I loved my old keyboard. In fact, it spoiled me for anything less. When it refused to work any longer, I dug out the spare keyboard (with its trailing cable – gasp! Wires???) from the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.
Within five minutes, I was muttering dire curses under my breath. The keyboard was years old, and not only did it have a cable, but the keys were unresponsive. And it was noisy. Click clack, click clack. Worst of all, the backspace key was the same size as the = key next to it. You know what that means, I’m sure. Almost every time I backspaced (and man, I discovered I backspace A LOT) I hit the = key instead. Hiss, growl, mutter…
My husband (hearing my not-so-muffled curses) came to the rescue and suggested that I use his wireless keyboard. Hmm, I thought, not a bad deal – I’d bought my wireless keyboard and mouse at different times and had two USB receivers. His was a combo, with a common receiver.
I unplugged the keyboard, ditched the mouse and swapped my USB receiver for his.
Oh no. Another noisy keyboard. No soft-touch keys. And the mouse!!!! It didn’t glide smoothly at all, either on a mouse pad or a desk surface. It was like trying to navigate with a block of cheese. “How can you stand working with this???” I asked, honestly dumbfounded. He shrugged. He didn’t care much; he mostly uses his computer to check email, visit the odd forum or look up things on the Internet.
I handed back his stuff, plugged the spare keyboard back in, wrote half a page, then stopped and announced that I was going shopping. At the mall I spent half an hour analyzing wireless keyboard/mouse combos: the key words were ‘soft touch keyboard’ and ‘easy-glide mouse’ – AND to check that it had full-size keys for ‘backspace’ and ‘enter’.
A couple of hours later and $66 lighter I’m happy again. The mouse glides; the keyboard is quiet and responsive. O joy.
For years, most of my income has come from working on the computer. I spend hours every day at the keyboard, so it’s important to me that (1) I can rely upon my tools and (2) I can work in comfort.
Being comfortable means that I need a desk with an drop-down leaf for the keyboard, an easy-glide mouse, a soft-touch keyboard, and an ergonomic, height-adjustable chair.
That’s the minimum (for me). There’s a lot more involved in having a writing space that works, but you should decide what is the minimum for you, and get it for yourself as soon as possible.
5 Tips on Optimizing Your Tools and Writing Space
- Spend what is necessary. You don’t have to have the best, but you do have to have tools that work. If you mainly use a computer for word processing and email, then something very basic is fine. BUT – ‘basic’ doesn’t mean ‘junk that nobody else wants’. You are entitled to a reliable computer just as much as anyone else in the house. You don’t have to have the hand-me-down that keeps crashing just because your kids want a super-fast gaming computer. New laptops are very reasonably priced these days; if you need one, buy one.
If you use graphics (for book covers, high-end photo processing or website design) or create your own book trailers, you may need a computer with more memory, a faster processor and perhaps a better graphics card.Make sure that your keyboard and mouse are responsive and comfortable to use; you’ll be spending a lot of hours using these. An extra $20 on the purchase price might make all the difference.
- Try out chairs and computer desks. Make sure that the chair supports your back and that the seat is well-padded. Buy a chair that is height-adjustable. Ensure that the desk will serve your needs: it should be big enough to spread out reference books and notes, and you should be able to situate your computer screen and keyboard at the right height. If you can’t get what you need for the price you can afford, look for outlets that sell used office furniture or check online for better deals.
- Think ‘storage’. Your aim should be to have maximum storage and minimum clutter. Toss out rarely-used reference books and bookmark websites that contain the same information. Scan articles that might be useful and store them on your computer. Keep your area neat and well-organized – use labelled baskets and storage boxes on bookshelves.
- Use an online backup service. NOW. There are plenty of backup solutions online; some free. (I use JustCloud.) Choose one and backup your Documents folder at the very least – that will be where most of your stuff is stored. Also backup photos and graphics. Schedule your backup daily. Then, if the worst happens and your computer is lost or stolen, you can get back the essential info very quickly. (You can backup to USB sticks and DVDs, but most people are pretty slack about doing this. Online is better. And if the house burns down, your information is still safe.) I regard this as an essential tool.
- Know yourself. Does this sound too simple? It’s not. Here’s an example: I’ve tried out different types of writing software in the past. (I don’t mean word processing software: I mean software specifically designed for authors and screenwriters.) It doesn’t work for me. That doesn’t mean it’s no good, or that it won’t work for someone else – writing software might be perfect for you and really boost your productivity. It might be just what you need to organize your ideas and to create a solid plot.
Why doesn’t it work for me? I suspect it’s that I just don’t work well with boundaries and boxes when it comes to plotting and writing a novel. I do need to have some idea of where I’m going: I do need to know what motivates my characters and how they will react in a given situation. I like to have some obstacles in mind for them… but I don’t want to have the whole book plotted before I start. I’m more of a pantser than a plotter. A kind of Virgo pantser or, if you like, a ‘loose’ plotter. [Which doesn’t mean I’m a loose woman. :-)].Even though I know how I like to plot and write, every so often I have a brain seizure and decide that I should try some writing software that sounds really, really good. In the past six months I’ve bought The Marshall Plan (which gets rave reviews) and Liquid Story Binder (also highly recommended). In each case I have:
- opened the software
- read through the basic instructions
- started organizing the idea I have for the next novel
- decided that I don’t have time to learn to use it now and I need more time to think about what I want to put in the boxes
- closed the software, and
- never opened it again.
I know that those of you who use and love either of the two mentioned above are ready to fire off an email saying “But it’s brilliant! You’ve got to give it a go!” You’re probably right about how good it is. Even now, I could go to the website, read about the software, watch the videos, and be motivated to buy it all over again.
But the point is – it’s not right for me. This is not the way I work.
“Knowing yourself” is about more than whether you should use writing software. It’s about what you write (Literary novels? Romance? Mystery? Historicals?) and how you write (A full first draft from beginning to end; no revising until the end? Polish each scene as you go?). It’s about whether you’re a lark or an owl; it’s about whether you can write for 12 hours a day or whether your creativity wanes after two hours. You may have to focus on one project at a time or you may be happy to wear three different writing hats, splitting up your day between all three.
Know yourself, and you can save yourself a lot of heartache, wasted hours, and wasted dollars.
Wow. All this from a simple shopping expedition to buy a new keyboard. That’s writers for you: they just can’t stop.