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I WRITE IN COFFEE SHOPS A LOT.


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Tools for Writing in Public: the iPad and Wireless Keyboard

ipad and keyboard3Most often when I write in coffee shops, I use my iPad and a wireless keyboard. I know a lot of people who get special cases for this, that make the iPad look a lot like a laptop. I don’t, because for me the absolute best possible way to type is with the screen on a table and the keyboard in my lap. Most tables are a little bit too high for me, and my shoulders start to ache after a while if I try to reach up to one to type. Of course I still use my laptop often, with it on a table, but usually that’s when I’m editing and there’s as much reading and highlighting as there is typing. If I’m going to sit and type 5000 words straight, I’m much, MUCH happier with my keyboard in my lap. Also, I tend to change the angle of the keyboard depending on the lighting conditions where I’m sitting. My case lets me set it so sometimes it’s almost flat, sometimes it’s standing on its side, and sometimes it’s standing on its end. The combo cases are a lot more restrictive.

Pros:

  1. Keyboard runs on double-A batteries; I always carry a spare set in my keyboard case and never have to worry about running out of power. In my experience, at least, iPads take forever to run out if all you’re doing is typing. I have more than once spent nine hours typing nonstop and still been at 30% power.
  2. Super light. The keyboard weighs nothing and the iPad weighs next to nothing (as long as you don’t get a super-heavy case for it. Why? Why would anyone do this?).
  3. If you’re somewhere where you don’t feel like hauling out the keyboard, you can leave it in your bag and write on your iPad with your thumbs.
  4. Easy to throw into your bag when you get up to use the bathroom. Unlike the laptop, which is a whole thing.
  5. When you hook up your keyboard via bluetooth, you get to see the names of the bluetooth-enabled devices around you, and they’re often adorable.


Cons:

  1. If you forget to disconnect the bluetooth before packing everything up, you’ll knock your keyboard in such a way that iPad’s volume will be turned all the way up, and then you’ll knock it again and music will start playing. Or an audiobook, which is somehow even more disconcerting. The best is when this happens but you’re listening to your ipod with headphones and have no idea why people are looking at you funny.
  2. The fact that it’s segmented means it’s very difficult, maybe even impossible depending on the size of your lap, to use without a table. So if the only chairs at Starbucks are the big comfy easy chairs, you’re kind of out of luck.
  3. Turning on the bluetooth takes a minute. It’s not a huge thing, but it can be annoying. It’s incredibly annoying for me, because somehow I banged the keyboard and the power button got stuck. At first it wouldn’t turn on but I fixed that by following instructions online and, with an exacto knife, shaving away some of the metal holding the button down (only cut myself a few times!). Now it won’t turn off, and while it’s usable, the batteries drain fast. So, I turn it off by taking out the batteries and turn it on by putting them back in, and I have to kind of time it with the setting up bluetooth. Because it is still usable, I feel like buying a new keyboard would be an entirely unforgivable expense. I’m pretty sure I’m right about that. But it’s kind annoying.


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Tools for Writing in Public: The AlphaSmart

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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The Grocery Store Starbucks, and Our Shared Civic Duty

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I live in a place with lots of traffic, so I never really know how long it’s going to take me to get anywhere. Especially since I’ve moved from Hollywood to the Valley–going over the hill could take twenty minutes, or it could take an hour. I hate being late so I always leave early, and this means I’m often in a strange neighborhood forty minutes before I need to be there.
Luckily, with google maps on my home computer, not to mention the GPS search function on my phone, I can always find a Starbucks to hole up in and write. I usually include it when I get directions somewhere–I do a quick search to find what Starbucks are nearby (obviously, there are other coffee places, and I look at those too. But as I’ve said before, I usually have a gift card for Starbucks, and I’m on a serious budget these days). Sometimes I’ll leave even earlier than I need to–just figure I’ll get an hour of writing in before the appointment.
Another thing I’ll do, if my husband and I miss each other because he’s in rehearsals for a play; I’ll do a search for a Starbucks near his rehearsal space, drive him there, go to Starbucks and write, and pick him up after. Quality time in the car together, and I get to be productive.
Most of the time, this works out delightfully. I find a new Starbucks (or, often, one I’ve been to before but forgotten) and have a lovely time getting lots done.
But now and then, it’s not so great. Of course sometimes it’s too crowded, but I can almost always find a place to squeeze in at a counter or on the patio.
But the worst, the VERY WORST, is the dreaded GROCERY STORE STARBUCKS.
The fact that these are listed the same as a regular Starbucks on google maps is a TRAVESTY.  I don’t understand how it happens, and it has caused me grief innumerable times (I know you’re thinking I should just see if there’s a grocery store at the same address, but at least around here grocery stores and coffee shops share the same strip mall all the time). Not just Starbucks; Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has burned me this way too.
There is, however something we can do. We have power, and we can take care of one another: We can leave reviews that mention the Starbucks is inside a grocery store. If you know of a Starbucks that is inside another store, take a moment. Mention it in a google review (also: Yelp!). Put the fact that it’s in a grocery store in all caps at the top of the review. If this becomes a thing, you might be protected from this horror.
At the very least, you might not end up at the SAME GROCERY STORE MORE THAN ONCE, as has possibly happened to someone I know.