Tag Archives: Neo

Life As A Writer

I had a dream. An idea for a novel burst into my mind one night and it would not let me go. I had not written a story in over a decade and considered myself long past the point where being a writer was an option for a career choice. I was an artisan jeweler and gemologist. I published articles, but they were non-fiction pieces about jewelry making, stones, or antique jewelry. However, the siren song of a novel was an earworm. It sang to me in my sleep. It consumed my thoughts during the day. Finally, I could bear it no longer. I started to write it down.

I haven’t stopped writing since.

When we start out as writers, we consider it a hobby. We do it in our free time, enjoy the process of creation, and hope that others appreciate our efforts. Then we gain encouragement and start to consider becoming a writer as a profession. What might that life be like? We dream of sleeping in late, typing on our computer in our bathrobe, and being able to travel to book signings with adoring fans. A life that is the path less taken. The question becomes, how do we function as writers day to day? What changes to we need to make in order to transition from a day job where you work for an employer to become a successful, self-employed writer?

A Dedicated Workspace

Many writers benefit from having a specific area set aside in their homes that is set up as their workplace. Perhaps a spare bedroom is set up as an office complete with a desk, computer and research materials or perhaps simply an unused corner of a larger room. When you set up a dedicated workspace in your home for writing, it tells the other members of your family that this space is off-limits for other tasks.

My first workspace was a modest table in my bedroom. The table held a desktop computer, a fax machine, and an area for writing in notebooks. Inexpensive wire cubes served as my organizer to create vertical storage. Years later, when my husband and I were able to afford our house, I left my little table behind and gained one of the smaller rooms of our new home as my own studio workspace. I did not have a large budget to spend, so I bought a cheap particle board desk to hold my desktop computer and a folding table where I clamped a board from the lumber yard to become my jewelry workbench. Eventually, I added a used jeweler’s bench so I could forge metals, hang a flexshaft and gain more space for my ever growing pile of specialized jeweler’s tools.

I’m shifting gears once more and changing the room again. I put in a modern glass L shaped desk for my computer, notebooks, and drawing supplies and removed the old table and board. My studio now allows my writing to take more precedence in my work flow and the jewelry making is secondary. The desk has a more professional and mature look, making the room a true office space, and I feel that removing much of the clutter of my jewelry supplies from sight will be an aid to my production of articles, short stories, and novels. I will not be embarrassed to bring a guest in here now and have a comfortable chair to offer them to sit in or use the chair myself for reading.

Limit Interruptions

One of the main habits I use as an artisan and writer is to set up a work schedule for myself. Otherwise it is easy to fall into the habit of puttering in your home. It is important to set up certain times in the day to write and then make sure you are seated in your dedicated workspace and writing at that time. Your family and friends need to learn that this is your work time and that you need to be able to work in peace without interruptions just as if you were going to a physical office outside your home. If you set up a schedule and post it on the refrigerator or perhaps a joint google calendar that everyone in your family is aware of, it will be easier to arrange for this necessary time to get your work done. For physical interruptions, being able to close an office door can be helpful. When it is the phone that is the problem, using caller ID and voice mail to screen calls can keep your down time to a minimum. I will always take a call from my husband during the day, telemarketers not so often.

I have found that once I set up my working space in a spare room and had the ability to close the door, I was able to gain the quiet time I needed to work. Since I have an artisan jewelry business in addition to my writing, I divide my time between my two jobs. I generally work on articles for magazines, ghost writing, blog posts, and other non-fiction works in the morning. My afternoons are spent at my jeweler’s bench making stock or managing the tasks of my home such as cleaning or shopping. Night time is when I feel the most creative and that time is reserved for short story and novel writing. My weekends are often spent away from home at conventions, festivals, and renfairs were I sell my jewelry, however I am not away every weekend and do schedule in time to be with my husband and have fun. Sometimes I feel that I work more hours than if I had a regular nine to five job away from home, but I do have the ability to take off on a whim and go to the beach or go shopping mid-week when I do not have to deal with crowds. I often work in my slippers and my co-worker is my faithful dog. I am responsible for my own destiny and I embrace the freedom that this gives me. It is a trade-off, relative security for personal responsibility, but one that I value.

Limit Distractions

While working at home is now more common, you will still find people will believe you are “available” because you are home. Family and friends will ask you for favors during the day because they do not perceive what you are doing is a real job. Learn to say no in a firm, but polite manner. Remind them that what you do is as real job as the one that they do and that you need time to work. Once a few royalties or paychecks come in, this perception that you are “playing at home” will diminish. I also find that because I am away at venues on weekends to sell my jewelry as later I will be at book festivals to promote my books, I tend to miss out on family and friend’s social gatherings more than most people. When I mention that I work on the weekend, I often receive a groan of sympathy, as if this were a heavy burden. To me it is not a burden at all, but it does involve some acceptance of sacrifice on my part.

In this age of technology where we are all interconnected via our smartphones, tablets, and computers, it is easy to allow this information submergence to cut into your writing time. For me, the most insidious distraction is the internet. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and forums are all interesting reads. My ebooks are just a finger touch away. I might innocently start to read a forum or two and the next thing I know I’ve lost several hours of prime work time. I’ve developed several strategies to combat this issue.

In my office, I have learned to use a timer system. I work without turning to the internet except for direct research of an article for a certain amount of time that I’ve set. Once the buzzer goes off, I’m allowed a short period of time to look at Facebook or forums as a reward. I also limit the pulling of email to three times a day. Once in the morning, in the early evening and late at night. Another thing that I will do is to leave my office behind. I pick up my Alphasmart Neo or my NEC MobilePro which has no internet access along with my writing journal for research notes and go to the library, my local Starbucks or the park to write. I set a writing goal for the day and do not come home until I’ve met it. I am only human. I do succumb to the distractions of the internet more than I should, but I do find that these methods help a great deal.

Make Time To Socialize

The work of a writer is somewhat lonely. It is important to reach out via networking, both for marketing your work and for making friends to enrich your life. I belong two groups. The first is Nanowrimo and the other is Independent Writers of Southern California.

Nanowrimo is filled with wannabe writers, but there are many accomplished writers that have come up through the system that still participate in the event or now offer to mentor young writers. Through Nanowrimo I’ve learned many basic writing tips, about new software and tools for writing, and gained encouragement to continue forward with my writing goals. While most of the activities with Nanowrimo is in November, there are enough events scattered through the year to keep you active.

The Independent Writers of Southern California or IWOSC is a large society of professional writers, most of whom are published, and it is a place to meet writers or to attend panels, lectures or workshops. Members come from all over the state of California and the general meeting often has 150 to 200 people in attendance. IWOSC also offers a reading series for members.

I find that the information I gain from each group is different. The professionals are more old-school both in how they market their books and in the tools that they use. The Wrimos are more contemporary with their methods and writing tools, more focused on the joy of writing than on making a living with their words. Between the two I find that there is a delightful balance of information.

This Is Your Life

The life of a writer can be a solitary experience and it is not for everyone. You need to have self-discipline and a sense of self-reliance to be successful. You must live in a constant balancing act between putting the words on the page and getting out of your office to meet with the local community. It is likely you will work longer hours than your friends with “normal” jobs and you will face rejection and low pay for many years until you create a catalog of titles to sell. Is it all worth it? Speaking as someone who has been self-employed for most of her life, I believe that it is. I enjoy a lifestyle of freedom that many people only dream about. I can schedule a day off to go to the beach with no one looking over my shoulder to ask why I am not in my office. I travel, meet interesting people with wildly varied viewpoints, and yes, I do work in my slippers on occasion. The dream is now a reality that I have created. It is life as a writer and artist.

Will you live it too?

Combining an Alphasmart Neo with a Samsung Galaxy Tab for Writing On The Go

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 and Alphasmart Neo
Chet Chin’s Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 and Alphasmart Neo Combined
As a writer, we all have machines that we favor for one task or another. When I am drafting a new novel or short story, my machine of choice is the Alphasmart Neo from RenLearn. It is a sturdy device designed to be used by children in classrooms. The keyboard is the most comfortable one that I own and it has a nice feel and sound that reminds me a little of the old Selectric typewriter that I grew up writing on. The text screen is very small. This aids me in drafting because it helps to keep my inner editor at bay and simply put down the words. I credit the Neo with helping me achieve higher word counts during NaNoWriMo writing sessions.

However, once drafting is completed, the Neo’s usefulness comes to an end. Instead of being able to use this comfortable keyboard that I prefer, I am forced to move to other machines to do my editing and revising. The Neo’s interface is antiquated enough that it doesn’t interface well with modern devices and while it can be used as a keyboard if you hook it up via a USB cable or connect to a device via InfraRed, most tablets these days interface with keyboards via bluetooth, which the Neo does not support.

I belong to an Alphasmart User Group and one of our members discovered a way to interface her Alphasmart Neo with her Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7. Chet Chin used the proprietary Samsung Galaxy Tab connection kit and the USB cable that she normally uses to interface with the Neo. The tablet recognized the Neo as a keyboard with no issues. Other tablets will force you to purchase a blutooth enabled keyboard if you wish to use it for writing on the go. That was step one of the connection puzzle. There was still the problem of positioning the tablet so she could see it while typing and finding a word processor app before she could combine the tablet and Neo as a travel writing suite.

At first, Chet tried writing with the Neo in her lap and placing the tablet on a nearby table. This created neck strain and was uncomfortable for her. To put the two machines together, she found a rubber surface cover for her tablet and then placed the tablet on top of the Neo. The Neo has a slight curve where its screen resides and the plastic shell has a textured surface. Chet discovered that the tablet would not slide down from the screen section of the Neo and was at an angle that was comfortable to see his text.

As a writer on the go, Chet not only needs to write text, but she needs to incorporate photos into her articles. Chet recommends the following apps to turn her Neo and Samsung Galaxy Tab into a writing suite:

StyleNote – A writing app for Android
Android PDF annotating app – Adobe Reader
Android photo editing app for cropping, resizing and adding text to his photos

If you would like to join the Alphasmart community, please join us at Flickr. You will learn much about these wonderful writing machines and hopefully become a convert to them as I have.

Writing Space: Wendy Van Camp

As the creator of No Wasted Ink, I often take a back seat and feature other writers here on the blog. After all, it is rather difficult to interview oneself! I thought that instead I might do a writing space post to give you all a glimpse of where the posts of this blog are created.

“Intrepid” Young Filmmaker Wendy Van Camp with her Super 8 Camera
I’ve always been a writer and a storyteller, although I haven’t always told my stories with words. I wrote my first novel at the tender age of four years, all handwritten on wide ruled school paper in child’s scrawl. All three revisions of it! I still keep it as a memento, but it is locked away where no one can see. My second novel was written during my mid-teen years on a broken Selectric typewriter. The carrier return had to be pushed with my right hand while I typed with my left. I clearly remember the scent of whiteout and being painstakingly careful about typos as I wrote. I did several revisions of this novel over a two or three year time span and learned to type as fast with just my left hand as with both. For some reason, my parents never saw fit to fix the typewriter for me.

In college I discovered filmmaking and shifted my focus from the written word to telling stories with a script and a camera. I remained happy with this medium for a good fifteen years of my life. I’ve produced and directed feature length projects, more talk shows than I can remember, parades, city council meetings, and toy commercials. As time went on, I developed a small artisan jewelry business and gradually, as television and film work moved overseas, I focused more on creating beautiful items for women to wear and learned to love the freedom that the lifestyle of an artist offers. I did not return to writing stories seriously until 2010 when the idea for a novel burst into my mind and would not let me go. I have been writing novels, articles and short stories ever since. No Wasted Ink was started New Year’s Day 2012 and is now my writing home on the web.

Wendy Van Camp's Writing Space and Studio
Wendy Van Camp’s Writing Space and Studio
These days, I have a dedicated writing space in my home. No more broken Selectric typewriter on the kitchen table for me! A room in my house is my “creative studio” with a lovely view of our lemon tree and my rose garden just outside the window. Here you will find my jeweler’s bench, workbench, shelves of supplies, a comfortable plush chair to relax in, and my trusty desktop computer and desk. I write most of the short fiction, articles and the blog posts on the desktop using my Scrivener program. The large monitor is an asset to me as it allows me to blow up the text large enough to be seen even with my aging eyesight. I love my studio and spend most of my day there, either working on jewelry to create stock for my jewelry business, writing or just enjoying the Internet during my off time. My dog has a certain spot behind my chair and she keeps me company during the day. So far, the hammering, sawing, or intense concentration to my computer doesn’t bother her. That is loyalty.

Alphasmart Neo and Samsonite Shuttle Case
Alphasmart Neo
I use other tools in my writing. An Alphasmart Neo is my drafting machine of choice and you will see me with it out in the coffeehouses when I am drafting a new story. The small screen and distraction free writing helps me focus on my work. I credit using the Alphasmart for helping me win the 50K goal at NaNoWriMo for the first time. When I need research information I refer to my filofax writing binder where I keep character sketches, notes and other information about my novel, or in a pinch I will call up information on my ipod touch. I also use a NEC Mobilepro 900 that I have souped up by flashing it with upgraded software. It is what I use for revisions since it allows me to see more of the text than the Neo.

NEC MobilePro 900 as a Writer’s Tool

Wandererchronicles Nanowrimo Writing KitBeing a member of the Alphasmart community, I have developed an appreciation for older electronics. I’m very happy with my Alphasmart Neo for writing rough drafts and it is my go to machine for NaNoWriMo in November. However, after the writing frenzy of NaNoWriMo is over, I generally have revisions to do. The small screen of the Neo is simply not suited for this. One day I was surfing the machines that other writers were using for NaNoWriMo on Flickr and I came across a photo of a tiny Nec Mobilepro 900 as part of a writer’s collection along with a Acer Aspire 5100 and a moleskine notebook. It was the smallest “netbook” I’d ever seen. I thought it was simply adorable.

What is the NEC MobilePro 900? I was determined to find out more about this tiny mini-computer. It is such an antique machine that most people have never seen one before. When NEC first developed this machine for the business market back in the early 90’s, it was considered the top-of-the-line pocket PC, a fore-runner to today’s laptop. Jet setting executives would sport this handheld device that cost over $1000 new and would be able to stay in touch with their offices via cable modem or wifi, computing for the first time on airplanes or in their hotel rooms. They touted its speed, the state of the art connectivity via its gold Orinoco card and the Microsoft pocket office suite that came pre-loaded. The machine would turn on instantly with seconds to bootup and the keyboard, while small and portable, was still large enough to be comfortable to write on. Not only did the MobilePro 900 come with two CF ports, but it had a USB slot, one of the first portable machines to do so.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by the device. I had considered purchasing a netbook to do my revisions at the coffeehouse, but after trying them out in the retail store I concluded that they were simply too slow to use, even for simple writing. Cost was also a factor. At the time I could purchase a used NEC MobilePro 900 with a case for around $60. Today, you can find them for even less. It made the NEC cost effective and portable enough that I was willing to give it a try.

The features of the NEC MobilePro 900:

    Instant on/off
    Keyboard is 92% of normal size
    Half sized VGA screen
    Pre-loaded with Microsoft Pocket Office
    Touch screen use with stylus
    Significantly lighter in weight than a notebook
    The unit measures 9.69″ x 5.05″ x 1.19″ and weighs 1.8 lbs. Very portable.
    Has USB connection, CF slot and PCMCIA slot – perfect for networking cards
    The NEC has 64 megs of RAM available to the user.
    A 32 meg flash ROM area where you can install programs, data and backup files.
    Battery life is around 5 to 7 hours

I’ve been using my NEC MobilePro 900 for over a year and love its portability and speed of bootup. However, it was not an instant turn it on and be able to write situation. I needed to research the antique software and old accessories that were needed to make it into a productive, non-distraction, writing machine. Once all of these adjustments were done, it has become an excellent inexpensive writing device. If you are a student or a writer without much funding to buy a full-fledged computer, I recommend that you look into purchasing a NEC MobilePro 900 on eBay. It could be the writing solution that you seek.

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.