What if Hemingway’s typewriter had a button on it that would cause the white space on the page to display images of beautiful naked women engaged in all manner of debauchery? Or what if back when Stephen King was pounding out his early novels on a typewriter balanced on a child’s desk in the laundry room of his family’s trailer, there had been a button on that machine that would display baseball stats, or video guitar lessons, or even such work related temptations as encyclopedia entries on the subjects he was writing about at the time? Do you think those men would have been as prolific? Maybe. Maybe not.
Once a writer has established a bulletproof work ethic, and maybe even some social and financial validation of their work, it’s probably easier to resist distraction. If everyone in your life knows that you’re being paid for the time you spend writing, then maybe you have half a chance of being left undisturbed. But when you are not only working at home, but also working on a web-connected computer, let’s face it, you’re doomed. Picture Kerouac looking at his friends’ status updates in the margin of the endless roll of paper that he fed into his typewriter
I’m addicted to my Apple PowerBook on a lot of levels, but I often write first drafts longhand, partly because it focuses me on writing and only writing. There’s also the fact that after so many years of heavy use, the PowerBook now has a battery that won’t hold a charge, a lid that won’t close and a hard drive I no longer fully trust.
So imagine my delight when I discovered the AlphaSmart Dana that I’m writing this post on, for only 18 bucks with free shipping on ebay.
The Dana was designed by some Apple guys who wanted to build durable, inexpensive word processors for schoolchildren, and it’s kind of a one trick pony. It’s lightweight, built to last, has a 24 hour battery life and does little else besides word processing. There’s an even simpler model, the Neo, with a smaller screen and no extra programs at all, but even on the Dana, I’m running a bare bones Palm OS, so I can’t check email or surf the web, and that’s a good thing. Sure, it has a calendar, an address book, and a To Do list, but I don’t bother with any of that (although the Calculator is kind of handy because the wordcount can only give you a total for the entire file).
It powers up with zero delay, has a full sized keyboard with great action, is backlit and easier to read in full daylight than a laptop, generates no heat, and is dead quiet. It’s a perfect tool for writers. Punch in first drafts on the Dana, then transfer to a computer for edits and rewrites!
The Dana retailed for $500 when it was new in 2005, but now you can find them for less than the cost of a good notebook (I mean paper note book). If that sounds good, you can download all of the software you need here, so don’t worry about getting a dirt cheap used one that doesn’t include a disc.
I also found a great hack that anyone can do to upgrade the built-in rechargeable battery with a set of those new Low Self-Discharge (LSD) AA batteries for even longer life per charge. You don’t even need to know how to use a soldering iron for the hack (but it helps). And then you can say that your word processor runs on LSD for days at a time. William Burroughs would be jealous.