by Annette Lyon
People often ask about how I write, what tools I use, so I thought I'd blog about it here.
My AlphaSmart NEO is a lifesaver for me. Without it, I wouldn't have drafted my last three books nearly as fast as I did, and I continue to draft with it. The NEO is how I squeeze writing into the daily chaos that is family life.
Begun as a way to teach grade school students how to type without the enormous cost of lots of computers, the AlphaSmart quickly found a cult following among writers, and for good reason.
At its most basic, an AlphaSmart is a portable word processor. It's got a sturdy shell, a small screen that holds 4 lines or so of text (depending on your model and the font size), and a full-size keyboard.
My NEO uses so little power that my rechargeable battery gets charged maybe three times a year. There's no saving involved. Once you type something in, it's there until you delete it. There's no boot-up time, either. You push a button, and it turns on. You push it again, and it turns off (or just wait a few minutes; if you don't type for a while, it'll turn off to conserve power).
The earlier versions (the AlphaSmart 2000 and 3000, no longer available) had slightly clunkier keyboards and design. The NEO is sleeker and requires a much lighter touch to type with. As a result, I can write much faster on the NEO than I could on my old 3000.
The NEO also has a word count feature, which I really missed on the 3000. The NEO has 8 files you can write in, and each one can hold something like 32 single-spaced pages worth of material. I've never yet filled a file because I transfer my data to the computer quickly, but I like being able to have several things going at once.
Also new with the NEO is the ability to remove (but save) a file from being active and use that spot for another work, essentially giving you several times more than 8 files to work with. I've never needed to use this function, but it's another plus for writers who might fill up a lot of text before getting to back to their computers.
The AlphaSmart DANA version has a few bells and whistles, but also a few drawbacks, like how you have to save, and I know of a couple of DANAs that have had problems like fatal errors, things I've never heard of with a NEO.
Very minor drawbacks withthe NEO are how quotes and apostrophes come out straight from the NEO, while my word processor has them curly, so to make it all match, I have to search and replace all those marks. Same with em dashes. I make them with a double hyphen on the Neo, then search for them and pop in the em dash.
Such minor fixing after transferring the data over is no big deal to me because the NEO is such a lifesaver in so many other ways.
If you're looking for a high-powered laptop, this isn't it.
But if you're looking for something light-weight, easy to transport, easy to turn on, that won't lose power after hours and hours and HOURS of writing, that keeps your work without any effort on your part, something that costs a fraction of a decent laptop, this is your toy.
I mean tool.
Mine has been dropped and stepped on (which happens when you've four children and their friends running around), and it's taken the abuse.
We inherited a 2000 recently, and I passed it on to the kids so they'd stop trying to use my NEO. They love writing their own stories, and with 8 files, they each get to "own" two of them. It's perfect.
When it's time to transfer my work to the computer, I just launch the "get" utility program and push the "send" button. The infrared does the rest.
I can also transfer from the computer to the NEO, but since, at least for me, the NEO is best for drafting rather than revising (that little screen is tough to revise on), I rarely send anything the other direction.
My NEO has let me draft on car trips, in hotel rooms, in the lobby of the dance studio, in the doctor's office, on the deck swing as the kids play outside, poolside while the kids are in swimming lessons, on a bench at the park, and tons of other places when I'm on the go.
It's literally how I cram a lot of my drafting into family life. Without it, I wouldn't get nearly as much done.
To learn more about AlphaSmart's products, visit their website here.