Write Gear laptop Buying Guide

The Write Gear Laptop Buying Guide For Writers

Episodes 10, 11 and 13[1] of The Write Gear podcast are all about laptops — the best laptop overall, great laptops for if you want something small and light, laptops for small budgets, etc. These episodes, plus the extensive links in the show notes, constitute my Laptop Buying Guide for folks who write.

As I say in the intro to episode 10, “Which laptop should I buy?” the #1 query from writers asking me for tech advice. My answer depends on a lot of factors, but I often end up recommending one of the laptops mentioned in the two podcasts.

Listen to TWG #10: The Best Laptop for Writers right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 10

Episode 10 Show Notes

Episode 11 is partly about recommending small, inexpensive laptops, though mainly a conversation with Brad Linder about the history of netbooks and the current state of things. We do talk about what you should look for in these netbook-like machines if you go out on the hunt for one.

Listen to TWG #11: Small And Light Laptops for Writers

      The Write Gear: Episode 11

Episode 11 Show Notes

Writers often ask me about Chromebooks because they’re inexpensive and seem like a good idea. My general advice is that you’re better off with an inexpensive PC or even an AlphaSmart over a Chromebook most of the time, though they do have uses as a secondary laptop.

Listen to TWG #13: Are Chromebooks Good For Writers?

      The Write Gear: Episode 13

Episode 13 Show Notes

Keep in mind, my anti-recommendation of Chromebooks is based solely on a writer’s needs. They are great machines for other folks and other purposes. So don’t come banging don my door in anger, Google. I just got it fixed from the last time!

Footnotes

  1. Post updated April 22nd[]
From Farscape to Fountain Pens

The Write Gear #9: From Farscape to Fountain Pens

When I was a wee Tempest, I read in some book by a fancy author that all real writers write with fountain pens. And being a dutiful person who wanted to be a real writer, I took this to heart and went out and bought a fountain pen. And for a few days it was The Best, and then it got ink everywhere and became The Worst.

Does this experience feel familiar to any of you? I bet it does. Fountain pens do seem a proper tool for those of us who still write by hand (more thoughts on that on an earlier post). They may also seem daunting. Are inexpensive fountain pens even any good? If you want something that will last, where do you even go to figure it out? Is dealing with ink as fraught as it seems?

I decided to put these and other newbie questions to Richard Manning, screenwriter, producer, and fountain pen geek. Richard was a producer on Farscape, and started down the long, twisty path to fountain pen love thanks to seeing a certain actor’s fancy Montblanc. Which actor? You’ll just have to listen to our nerdy pen conversation to find out.

Listen to TWG #9: From Farscape to Fountain Pens – A Conversation with Richard Manning right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 9

There are links to all the pens and inks and websites Richard mentions in the show notes.

So, where my fountain pen geeks at? Fly your flag in the comments or over on Twitter with the hashtag #FountainPenLove.

Alphasmart and Jennifer Stevenson

The Write Gear #8: All About AlphaSmart

Alphasmart and Jennifer Stevenson

The last Write Gear podcast got a lot of positive attention–even more writers struggle with the distraction thing than I thought. This week’s episode keeps it going with a deep dive into the AlphaSmart. I learned about this wonder of distraction-free writing from a Clarion West classmate back in 2003, and bought one right away. A few years ago I met someone who loved it even more than I did: author Jennifer Stevenson. I knew she’d be the perfect person to talk to about it, and she is.

Check out the podcast for everything you need to know about the AlphaSmart and then click over to the episode page if you want to buy one. There are a few different models available, and I link to them all.

Listen to TWG #8: All About AlphaSmart right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 8
The Write Gear 7 Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

The Write Gear 7: Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

The Write Gear 7 Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

I used to feel a sense of shame around the fact that I am easily lured away from writing by the Internet shiny things such as notifications and new comments and tweets and whatever. To solve this problem, I would sometimes ask people for suggestions on minimizing or blocking distractions and there would always be one person—usually more—popping up to say that I should just have self discipline instead of looking for crutches.

This is some ol’ bullshit, I hope you know[1].

Not only are there some people who can’t just have self discipline in the way those jerks mean, every person has to own up to their limits or needs and find ways to work with how your brain works. And that sometimes means employing outside help.

That’s what this episode is all about. I’ve found quite a few useful distraction blocking tools to help me, and I hope they’ll help other folks. If you use different tools and have found them useful, please say so in the comments!

Listen to TWG #7: Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 7

Footnotes

  1. Anytime someone says that “You should just” as if their ability to “Just” isn’t based on factors they never have to think about–i.e. privilege–and is the absolute correct way of being, you have my permission to tell them to go to hell.[]
JEMcast - 3 new episodes

JEMcast Catchup: The Jazz Player, Danse Time, & Roxy Rumbles

JEMcast - 3 new episodes

I am behind on posting about new JEMcast episodes! My apologies. (Though if you subscribe to the podcast you don’t need me reminding you. Hint.)

The most recent three episodes have been okay, though none are among my favorites in season 2. I do have fond memories of Roxy leaving the Misfits after winning the lottery. That episode also taught me to never trust the IRS.

Subscribe to the JEMcast on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, via RSS, or listen below.

      JEMcast: Roxy Rumbles

The Jazz Player is one of those episodes that solidifies the fact that Jem exists in a parallel universe where the United States is about 500 miles wide at best and going between Los Angeles and Chicago is a matter of minutes on a plane.

Subscribe to the JEMcast on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, via RSS, or listen below.

      JEMcast: The Jazz Player

I like the songs in Danse Time, especially the Misfits one, but what is up with Danse being completely whiny throughout it?

Subscribe to the JEMcast on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, via RSS, or listen below.

      JEMcast: Danse Time

Alex, Aleen, and I explore all of this and far more, and you should listen and laugh along with us.

The-Write-Gear Conversations with Jane Espenson and Kelly Sue Deconnick

The Write Gear Episode 6: Jane Espenson and Kelly Sue Deconnick

The-Write-Gear Conversations with Jane Espenson and Kelly Sue Deconnick

A few years back at my first GeekGirlCon, I got the opportunity to interview Jane Espenson and Kelly Sue Deconnick about their writing tools and process. Both conversations turned out to be enlightening and fun; and then I sat on them all this time because it took me a while to get this podcast thing going. Now they’re out and you should listen!

Listen to TWG #6: Conversations with Jane Espenson and Kelly Sue Deconnick right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 6
The Write Gear best pen episode

The Write Gear Episode 5: Is The uni-ball Jetstream Really The Best Pen?

The Write Gear best pen episode

A couple of years ago a website called The Wirecutter published their recommendation for Best (non-fountain) Pen Ever. This post is over 6,000 words long, and not only gets into which pen they picked as the best and why, but also about types of pens and the differences between them and what qualities they were looking for in determining a Best Pen. Intrigued by all the gushing about their pick, the uni-ball Jetstream, I decided to try it and compare to my favorite pens. You can find out if I ditched by Pentel EnerGels for the Jetsteam in the podcast.

I also ask: is it really possible to determine a Best Pen for everyone? Plus, I wanna know what everyone else’s favorite pens are and why.

Listen to TWG #5: Is The uni-ball Jetstream Really The Best Pen? right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 5
write gear episode 4

The Write Gear Episode 4: Back Up Your Stuff!

 

write gear episode 4

The number of writers I know that don’t back up their stuff is scary. Y’all, you need to do this. It’s not even hard. And if you’re willing to spend a bit of money, you don’t even have to actively deal with it. In this episode I detail all the different types of backups for computers and tell you how to make a set it and forget it backup system, even when using physical external drives.

I also talk about that new-ish kind of frightening virus–Ransomware–and which backups help protect you against them (and which don’t).

Listen to TWG #4: Back Up Your Stuff! right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 4
JemCas Aztec Enchantment

New JEMcasts: “Aztec Enchantement” and “Music Is Magic”

Good news, bad news time. Good news: there’s a new JEMcast out! Bad news: I am not in this episode.

Cue weeping and rending of garments!

Never fear, Alex and Aleen did a great job. And even more good news for me: I didn’t have to watch “Music Is Magic” and suffer through all that bad animation. Wow, such terribad animation.

      The JEMcast: Music Is Magic

JemCas Aztec Enchantment

More good news: I was on last week’s episode where we talked about “Aztec Enchantment.” A decent episode that managed to not be as offensive as the china episode. This is the measure we use for these things on the podcast.

There are some facepalmy moments of WTFness balanced out by moments that show the writer truly meant well, even while still coming from a place of privilege.

Listen to the episode below or subscribe via  iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or RSS.

      The JEMcast: Aztec Enchantment
Write Gear episode 3 The Whole Body Is The Mind A conversation with Andrea Hairston

Who Needs Handwriting? The Write Gear vs Freakonomics Radio!

Write Gear episode 3 The Whole Body Is The Mind A conversation with Andrea Hairston

This week’s episode of my new podcast The Write Gear is almost the entire raison d’être I finally got this project off the ground. I recorded the conversation therein several years ago at ReaderCon, and ever since that time I’ve said to myself “I need to make this podcast happen so everyone can hear what Andrea Hairston has to say about writing by hand and creativity and journals and fountain pens.” After much help from my producer over at Hologram Radio, it’s finally out in the world.

Listen to TWG #3: The Whole Body Is The Mind – A conversation with Andrea Hairston right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 3

I’m happy it happened during the Month of Letters since this is the time of year I spend with my pen and paper people. And by total coincidence, it went out over the series of tubes the same week that Freakonomics Radio pushed their latest podcast, “Who Needs Handwriting?” Who, indeed?

The opening asks whether writing something down is “as outdated as saying that you’re going to “dial” a phone number…” The first person host Stephen Dubner talks to is Anne Trubek, former professor at Oberlin College who focused on the history of writing and writing technologies, and writer of the controversial article “Stop Teaching Handwriting,” which you probably read or heard about if you’re a handwriting nerd. Dubner also talked to Princeton’s Dr. Pam Mueller and professor Daniel Oppenheimer, who co-authored the paper “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” which, again, you probably read or heard about if you’re a handwriting nerd.

Trubek is of the opinion that the trend of schools not spending time teaching cursive or penmanship is excellent, and that we’re better off in general moving on to newer technologies that are more democratizing. She feels this, in part, because of her son’s struggle with writing in the third grade. From the article linked above:

My son… spends much of his school day struggling to learn how to form the letter “G.” … Simon now fears taking up a pencil. Repeatedly being told his handwriting is bad (a fine-motor-skill issue) has become, in his mind, proof that he is a bad writer (an expression issue). He now hates writing, period.

That doesn't even look like a damn GI get that the emphasis on correct cursive can be detrimental, especially when you bring in the fact that some people may not have the fine motor skills to write the perfect G, and it’s silly to expect them to as long as they can write a G of any kind and recognize the letter and understand what it does in a word. And, let’s face it, the way we are taught to make Gs in cursive is ugly and dumb.

However, I feel like there’s a conflation with handwriting and cursive going on in both her essay and in the Freakonomics piece that I don’t think is warranted. One can write by hand and not write in cursive. One can get the benefits of writing by hand and not write in cursive. I agree with Kate Gladstone (handwriting cheerleader), who says:

Handwriting matters, but not cursive. The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree.

I do what Gladstone points out a majority of handwriting teachers do: a hybrid where I mix “some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.” I go for what is fast and legible.

Handwriting does matter, and even moreso for creative people. In our conversation, Andrea talks about why writing by hand at certain points in the creative process are key.

I believe that the whole body is the mind, and so when I write with the pen I’m using my whole body. There have been a lot of studies that say when you write cursive it engages your whole brain because it engages your whole body.

I want to get into the dance of the words and the dance of the words can happen when I have a fountain pen. When I have a piece of paper that’s sort of like parchment and it’s got textures… and I am basically conjuring the words.

When I go to type, I don’t feel like I’m conjuring the words.

Andrea is quick to say that she loves and uses all her devices for writing, including her tablet and computer. They each have a role to play in the various steps of creating.

Anne Trubek would have you think that the only reason people cling to handwriting is to romanticize the old or as a purity test for the authentic self[1], and that the entities behind studies about handwriting are just “companies that make their money off of penmanship and curriculum,” and that people should embrace new technologies such as keyboards and voice recognition because they’re better for people without fine motor skills. This leaves out two important aspects. The first is that new technology includes digital pens for writing by hand, even if you’re not writing on paper. The second is that writing by hand has an impact on how we process information; a different impact than typing.

That second point is illustrated by Mueller and Oppenheimer’s research linked above (which was not funded by the evil pen and paper lobby, thank you) which talks about how your brain processes more when taking notes by hand as opposed to on a laptop. From the podcast:

Mueller’s argument is that because handwriting is slower, you’re forced to decide as you go what’s worth writing down. And this gets your brain engaged in processing the information as you go.

MUELLER: And when you process something more deeply, it’s more likely to stick.

There have also been studies that scan the brains of small children just learning to read and write to see what happens when a child writes out a letter vs identifying and typing it on a keyboard. Andrea talks about this, too. How forming a word with your pen different from typing it on a keyboard. With keys, the motion is the same. With a pen, the motion involves much more of you and is unique to you.

I found it odd that the Freakonomics episode failed to include any discussion of digital pens and styluses for computers and tablets. The iPad Pro is relatively new, yes; the tech behind it is not[2]. I’ve been using a Galaxy Note to create digital, handwritten notes for years. And there are many ThinkPad users who’ve been rocking stylus input for over a decade. In less than 10 years we’ve gone from having to memorize Graffiti strokes for Palm Pilot input to natural handwriting recognition on phones and tablets and laptops, no training necessary for you or the machine.

This wouldn’t have happened if handwriting wasn’t seen as necessary or desirable by consumers and business users. All those iPad Pencils and SPens and whatever they call the thing that comes with a ThinkPad aren’t only for artists. People still like to be able to write by hand, and find it less cumbersome than on-screen keyboards. That you can now save your writing digitally as strokes or as regular text is a big deal[3].

I reject Trubek’s thinking that the march of progress is going to leave handwriting completely behind. Not because I see it as the pinnacle of human expression, but because it has tapped into something in our brains that appears to be a key element in our development right now. Something that just typing doesn’t. That need not mean that we won’t keep using keyboards of some kind, and it doesn’t mean voice recognition or direct brain downloads aren’t the wave of the future. I think what it means is that we won’t leave handwriting completely behind–not for a long time–just because it isn’t new.

Your thoughts on any of this are, as always, welcome in the comments.

Footnotes

  1. Real talk: she’s not completely wrong. There have been more than a few people who go full hipster when talking about this topic.[]
  2. Apple didn’t even revolutionize the concept, they just made a tablet that does what Galaxy Note tablets and smartphones have been doing for about 6 years now.[]
  3. I’ve written several pieces on this in the past and I still ride or die for my LiveScribe pen as a journalism tool. Looks like I need to make an episode of The Write Gear about digital pens and stylii.[]