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No time like the presents…

December 6, 2009
Image from NEO Direct, Inc.

With November over, many writers begin to rejoin the rest of the human race, catching up on the things they have neglected – family, friends, housework, favourite TV shows, the news etc.

The fact that it is now December may come as a shock to the writer, especially when impatient family and friends begin to ask about Christmas. While you’ve been busy with NaNoWriMo, they’ve been getting Christmas organised. And you’ve been holding the whole thing up.

If you were organised, you may have done your part in October; but October feels somewhat early. So it is now December, and you need to do the shopping, plan the meals, think about the decorations – and think about yourself. What do you get a writer for Christmas?

Fear not – we’re here to help.

Whether you’re a writer, or you have the misfortune sheer joy and good fortune to share your life with one, then all this week we’ve got some good ideas for you.

Gifts for the on-the-go writer
I’m going to assume that the vast majority of our readers are not professional writers, by which I mean you do not earn all your income from your writing. I know I don’t!

That means you probably have a day job, and unless you’ve been exceptionally lucky to find something that allows you to work from home, that means commuting. I commute for about an hour and half in the morning, then back home at night. That’s a lot of time to fill, and a lot of time that could be filled with writing!

For those who write on computers, you can’t just cart a desktop PC onto the train or the bus (extension cords just won’t go that far). A laptop computer could be a good idea, but they are popular items to be stolen, and since they often hold more of your life than just your writing, you might be reluctant to sit on a crowded train and use one. So here’s a compromise: the Alphasmart NEO. The NEO isn’t so much a laptop, more a portable text editor. Even when using a laptop, you might get distracted by movies, music, the internet – not with the NEO. It does one thing, and it does it incredibly well: text. With a solid state drive it is rugged enough to survive the perils of commuting (being dropped, running out of power) without risking losing your work. You just need to supply the words. It has basic text-handling capabilities (cut and paste, built-in dictionary) but that’s all you need. And you can easily transfer your work via USB cable to a PC or Mac for further editing later on.

Maybe that’s too much like a laptop for your liking – or maybe you write longhand. Then how about a compromise? What if you could write longhand, and have your work automatically converted to text? You can with the Zpen from DaneDigital. This is a regular ink pen with a battery-powered transmitter, that send signals to a receiver which you clip to the top of the page you are writing on. The flash memory records and saves your handwriting on the fly. Later, just plug the receiver into your computer, and you can access image files showing each page you wrote. Now for the clever part – thanks to built-in handwriting recognition software, it can then convert your handwriting into editable text – saving hours of writing time for those longhand first drafters. The disadvantage of the Zpen is that you have to train it to recognise your handwriting and, sadly, this feature is not available for those of us who use Macs. But if you have access to a PC (or run Windows on your Mac via Parallels Desktop or Bootcamp) then you can easily get round this.

Maybe this is all sounding a little too technologically advanced? Perhaps a return to simplicity is in order. After all, simple paper and pen served us well for hundreds of years. Your writer may appreciate fine quality paper and a pen to write with. Paperblanks produce a sumptuous range of journals that are a delight to write in. The only drawback is you might feel they are too beautiful to write in!

The crowding on the London Underground means that even writing in a small journal is sometimes impossible. At those moments, Paul reads instead, and thanks to his lovely wife this year he can read Writers’ News and Writing Magazine each month.
  1. December 6, 2009 11:35 pm

    I think I might be forwarding some of these posts on this week 😉

  2. December 7, 2009 1:40 am

    oh I def want one of those….the lure of hate internet is so tantalising….. great ideas Paul… can’t wait till I read others post this week.

  3. December 8, 2009 6:02 am

    The NEO is fantastic. We have one and it is just a really good, solid product. It goes easy on batteries, too, which is a very nice surprise. My daughter uses it for her homework essays, I used it for some of this past NaNoWriMo when I didn’t have my laptop around, we have all used it for typing tutor games that are built in. The transfer to a “real computer” is very fast and simple and it is easy to move it to a full-fledged word processor for formatting once that transfer is complete.

    Very nice and I highly recommend it, especially for younger writers.

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