Writing is a very personal process…
Blech, I feel dirty even writing that.
I mean, yeah, it is, but so are most things. But writers, oh precious and fragile artists we aren’t, make it a real personal thing. Like, crazy personal.
“I write best in a crowded zoo while listening to the chimpanzees mate to the beat of Skrillex.”
“Oh no, one needs complete silence! A zen like space, positive energies flowing though their ear holes like angry African ants.”
In reality, almost anyone can write anywhere under any conditions on anything. But, no doubt, we aren’t all equipped to deal with certain things as well as others. I, for one, am ADD as fuck, and humming and whistling, tapping and bumping, throw me off my game. I can write at a park. But I don’t.
In the same way, writing hardware and devices can play to our strengths and weaknesses.
This gives rise to the writing snoots, all aquiver with excitement to convert you to their way of working, their particular hobby horse…
Longhand via pen.
Typewriter via well-muscled-fingers.
Windows PC only.
I want to take a moment to wipe away the dusty, dried yak poo coating these ideas, and talk positives and negatives, as well as basic reality, about writing hardware.
Software is for later. Trust me, I have a lot to talk about there. But we’re dusting the yak poo from hardware today.
Doing it Twice, or I Like to do More Work:
Longhand, i.e. the Cold and Dark Days of Yore
Some folks swear by longhand writing. For those youngins born into the age of the iPad, longhand means writing things (scratching into) on other things (dead tree matter) with cylindrical objects filled with slightly toxic fluid (the elders called them…pens).
(Note, as you read, I like to make fun of stuff, but it’s all in good humor. If you enjoy longhand, I’m not here to take a shit on it.)
I mean, but damn, you know?
Some swear it’s the only way to write, and that it has a sort of mythical, magical feeling to it. It unlocks their inner writing monster and teleports them to a zen place of composition.
Maybe it does. Not for me, of course. My hand is cramping just thinking about it. But if it works for you, and you like the smell of hot ink on cool paper, go for it!
But here’s the deal: no one accepts hand written manuscripts. At all. Period. No agent, no publisher, and Amazon would zap you with a laser from space if you tried to stuff a sheet of notebook paper into their Kindle site—not to mention how unhappy your CD drive would be if you tried to shove your manuscript through it in a desperate bid to turn 300 pages of hand written manuscript into an ebook.
Before you dive into the world of longhand fiction, think long and hard how you plan to get it into someone’s sweaty little palms for reading. You’d likely have to type the whole thing anyway.
If you are adverse to working on a keyboard, ask yourself why. Slow typist? That’s ok. Get a typing program and practice. Or just ignore it and type slowly. Need the smell of paper to get in the mood? Keep some nearby and idly rub your nose on it.
Because, really, you shouldn’t be writing much with pen and paper unless there is a damned good reason. It’s just adding a very lengthy step to your process.
Typewriter, i.e. the Clacker
Oh, there it is. A beauty. Shiny keys, clacking clacking typing action.
A physical way to write, no doubt. And fun enough.
Like the longhand writing above, there are diehard typewriter folks as well.
Who doesn’t want to look like Asimov, IBM Selectric whirring away in front of him? Very writerly, no?
But here we come to a similar problem: typewritten manuscripts are almost never accepted now. We’ve entered the digital age, my friends, and like it or not, it’s a good thing. As a slush reader for a magazine, I can tell you I’m perfectly content with a digital pile of doc files instead of a literal pile of typewriter paper.
If you buy into the “typewriter is the best and only way to write” line some folks spout, be prepaired to have to retype the whole thing into a computer later.
And don’t think you can OCR that bad boy with that fancy assed scanner of yours. I’ve tried. Doesn’t work.
I have a green first gen IBM Selectric on my desk. Told you, I like typewriters. It has a special, easy to read “type” ball on it that OCRs well enough. And even so, there’s an error introduced every few words, spaces missing, and worse. It’s almost as much work to fix the shit as to just retype the work.
Doing it Once, or Keeping up with the Joneses:
Desktops and Laptops: Mac vs Windows vs Linux
This is where we cut through the bullshit and send the fanboi communities to sit in their respective corners.
I’m a tech man, period. I have a Macbook, a Windows PC, an iPhone, iPad, a Kindle, multiple Android tablets, an Atari 130XE from the early 80s with 128 kb of RAM… I play no fanboi games, and worship no brand. The following are from personal experience.
When combing through the myriad choices for writers, there are a lot of things to consider. But, in the end, these systems are as similar as thay are different.
But that doesn’t stop people from endlessly comparing, and yapping, about how only a moron would use Mac/Windows/Linux because of price/stability/etc.
But, let’s step back, brush aside the crap, and dive into what really separates these different systems, pros and ugly cons all on display.
Let’s get one thing straight: Microsoft is no more, or less, evil than Apple. Just push that all out of the way. Companies do shiesty shit. Big companies do more. World dominating companies like Microsoft and Apple do way more.
Another bit of bull to shovel out of the way: Windows does not crash more, or less, than OS X (now, MacOS…yay, useless name change!). Not anymore, at least. The last few Windows versions have been quite stable, since about Windows 7. Granted, one could ask what took them so long, but I doubt they’d answer your strongly worded letter.
First up, for us writers, Windows is ubiquitous. There is a ton of writing software for Windows, and the newest iterations of Word link up nice with the free cloud service Microsoft offers, which allows for work on Word via your iPhone, iPad, or Android device.
Windows machines can be found pretty cheap, and if you’re on a real budget, most of these programs can be run on a fairly old machine bought off eBay.
Your work computer is likely Windows, so yeah, writing on your down time (or when you’re supposed to be doing something else…) is possible.
And Windows is easy enough to use if it is all set up for you already. If you avoid surfing fishy sites and mucking with your drivers, well, it should be as simple as clicky-start-menu, clicky-application-icon, write. Though, for some reason, people above a certain age (my parents for example), somehow mess up their computer every other week clicking on some dumb-assed email that looks, smells, and tastes like a scam, but they click that link anyway…
Windows laptops can be be found really cheap, and often are good enough for writing.
Due to how Windows programs may be Windows only (like many OS X programs are Mac only) be aware that working on a Windows machine may lock you into the Windows “ecosystem,” in other words, that world of computing and software.
If you work in yWriter, you will need to keep working in yWriter. If your system doesn’t have yWriter, or you want to write on a mobile device when out of the house, no joy my friend.
But, of course, Word is linked up to its own little cloud system that works well on Windows, OS X, and all mobile devices worth a damn. So, if you are a big-honking-Word-document-for-my-whole-novel writer, this would work great for you.
But other than Word, or Scrivener for Windows, or pure text files (maybe in Markdown), Windows will become your home from here on out.
It’s Windows, so let’s be real here: even though they improved a lot in the security department, it’s still possible to nab yourself a nice bit of malware.
The backup system is not nearly as robust as Apple’s Time Machine system, so be ready to put your stuff on the cloud somewhere, or futz around with Windows’ sub-par backup system.
When a Windows machine breaks, it breaks. It usually requires a full re-install of the operating system to get stuff running again, unless you’re a geek like me, and that could be wasted time and energy, not to mention a headache, when you’re trying to write. That sub-par backup system doesn’t help here, except for restoring lost documents. See the following section on Apple’s Time Machine to see how backup systems should work.
Low-level Windows laptops will likely be prone to breakage and have crappy displays. Seriously, it’s the way of things. Ever try to use a Walmart level laptop outside on a sunny day? Not gonna see shit. Battery life? Poo. Keyboard feel? Meh. Note, this is just the budget laptops I’m talking about here, as there are plenty of high-end, very nice PC laptops out there. Just be very careful to look for a super HD screen, like the MacBook’s “Retina” display, with a nice clear picture. We write, folks, which means squinting at little letters on a screen all day. Be wary of budget PC laptops for this reason.
OS X (MacOS), otherwise known as an Apple computer
Another moment here to scoop up the horse-poo that confused folks may dump on your doorstep: Apple computers are no more expensive than a Windows PC with similar hardware. Sorry folks, I’m a computer guy, and I’ve priced this stuff out. If the hardware specs are the same, the price is the same, give or take $100.
Apple computers tend to be made of pretty stern stuff. In the ten years or so I’ve had Apple computers in the house, along with my Windows boxes, I’ve only had one major issue with one—a power supply took a dump. In that time, I’ve had PC hardware shit the bed multiple times, from hard-drives failing to keyboards just forgetting how to keyboard. You pay for this sturdy hardware, of course, and if you buy yourself a nice $1500 Dell, your milage may be the same as if you bought that iMac, but I’m just telling you what I know.
There is also a distinct difference in the quality of software for creatives on a Mac. This isn’t because Macs are better, or more cool, or whatever. Anyone that tells you that is full of shit. But facts are facts: more writers and graphic artists use Macs, and so more companies writing software for those folks make them on Macs. This is just a “better batteries for the same flashlight” thing here—computers are computers, and honestly there is little reason Windows PCs couldn’t be brimming with gems like Ulysses or Storyist (we’ll get more into software in the next post).
The backup system is way better than anything I’ve ever used before. Time Machine, what Macs use to back up files, makes incremental backups of all files, including certain system settings. You can click a file, go into Time Machine, and reset that file to any version it has backed up, from a day ago to hours ago to months ago. The real benefit, however, is how Time Machine is used to restore a screwed Mac or change over to a new one. Boot up a Mac into its restore mode, or boot a new one up fresh and hot from the store, and point it at your Time Machine backup, and boom—all files, all settings, even your messy-assed desktop, is restored to just how it was before.
Macs are also very good when it comes to malware. You really, really have to fuck up to get spyware on your Mac, people. The reason is simple: like Linux, OS X is based off the age-old operating system of Unix, and Unix is designed for multiple users in a public setting. Think old 70s colleges. Everything is locked behind a wall of passwords and limits, so an app can’t insert itself into the guts of the operating system like one can with an older version of Windows, or even the newest versions of Windows (when those pesky loopholes are found and exploited). That isn’t to say it can never happen, as it can and has, but these malicious programs are few and far between, and Apple tends to patch out whatever loophole they used within days.
Like Windows, when working on a Mac, you are going to get the most of your writing software if you work within the ecosystem.
Apple has recently changed its half-assed iCloud into a better iCloud Drive, something like a Google Drive or Dropbox, but integrated into the system itself.
Most writing apps on the iPhone/iPad/iPod/iToilet/whatever are able to sync via this iCloud Drive back to your home base iMac or MacBook.
This means, write on Ulysses on the Mac, open the file on your iPhone, continue writing on the bus, come back home, open Ulysses on the Mac, continue like you never left home.
While you can simulate this with various tricks via Dropbox and apps in Windows and mobile devices, none are as seamless as the Apple iCloud system, except maybe Word and Microsoft’s own cloud system.
That’s not to say it can’t be done on Android with your Markdown editor on Windows, just that I’ve never had it made easier than this before, and I’ve tried it all…I mean all. Windows to Android, iPhone to Windows, even writing on a Kindle. Trust me when I say, Apple got this thing right this time.
There are no budget Apple products. The cheapest MacBook is still $800. If you’re on a budget, this can be a real problem.
Apple is super proprietary. All their goodies are designed to get you to use their systems forever. Now mind you, I like their systems, and since switching to a Macbook to write, I’ve been much more productive. But thisis a thing, and it might not be your cup of tea.
Linux, or NERD!
Time for the standard “nip the bullshit in the ass” moment: Linux is not hard to use. Not anymore. No sir/ma’am. Install Ubuntu or Linux Mintand you will have access to a perfectly nice, even amazing, user interface with windows and menus and all the standard modern PC goodness.
Linux can be installed on almost anything, and will run fine in one configuration or another on almost any machine made in the last decade or more. This means a cheap laptop, one that chokes on Windows 7 (the oldest version of Windows I’d say is at all secure and stable), will run Linux like a champ. You may have to forgo some pretty effects, or use a more simple windowing system like XFCE, but damn if it won’t run.
Basically all software on Linux is free and open source. This complicates things a bit sometimes, as open source is sort of nerd code for “always in beta” and may be lax in updates, but on the same token, it may mean it’s way better and more streamlined than anything you have ever worked with. Take OpenOffice for example. It’s a complete Word compatible program, with everything a word processor needs, and is the cheap price of $0.
Linux is about as stable and secure as they come, next to OS X and other Unix type systems. You can crash Linux, but you have to try pretty hard. You can infect Linux with some piece of malware, but oh man do you have to screw the pooch to let that happen.
Linux can, with a certain amount of luck and computer know-how (look up Wine), run Windows software like a champ. So if you like Windows, but are worried about performance or security, this can be an avenue.
There is also an (unsupported) version of Scrivener for Linux, but it seems it’s been abandoned, so it won’t be keeping up with the other versions (so don’t expect them to play nice with each other).
There isn’t much of one to speak of in Linux. Linux utilizes free software what can usually be found compiled on Windows or Mac, or simply compatible with software on those systems. OpenOffice, for example, can save in the industry standard doc or the newer docx formats. You can open those in word, no problem, on Windows or Mac.
But, then again, this lack of ecosystem has a certain disadvantage: no integration with mobile devices. Again, hacky use of Dropbox and compatible mobile apps can mitigate this, but don’t expect to find a smooth and easy way to do this, unlike iCloud with Ulysses or Pages, or OneDrive with Word.
Linux is a nerd’s heaven. If you aren’t a computer geek, and something goes wrong, have a nerd on hand to help. It can get ugly down there in the old command line.
Linux doesn’t support all hardware (at least out of the box), so be aware of that when picking out a computer to Ubuntu up. Often this can be worked around, as the Linux community is lively and usually has a fix for everything, but this is nerd territory again.
No mobile integration, so if that matters to you, take note.
And you are basically stuck with the software you can find. If OpenOffice doesn’t do it for you, or you really want to use a Mac app, or something along those lines, Linux might not be your cup of tea. This isn’t a slight against Linux, and there are many great pieces of writing software out there for it (if you are a super-geek, you can even dip into Vi, Vim, or Emacs), but the selection can be more limited than the other, more commercially successful systems.
Backup systems are nerd only, folks. There are a lot of quality and amazing backup systems for Linux, but they are usually not plug-and-play like Time Machine.
Chromebooks, for those who don’t know, are Google Chrome/Chromium based laptops. It runs what is less of an operating system than a well integrated Chrome browser that takes the place of the normal icons and start-menus of more traditional machines.
While I haven’t messed too much with Chromebooks myself, I hear nothing but good things—they are cheap, use Google Docs by default, and are light and portable.
Chrome, Chrome, Chrome, and Google. As they run nothing but web-apps, I’d expect almost everyone using one is Google Docs/Drive only, meaning instant sync and all the good stuff that goes along with it.
It is, again, a web-app only device. No Scrivener, or as far as I know Word or OpenOffice. They like to be online, and though you can save documents for offline use, that’s an extra step you may forget.
Though, if Google Docs is your thing, well, I don’t think this is an issue.
Doing it Mobile, or “Look at what I have in my pocket!”
Apple vs Android vs um…is there anything else?
Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, etc.)
I used to use Android phones, and loved them. Lots of freedom, lots of apps, many free things…
But I’ve slowly moved over to Apple devices through and through.
Apple phones and tablets are expensive, but again, this is a hardware thing. A similar Android device, with a similar “Retina” like super HD display, will cost you much the same.
There are way more creative apps on the iOS systems than Android systems. When I used Android a few years back, there wasn’t a word-smith program worth a damn. No Markdown apps, no apps with bold or italics. This has changed a bit from then, and Word is on Android systems now, as well as others, but there is still a large gulf between them.
Take, for example, Storyist, Ulysses, and now, Scrivener. All are writer-specific apps. All are for writing other than business writing. All support some form of instant syncing back to the home base computer. All allow subdocuments for chapters or scenes, character sheets, and the like.
Or take Apple’s own word processor, Pages. It works the exact same on a Mac, on the web via iCloud.com, or on an iDevice. Exactly the same. Every feature, every shortcut. And it syncs instantly via iCloud.
These are all iOS only apps, and I’ll be damned if I found anything even close when I was an Android user.
The same as it is for Apple computers above. You use an iPhone? You’d best stick with an app that works well with iCloud (or Word, which uses Microsoft’s own cloud). You can work through Dropbox and a text editor, etc., but you give up some of the best features of the ecosystem that way.
There are no budget Apple devices. It’s an all or nothing affair, or eBay for a used phone. Android device, however, can be found inside cereal boxes if you look hard enough, and can be more budget friendly. The same warning applies here as above: these cheaper devices likely have shit screens, so be aware of your eye’s needs when shopping budget Android devices.
Android is an operating system, not a hardware manufacturer (Google is Android, in fact, and Android is Google).
But, one can find an Android phone for dirt cheap, and a tablet for under $100 if you know where to look.
The higher-end Android devices can be very nice indeed. Nice displays, lots of storage (a big failing of Apple devices is a pricier markup on storage), etc.
While there was not a lot of writing apps on Android when I switched, there are more now. Mostly, I’d say Word is the best here for syncing and having a full-fledged document, and not a stripped down text only file.
Android is Google and vice versa.
If you use Android, you are likely using Google for everything. Google Drive/Docs is a very good cloud word processor, and can be used for pro level writing.
Word on Android is as good as Word on anything else, and you can swim in the Microsoft ecosystem with that just fine.
Apple stuff, on the other hand, is less accessible to you. With some Dropbox trickery, you can make this work, but don’t expect a Scrivener on Android, or to be able to open Pages documents.
Again, Android has a limited range of creative apps. I blame this on the odd decisions Google made with Android, like a custom version of Java for all the apps to use to run. This makes porting software from one platform, say iOS or Windows, to an Android device a bear, and there are simply less of those out there.
Compare this with Apple and iOS. Ulysses is a Mac app. They ported it, feature complete, to iOS, and now we have it on iPhones and iPads. I can promise you, as a programmer myself, this was way easier than doing the same between a Mac or Windows app to Android.
Many of the lower-end Android devices are, in a word, shit. Slow, shit display, shit RAM. Don’t expect a snappy experience from a Walmart Android phone.
That’s my quick and dirty rundown of the hardware you can use to write, and next up will be the software. It might get messy…