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I WRITE IN COFFEE SHOPS A LOT.

Tools for Writing in Public: The AlphaSmart

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alphasmartI have a lot of different ways of writing when I write in coffee shops (and I’ll probably talk about them all at some point) but one of my favorites is also the one people seem most surprised and impressed by: my AlphaSmart 3000. The AlphaSmart is essentially a keyboard with a small screen that shows four lines of text at a time. You can’t really edit on it, and it wouldn’t work at for anything that needs formatting (so, I don’t use it when I write screenplays). But man oh man, it is wonderful.

Here’s what’s great about the AlphaSmart:

  • It’s very light. I have put it in backpacks and then forgotten it’s there.
  • It’s super-durable. I have dropped said backpacks on the ground really hard before remembering it was in them. It rattles if you shake it but works just fine.
  • It has the same size keyboard as most laptops.
  • It runs on AA batteries. So you never have to worry about recharging or running out–just pack a couple extra batteries if you’re worried; but don’t be. It runs FOREVER on those batteries.
  • It’s cheap. I think I got mine on Ebay for $45.
  • You can write on the beach with it. I do this sometimes. I wouldn’t want to carry my laptop or iPad on the beach, but the AlphaSmart… I just don’t worry that much. And writing on the beach is FANTASTIC.
  • You can carry it with you pretty much anywhere, and it’s great anywhere, but the VERY best thing is when you travel or commute. It’s perfect on buses and subways because it fits on your lap, can be shoved into a bag without being folded or whatever if you have to stand, and people are much less likely to steal it than a laptop, because it just doesn’t look all that impressive. I like taking it on airplanes, too, because you don’t need to make a big deal about bringing it through security. And you can use it (easily) with the tray table folded up.

When I’m trying to get a lot of (non-screenplay) writing done in a short time, I keep in it my car. That way if I get some unexpected free time I can grab it and go into the nearest Starbucks, or a park, or if I’m ten minutes early somewhere I can just sit in my car and type on it for a little while.
When you’re ready to get what you’ve written onto to your computer, you open a text document (word, or whatever), plug in a cable to the AlphaSmart and the computer, and hit send. It’s like you’re typing into the document (so if you have AutoCorrect on in Word, it fixes your spelling mistakes as it goes).
The bad stuff:

  • It only holds roughly 25,000 words. Then you have to move it to your computer and clear up files.
  • There is no word count function (on my version anyway; later versions might have it) so you can’t really know if you’ve hit your daily quota.
  • Mine does a weird thing where it switches punctuation so I have to do a find/replace; friends who have them don’t have that problem and it might be because I did something weird to it.
  • A friend pointed this out and it’s true; when you use it strangers constantly interrupt your writing to ask what the AlphaSmart is and how it works and whatnot.

As I said I have an AlphaSmart 3000; there are several versions (the 2000, the Neo), some more expensive than others. I’m really happy with mine. You can find them by searching on Amazon (they have 12 just like mine, right now, for $25-$58) or on Ebay. Make sure the cable comes with it.

Five Splashes of Soy Milk (out of five splashes)

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