Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tricks of the Trade-Alphasmart

Go ahead. You have official Seekerville permission to write a terrible first draft. Seriously. Try it.

For most writers, this is harder than it seems.

Having trouble turning off your internal editor?

The most amazing discovery I've found on my road to publication is this nifty little light weight machine called an Alphasmart.

It is a portable keyboard. The window is so small, it's a royal pain to go back and edit . . . so I just don't.

This is s good thing when I'm trying to churn out a rough draft. I can usually plunk my 55-60k mess draft out in a matter of days or a few weeks on my Alphie.

Everyone writes differently. I'm not saying my way works best, but my way works best for me. If I don't get my rough draft (which I call a "mess draft") down in a matter of days, the story falls apart and ends up harder to write.

I have the Neo and I do not have Internet access to it. I don't dare read the instruction manual because I don't want to know what all this gizmo does. Or I might be tempted to utilize the word processing features. LOL! I do use the control that lets me see my word count. But I've figured out that each file (and there are eight) holds about 25 single spaced pages. More than enough room to write two category length novels before you have to transfer to your computer.

Alphies are so light, you can stick them inside an over sized purse. Their instant "on" "off" switch has an autosave feature so you don't have to save your work or wait for it to boot of shut down. You push a button...it comes on. It's instantaneous. When you hit "off", it shuts off and autosaves in that moment.

I do back my files up to my computer using a USB cable. You can also use infrared or a fire wire. Files take a little more time to transfer than say a flash drive would, but for the ease of typing that Alphasmart brings, it's well worth it. I got my Alphasmart for around 200 bucks. MUCH cheaper than a laptop.

I have typed out most of every story I've written on my Alphasmart and only changed the batteries maybe three times in a few years. It runs 700+ hours on 3 AA batteries. You can also plug it in too I think. But I love the battery version. Every time you turn it on, it gives you an image of a battery and how much juice you have left. You'd definitely need to transfer your files to a computer before your batteries run down.

How does this relate to contests?

With 50 double spaced pages per file, you have room to type out 16 (count 'em!) individual contest entries on your Alphie.

Do any of you use Alphasmarts? If so, what brand? And what do you like or dislike about them?

Do any of you use anything similar to this? What is it and how does it work for you?

Talk away! This is an interactive blog.

Here is the link for anyone wanting more info.

Alphasmart Web site

Cheryl Wyatt


  1. sounds interesting. thanks for sharing.

  2. I have an Alphasmart, Cheryl, but I've gotten out of the habit of using it, probably because I'm an edit-as-you-go writer. But I need to speed up so I'm going to try spewing out the rough draft in my Alphasmart. It's everything you say it is--light, portable, sturdy. It's easy to use while riding in a car. And when I hook it into the USB port, it's fascinating to watch my desktop type my words.


  3. I've been thinking of getting one of these!

    It'd be great for working on my lunch hour. :-)

  4. Cheryl, I'm glad Alphie's become your friend, honey-lamb. We all need friends.

    And how cute that you've named 'him', 'her', 'it'...


    The last Alf I knew was an inter-galactic alien life form on TV. And I loved him.

    Seriously, you've shown us the benefits of having a travel-along buddy to access your writing. That's wonderful.

    And to make our day complete in the food area (I let Missy down yesterday. Sigh... Only so many minutes, you know...)

    Here are some Scrumptious bars. Seriously. That's their name. I don't know if it's the official name, but it was the official name on the top of the sheet of mimeographed paper I was given that bore the recipe like twenty years ago.

    "Life Ladies of the Morton Baptist Church Scrumptious Bars"

    How's that for a cookie title????

    Anyway, cookie crust topped with chocolate/cream cheese cheesecake, garnished with cookie crust crumbles. If cookies/bars were sinful, this one would qualify.

    Try it with a mug of that hazelnut biscotti coffee blend I got at Sam's club last night. Great combo.

    And I must go congratulate small children on their good behavior for these stolen moments!


  5. It sounds wonderful--just type away anywhere you go. I'm just not sure I'd use it. I'm so used to typing out my stories in my office at my desktop, checking email and reading Seeker blog posts as my little breaks. And I got horrible writer's block the last time I tried to just type out a rough draft without editing as I went. I tried that Na No Wri Mo thing, and it didn't go well, to put it mildly. Creativity suicide is the term that comes to mind. I guess I'm your opposite, Cheryl. :-)

    But I would like to have a laptop, I think. That way I wouldn't get those little panicky, withdrawal-like sensations every time I have to go out of town.

  6. I know folks who swear by them.

    I got one, a hand-me-down from my much younger niece, who no longer needed it for her high school classes.

    It worked for a few days.

    Long story short, I learned that Alphasmart repair services are wonderful. Responsive, patient, and affordable. Of course, given the price of these things, the cut-bait point comes quickly. But they're so nice, they even refunded the evaluation fee to me.

    So I haven't had much chance to try one out. I plan to purchase one from eBay to help me keep writing when I'm away from my computer, which is most of the time, or just want to spend more time with the kiddos.

  7. I looked at an Alphasmart for a long time a couple of years ago. I finally bought a lap top instead. A big downside to the laptop is weight. That thing is heavy, especially carrying it through the airport. I managed to rig it to my suitcase and MOSTLY roll it, but I didn't check a borderline sized suitcase because I needed those wheels to carry my lap top.
    And then the tragic end to that story, my daughter needed a lap top for an online class. I ended up giving it to her, trading her for her desktop, which is my main one at home, so it's okay. My other one was seriously old. Then I bought another laptop. My other daughter needed it for college. I ended up giving it to her.

    Now I've got one that my own, no one left to beg (the other girls have one) and except for one trip... I never use it. Maybe I'd use the alphie. Just having a word processor that wasn't ONLINE so I'd quit spending so much time oh... you know...hanging around blogs :) would up my word count.

  8. Whoa, Cheryl, here's another blog I'm gonna print off!! Thanks for outlining the Alphasmart so neatly and clearly. I am definitely going to think about his vs. a laptop because if I can write just one-tenth as fast as you using this thing-a-ma-bob, I'll be in fat city.

    Not that I want to be in "fat" city ... would rather just be in "fast" city ... ahem, in my writing speed, that is ... :)


  9. That's one thing that fascinated me about authors is that everyone has their own method. I heard on TV or some type of media the other day that it took someone thirty years to write a book and that book sold like a billion gazillion copies. The article was about authors who have only one book per lifetime. Many do no more than one book a year or every other year. I think no matter how you get to The End...if it's slow and steady or edit-as-you-go, or like me and you just pretty much spew out the book (LOL) and have to fix it on edits, as long as you get to the finished product is what matters.

    Alphies are great for a lot of people. Worth trying if you can't afford a laptop.

    Thanks for sharing your opinions all!

    Oh, and I brought some sassafrass tea and homemade sourdough bread. It's on a tray in the corner.


  10. I just want to clarify...

    "on edits" means my personal author edits before the book is submission ready. Not editorial pub house edits. LOL!

    Never never never ever send it a rough draft and expect the editors to fix it. LOLOL!

    Hugs all


  11. Melanie,

    I tried Nano Wri-mo, or whatever it's called, (LOL!) a few times. The first time I only got to like 30 K. But the second and third times I finished a book. One of those sold to Steeple Hill a few months later...(A Soldier's Family) was a Nano book.

    But it became too much trouble to blog about my progress. And anything that takes time away from the actual writing kinda defeats the purpose. LOL!


  12. Aus, I know many schools use them when they can't afford a computer lab. Alphasmart gives a special discount to schools and when folks buy in bulk. I bet if a bunch of writers...say 10 or so..went together and asked for a bulk rate, they'd do it. Customer service has always been excellent. I've never needed them for repairs or anything. I was just asking about the possibility of discounts. They were very agreeable and courteous.

    Pam, they are excellent for short snippet writing such as lunch breaks or waiting for a doctor's appointment or whatever. Very handy.


  13. Patricia, I have written entire books out on the Alphie...then transferred to the computer for editing and polishing.

    I love to use it when I need to stay offline to write. It's easier to avoid the Internet when I'm plunking on the Alphie. LOLOL!


  14. DD wants a lap top for school b/c with the dyslexia thing and after effects of an accident to her hand she has a lot of soreness in her hand trying to keep up.

    She has good gross motor strength and skill -- you should see her wrassle those 4-H heifers into submission -- but handwriting and other "fine" tasks wear her out.

    I thought an Alpha Smart might be more appropriate and now I'm thinking it might definitely be an option.

    Is it a full-size keyboard or smallish like a laptop? Do they have a light touch when you type?

    Interesting. Very interesting! Thanks for the heads-up!

  15. Ann,

    It is a full size keyboard...between the size of a desktop and a laptop.

    And it is much easier on my hands and fingers. I recently injured them in a wreck and Alphie has been a lifesaver.

    Definitely better than my desktop keyboard.



  16. Like Cheryl said, the keyboard is really nice. Light touch. But that is for the Alphasmart Neo, not the older Alphasmart 3000 model. The older model's keyboard is a bit stiff.

    I like my Alphasmart because it's not connected to the internet (I have a Neo). This helps me so that I'm not distracted when I write.

    If I don't get distracted, I can pound out about 5,000 words a day.

    If I'm distracted--like if I write on my laptop--I'm lucky to get 1,000 words a day.


  17. I have a NEO. I hate it because I am an edit freak. Sigh. And the screen is too dark. Then again I don't like laptops either.

    Maybe I need to give it another shot. The case by the way is really nice. I use the case all the time. lol

  18. Although I completed a novel during the last NaNo, I found that I can't shut off my internal editor. I also found out that I am able to write/type fast enough that I can edit as I go and still make considerable progress - including the nightly progress report. :)

    This is a good thing b/c I'm finding that I hate editing after the fact.

    Since a lot of my ideas come to me during my weekly (or mor) hour drive to the city, I do some major plotting and character sketching while my hands are on the wheel but my mouth is in motion recording the details into my digital voice recorder.

  19. I really want to get one of these for Mom. We got her a laptop, and I ended up using it because she isn't a typical touch typist, and doesn't feel comfortable with all that space between her and the keyboard. An Alphasmart looks like it would be perfect!

  20. I have an Alphasmart, but I don't use it as much as I should. It was all I hoped: lightweight, portable, with a long-life battery. I can use it in my car and on a plane.
    Several times, I've let the battery run down and lost data and had to reload it, which is frustrating. Sometimes I wish I'd gotten the style with e-mail access, but then I know I'd be accessing e-mail, rather than writing.

  21. Great point, Cheryl! It's so useful, especially for being portable. And sturdy.

    I have the really old one. Before the Neo. And I've used it a lot while at sports practices. :)

    Also, my kids love it! They're always typing stories on it.

    It's nice for perfectionists who can't seem to stop fixing things as they go. That's especially true on my old one because it's hard to go back and revise on it. (And yes, I'm a perfectionist!) LOL

    Oh, and I think I've only had to change the batteries about once a year!