolate place, it brings some mystery and a chance to discover what happened since then for new and old readers alike. It also allows me as a writer to reset that world’s culture and assumptions. That was what inspired me: how could I respect what Burroughs had created, while bringing a modern or post-modern reality to how we think of people. What does an adventure story look like when you apply that to it?

Did you need any special permissions in order to write a story based on the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs?

If I was intending to commercialize my Barsoom books, yes, but there are no restrictions in writing your own versions to be distributed freely. There’s a long tradition of fan fiction, and as long as you’re not taking a bite out of the rights holders’ pie, they’re likely to leave you alone. By comparison, Dynamite Comics is being sued for unfair competition with their Tarzan and Mars comics. And as far as I know, Simon & Schuster haven’t come under fire yet for their original Under the Moons of Mars collection.

I prefer to play things pretty straight, and see myself falling somewhere between fan fiction and a published book. While I own the rights to my story and the original characters created for it, I wouldn’t try to monetize my Barsoom work unless I worked out a licensing agreement with Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. first.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

It comes from the lead character’s desire for the simpleness of youthful adventure before the weight of adulthood levels most of us.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I very much believe in Roland Barthe’s idea of the death of the author. Once I was done writing the book and said what I wanted to say, I no longer mattered. What the reader sees in it and takes away from it is entirely up to them and has its own validity.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor?

I was inspired by a number of authors over the years. They’re listed in the dedication to the book.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

I designed it myself, using a JPL/NASA image as a base. I chose this very specifically over the traditional science fiction/fantasy style painting to clearly show I was making a break from the romantic past and Burroughs’ style. I don’t think we need that illusion anymore, and the cover sets the stage for creating a new perception of what Barsoom can be.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write regularly. Observe everything. Be engaged in the world, not just a genre. Understand your times and the path history took to get us here. Write from your heart and guts. Find your own voice. People are motivated ultimately by their emotions and you must be true to how people act and react.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Comments and criticism are always welcome, especially so when I’m not directly making a living off writing adventure stories.

Return to Barsoom Book CoverScott Dutton
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Writing adventure fiction that respects the past while taking it into the future.
Published by Catspaw Dynamics (my design and publishing trade name)
Scott Dutton designed the cover, sourcing a JPL/NASA image of Mars.

You may download the book for free here: Return to Barsoom

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

I’ve been combing the internet for interesting posts about the art of writing. I hope you enjoy this week’s offerings.

How To Optimize Twitter: Be Real, Profiles, RT, Hashtags & More

How to Create a Successful Editorial Calendar

10 Reasons Why We Love Making Lists

26 Tips for Writing Great Blog Posts

12 Things That Will Kill Your Blog Post Every Time

Combining Print And Web

The Best Businesses to Network With for Freelance Writers

Writer’s Survival Guide 8: Draft Systems

Hate Amazon? Well Read About What Random House Did to Me and My Family

Beyond the Cliché: How to Create Characters that Fascinate

Book Review: Little Fuzzy

Book Name: Little Fuzzy
Author: H. Beam Piper
First Published: 1962
Won the 1963 Hugo Award for Best Novel

H. Beam Piper was a self-educated man, with a great deal of interest in history and science, the two subjects which would figure prominently in his later writings. Being expelled from high school, Piper went to work at the age of 18 as a common laborer at the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Altoona Yards in Pennsylvania and later became a night watchman for the third shift at the same railroad yard. He was married to Betty Hirst for several years, but their marriage was unhappy and eventually they divorced without children.

Piper’s writing career began in 1953 with the novel Murder in the Gunroom, a story that would be linked to his death due to the similarity of the plot and his own demise. Soon after his novel Little Fuzzy won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963, H. Beam Piper committed suicide by pistol in early November of the following year. He was a member of the National Rifle Association and owned a large collection of guns, swords and knives with over 100 antique and modern weapons and accessories. It is said that Piper felt burdened by financial hardships in the wake of his divorce and the mistaken belief that his career was going under. He died without gaining critical attention for his work or knowing of the large sales his books were starting to gain for him. After his apparent suicide, his stories began to gain a cult-like following that continues to this day.

Little Fuzzy is the story of Jack Holloway, a crusty prospector on the planet Zarathustra. While humans have been on the planet for decades, he is the first to encounter these tiny humanoid life forms. He befriends a small group of them, taking them in as curious pets. As the days go on, he begins to realize that the Fuzzies, as he calls them, show signs of being more than simple animals, but as thinking beings. If they are sapient, this could ruin the commercial charter of Zarathustra Company and disrupt their taking of the natural resources of the world and in particular, the rare sunstone jewel that is found no where else in the galaxy. It is up to Jack and his friends to protect the Fuzzies and to help them win their day in court.

When I first encountered Little Fuzzy on the book shelf, I mistook it for a children’s book. Who would not with a little furry alien on the cover and a story about cute child-like animals that are “adopted”? Yet, there is an undercurrent to Little Fuzzy in it’s courtroom drama that questions who gains the rights of citizenship and who is considered a second class citizen a reservation that strikes home even today. The notions of corporate interests stifling scientific discoveries that might hurt their bottom line and of environmentalism are all woven into this tale of delightful aliens and the crusty libertarian prospector. The story is memorable and has inspired many sequels. I highly recommend checking out this classic science fiction tale that has inspired many authors down through the years.

Little Fuzzy by H. Beam PiperLittle Fuzzy is in the public domain and can be found for free download at Project Gutenberg.

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

There are many amazing articles to peruse this week. From a new estore model that could facilate your book and short story sales, to filofax tips to general writing concepts. Enjoy!


Selling Ebooks Direct: How To Set Up A Simple E-Bookstore

Reading Self-Published Books

Why Rejections Are Good

How To Make Your Own Filofax Divider Tabs

Getting My Butt in the Chair

The Discipline of a Happy Life

A Subjective and Non-Flexible Contract with Humanity

That Freelance Mindset

Who Else Wants to be a Headline Writing Ninja?

30 Ways to Build Your Writer Platform

Author Interviews * Book Reviews * Essays * Writer's Links * Scifaiku

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