Pens and computers at the ready: November is National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo).


The goal behind NaNoWriMo is simple: write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, beginning November 1st. Last year 200,000 people from around the world took part, and that’s estimated to increase to 250k this year.

It’s the world’s largest writing challenge and, in the creators’ own words, a ‘non-profit literary crusade’. It also involves a hell of a lot of technology, which is why I’m writing about it here.

Lots of people talk about writing, but few actually make the effort to get the words out. NaNoWriMo gives writers an opportunity to get their ideas down on paper (on digital?) with the support of thousands of others, with a forum on hand and a wave of enthusiasm to spur you on.

I love writing, and I love technology, so for me NaNoWriMo is almost as much about the gadgets and the software as the words. I’ve taken part a few times – I’ve failed some, won others. Haven’t written anything publishable yet, but have had a lot of fun. I’d highly recommend it if there’s a creative bone in your body.

Hard-wired for success
First up, let’s talk hardware – I’ll put up a post about software early next week. Please note: this is simply a guide to the gadgets I’m using for NaNoWriMo, not an exhaustive list.

Most of the time I’ll be writing on my laptop at home – my trusty Packard Bell with Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and slightly ineffectual keyboard (the space bar is not great). Because of the somewhat duff keyboard, I’ve got a brilliant Microsoft compact one to use instead – the Arc. Types like a dream, takes up hardly any space. Arrow keys take some getting used to, though.

At work I have a Macbook. Now obviously I wouldn’t use it for creative writing during the working day (double obviously), but it’s nice to know I’ve got options if I want to do some lunchtime scribbling.

My secret weapon is a superb writing device called the Alphasmart Neo. It’s essentially an electronic word processor. It consists of a fullsize keyboard with small screen, which saves as you type. It has no internet, no distractions, and as you can only see a few lines at a time it’s hopeless for editing – but perfect for getting that essential first draft done (remember: write first, edit later).

When you want the data on your PC, simply plug in a USB cable and the words stream into whatever app you have open. I plan to take this into coffee shops for intense writing sessions whenever I have the opportunity. I can’t recommend them enough. Generally they’re used in education, but they have a cult following among writers, too. Battery life is an amazing, shout-from-the-rooftops 700 hours from three AA batteries. What’s not to like? Old Alphasmart 3000s sometimes go quite cheaply on eBay.

I used to like my Asus eeePC netbook for writing too, but it’s showing its age now and its Linux operating system is out of date and beyond my updating capabilities.

Finally, there’s my iPhone (below, right). To be honest, I can’t see myself doing much writing on it. I love my iPhone and get on okay with the keyboard, but I don’t feel it’s useful for doing more than a few notes at a time.

Times like this I wish I still had my old Handspring Visor PDA (pictured above, left) – I was one of the few who adored the Graffiti writing system and was pretty damn quick with it on a good day.

So ultimately it looks as if most of my writing will be done on my laptop and Alphasmart – what will you be using?

In part two, coming early next week: Software for writing, outlining and inspiration

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