Setting Up Shop Part 4: A Writer’s Computer
Every craftsman needs his tools in order to create his masterpiece.
Writing is a craft and as such, every writer needs his own set of instruments to begin the arduous task of putting to paper what only exists in his mind.
I started out thinking that the only thing I would ever need to begin my career as a novelist is some paper, a few pens and my own creative imagination (and yes, my writing muse).
It wasn’t too long before I realized that being an obsessive-compulsive, way too organized freak was going to get in the way of actually writing. I needed to have the tools of my trade before I could even get my ideas down on paper. More than that, once I actually started writing, I got distracted with other things–like looking for supplies and various objects which would help me write better.
So I attempted to list down all the tools/instruments/gadgets which may make my life as a writer more comfortable.
I began my Setting Up Shop Series about two years ago. Somewhere along the way, I got busy with other topics and completely forgot about it.
I’ve decided that before this year ends, I will finally complete the series. So I’ve designated this November as my Setting Up Shop, where I’ll feature tools important to writers, and other gadgets which might be completely unnecessary, but which I think are cool.
Check out the previous posts in this Setting up Shop Series:
And now, I present Part 4 of my Setting Up Shop Series: A Writer’s Computer
We live an age where technology advances at such a fast rate. As soon as we buy the latest version of any gadget, a newer version pops up five seconds later. (Okay, maybe not, five seconds. More like five months.)
Whether or not we like them, computers have become the most important tool in our writing arsenal. Computers are valuable in all stages of our writing – from writing the first draft to editing it to querying to submitting our manuscripts.
The first thing any writer needs to figure out is what kind of computer to buy.
A. COMPUTER HARDWARE
Dell Desktop, Image from nearnormalcy.com
Desktops are powerful computers with the capacity for easy upgrades. You can any writing software on your desktop, and you’ll have no trouble connecting to the Internet (especially if your computer is hooked up directly via the Ethernet cable, or near the wifi connection).
And if you’re running out of memory space, thanks to all the research materials (music, images, videos, documents) for your upcoming novel; it’s a simple matter to add on a memory card to your CPU (central processing unit).
You can also choose the size, shape and specs of the monitor you wish to go with your CPU. A big screen is comfortable to use and easy on the eyes (Especially when the words start blurring after 8 hours of straight writing).
But desktops also require a lot of desk space. Your CPU, monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers might eat up so much of your desk, you’ll very little space to spread your notes, research materials and reference books.
And if you feel like writing in a nearby café, you can’t exactly carry your desktop with you.
Macbook Air, Image from Cnet.com
Speaking of portability…If you want to be able to write/edit/email anywhere, at any time, laptops are for you. They take up very little space. You don’t even need a desk or chair to use your laptop. All you need is a flat surface like—maybe, your lap?
Laptops nowadays have the computing capacity that most desktops have. You can run writing software, go online, print and attach your laptop to whatever other office peripherals you might need.
You can easily spend a whole day in your favorite coffee shop or writing nook, typing away on your laptop. As long as you’re plugged into a nearby electrical outlet, of course.
And even when you’re not near an electrical socket, you can still use your laptop. Laptops have batteries that will last anywhere from 8-14 hours. Perfect for a writing on the train, during your daily commute or in a library. You can also bring your laptops with you to writing conferences, retreats and seminars—allowing you to work on your manuscripts during breaks, or free time.
The lack of upgrading capacity/ memory space might be an issue for laptops, however. But you can easily remedy this by using external/portable hard drives to store all your data/media in.
Another issue is with laptops is the lack of customizability. Sure you can customize your laptop’s skins or its cosmetic look, but you’re stuck with your original screen size and keyboard. No matter what you do, you can’t stretch your 17”screen to match your sister’s new 27” desktop.
ASUS Eee PC, Image from notebookcheck.com
Netbooks are smaller versions of laptops, with screens ranging from 7 – 10 inches.
Extremely portable, these netbooks make it easy for you to write anywhere. Sometimes carrying a laptop can be a hassle, too. Netbooks are about the size of a hardcover and can fit in almost any bag. If you work a dayjob that requires you to travel a lot, or wait long hours, a netbook might be the perfect solution to your writing problems. I have a laywer friend who writes on her netbook while waiting for her court cases to start.
These mini-computers are able to run whatever software programs your laptops can run. The drawback is if your software program happens to be on a CD/DVD. Since they’re so small, netbooks don’t have CD/DVD drives. One way around this is to get a USB connected external CD drive.
The memory capacity of netbooks is much lower than laptops (only 2 GB), so you can’t really store as much data in it, as you’d like. An external portable hard drive would be a good solution for this problem.
Another issue with netbooks, is that the keyboards aren’t as comfortable as regular sized or even laptop-sized ones. If you have big, clumsy fingers, you might get frustrated when you mistype a word every other line.
Steve Job holding up the iPad, image from Time.com
Tablets are great media devices. You can watch a whole variety of shows and movies, listen to music, play games, email and access the internet.
Tablets are even more portable than netbooks and many users have no problem carrying them everywhere.
When you’re doing research for a novel, you can access the internet quickly, and some apps allow you to make notes, and save files, images or links.
You’ll be able to type up your manuscript using a simple document application, too. But you won’t be able to use any other writing software like ywriter or scrivener.
Large files and documents, plus a lot of apps can also slow down your tablet. If you’re the type of writer who uses online sites such as google, or thesaurus.com while writing, you’ll have a hard time switching back and forth from the internet to your manuscript.
Editing your manuscript can also be a headache for tablet-users. All that highlighting, cutting, copying and pasting will make you miss your computer mouse.
Typing on a flat glass surface can be very uncomfortable,too, unless you buy a keyboard for your tablet. The ipad and some android tablets have compatible keyboard add-ons, but other tablets might not have this capacity, so be sure to check before you buy one.
5. OTHER DEVICES
Dell Axim PDA, image from Boston Lifestyle blog
The main purpose of a PDA is to act as an electronic organizer for personal information such as your contacts, appointments, calendars, and to do lists. PDA’s also allow you access to the internet, with some even running GPS systems and other multimedia software.
In the beginning, PDA’s were pen-based, and used a stylus for input. These days, you can find either keyboard-based PDA’s or touchscreen PDA’s.
PDA’s are even more portable than tablets, as they can easily fit into your shirt/jeans’ pocket. As such, they can be valuable tools for note-taking, or for recordring those story ideas or poems that always seem to show up when you have no access to pen and paper whatsoever.
The iPhone 4, image from Apple’N'Apps.com
SMARTPHONES in today’s world seem to have replaced PDA’s as the top electronic organizer, however. Smartphones (like the iPhone or other Android cellphones) combine all the abilities of a PDA with the capacity to run various applications/apps just like a tablet. On top of this, of course, smartphones have the awesome ability to connect you with people—just like a regular phone!
The lack of memory space and a proper keyboard to type on is the biggest drawback of these devices. While PDA’s and Smartphones allow you to quickly record sudden story inspirations, they won’t allow you to write them. Your thumb and/or forefinger will cramp up before you even finish a quarter of your two-page chapter. The difficulty of switching from document to the internet is also a big issue with these smaller devices—looking up one word on thesaurus.com might take forever, depending on how strong your wifi signals are.
If writing a novel one these devices is difficult, editing is downright impossible. PDA’s and Smartphones don’t have available writing software, and trying to edit without a mouse or a keyboard is mental suicide.
|PROS||* powerful hardware, capacity for easy upgrades* ability to choose screen/monitor size for comfort and ease of reading/working||* very portable * has the computing capacity of desktops
* capable of running various writing software and attaching to other external peripherals such as printers, scanners, etc.
|* extremely portable* can run writing programs, internet, etc* capable of running various writing software and attaching to other external peripherals such as printers, scanners, etc.||* extremely portable*has access to the internet/apps that can help you with research||* extremely portable* Useful for on the spot note-taking/ for jotting down sudden story ideas while on the go|
|CONS||* eats up a lot of desk space* lack of portability||*lack of upgrading capacities, and memory space add-onlack of customizability in terms of screen size, and keyboard||*lack of upgrading capacities, and memory space add-on* keyboard may be too small for some people*has no cd/dvd drives*low memory capacity compared to laptops & desktops||* large files/docs can slow your tablet down*Switching from document to app can be frustrating*Editing can be difficult on a tablet*Writing can be difficult on a tablet, especially without a keyboard||* Writing a novel, is difficult without a keyboard or a big memory space*Editing is impossible without a mouse or a keyboard, and other helpful writing software|
B. COMPUTER SOFTWARE
After figuring out the kind of computer you want, you’ll have to decide on the kind of specs you want it to have.
Here are some things to consider when choosing your computer software:
1. MEMORY SPACE
CPU with Memory Card Chips, image from loreoutlet.dyndns.org
While researching for our stories, we might need to save a lot of images, links, music, videos and other documents for reference. While a 300 page manuscript doesn’t require an enormous amount of memory space, all the research needed to write it, might.
2. WORD PROCESSOR
Microsoft Word processor screenshot
Many writers are happy with using Microsoft Word or Linux as their word processors. But if you want to use writing software like yWriter or Scrivener, you’ll have to make sure your computer is compatible with them. For example, PC’s can run yWriter and Scrivener, but Macs can’t run yWriter just yet.
Other helpful software useful for brainstorming/plotting/writing editing like Personalbrain.com, yEdit and Anthemion Cafe Writers Storylines might only be compatible with certain platforms like PC’s.
Internet modem, image from ubergizmo.com
In the old days, writers had to go to libraries to do some valuable research for their novels or articles. Today, information is ready at the touch of our fingertips.
Access to the Internet is a must for every writer nowadays. And it’s not just because we need Google for our research, or Dictionary.com to look up words. Other important parts of the writing process such as querying agents, submitting manuscripts, interacting with blog followers, and other fans of your book will all require the use of the Internet.
Choose a computer that allows you to access the web with speed.
Your computer has to have the capacity to play any type of media. Whether it’s so you can listen to music while you write, or so you can download pictures of actors who resemble the characters you have in mind, or so you can play games when you need a break from writing.
Research is made easy by videos, too. Say your character is supposed to know martial arts, but you don’t practice it yourself. The simplest solution is to go on youtube.com and look for martial arts demonstration videos so you can write the fight sequence more easily. Your computer has to have a decent videocard and soundcard so you can play videos.
WD Home Book, External Hard drive, image from wdc.com
Everything about your novel will be stored in your computer, so you need to have a good hard drive for backing up your work. It might actually be a good idea to have a backup for your backup.
Desktops have the capacity to store as many as 5 hard drives, so you can have 6 backups in case one of your hard drives croaks. If you’ve chosen a laptop for your writing needs, it would be ideal to have external hard drives as backups.
You can also consider saving your work and other research materials on a cloud drive. Cloud Storage systems like Amazon, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and Microsoft Skydrive allow you to store from 5- 7GB worth of data for free. With paid memberships, you can store even more.
I actually save all my important documents and media on my WD Passport portable hard drive. It’s just slightly smaller than an actual passport, but it can store 1 TB worth of data. I bring this with me everywhere, and as long as I have access to a computer, I can also have access to all my novels, research material and even writing software.
C. OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Other things to consider when choosing a computer include:
Price is of course a big consideration when buying a computer for your writing needs. Make sure you’re able to buy a computer that has all you need and is within your budget.
Shop around for online and store deals and compare models and prices before you buy anything.
2. AVAILABILITY OF SPARE PARTS
Sometimes it’s best to buy a newer model. If your computer ever gets into an accident, spare parts will be easier to find if your computer is newer.
3. EASE OF USE
Buying the latest computer model with all the awesome new add-ons might sound like a dream, but if you’re not savvy with all the new tech, it might just end up being a burden to your writing career. You’ll spend more time trying to figure out each new program/ computer function than writing. Or if you are tech savvy, you might have too much fun playing around with all your computer’s cool features, that you’ll end up forgetting about that novel you’ve been meaning to write.
4. KNOW WHAT YOU NEED
Your computer is your most important writing tool. Before you spend money on one, be sure that you’ve done your research.
Make a separate list for the things you want in a computer, and the things you really need. This might come in handy when you need to consider price and make that final decision.
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