Friday, October 22, 2010

Preparing for NaNoWriMo - A Keyboard Love Story

Having made up my mind to commit to NaNoWriMo this year (also known as NaNo. Or WriMo.), I immediately embarked upon a time honored process to prepare: procrastinating actual novel planning by finding gadgets, books, software, and forums to waste my time - er, to make my writing much more productive. Okay, probably a little of both, and hopefully more of the helpful than the time-wasting. Besides, I did get my planning started, too.

For the sake of the curious (assuming there are any, and you know what they say about assuming . . .), and hopefully to save other procrastinators some time in getting themselves ready to write, I'm going to do a few posts on what I have found to be awesome:

First up - A bluetooth keyboard for my iPad! Wow, I love this thing!

Okay, okay, I know what you are thinking - if I'm going to use a keyboard with my iPad, why not just use my laptop? Fair question, Imaginary Reader, but I do have several good reasons for getting the keyboard even though I have a perfectly good laptop. Really! They are very important reasons, not just rationalizations. And, really, who are you to judge my purchasing decisions, anyway? No, I am NOT getting a bit defensive. I wish I had a stick-your-tongue-out emoticon on here. Oh, just keep reading! ;p

First of all, my children have several of their homeschooling curricula on my laptop. So if I want to work on my writing while they are working on their assignments, then I need a keyboard for the iPad. Yes, Dear Reader, I do realize that in addition to the laptop, we are also blessed to own a desktop computer. Unfortunately, however, the desktop computer doesn't fit comfortably on my lap when I'm having a Bad Day and need to spend a lot of time horizontal. It also doesn't fit in my purse when I'm out and about. Guess what does? The iPad! Even the keyboard fits in my purse, no kidding! Okay, so my purse is a messenger bag style - best decision I ever made in terms of pocketbook selection. Oversized thought it may be, however, neither our desktop nor my laptop will fit in my purse, so the iPad saves the day in terms of ultra-lightweight portable writing on a whim. Trust me, with my swiss-cheese-caliber brain, I need to be able to get my thoughts down ASAP, even if I happen to be in the middle of Target when they blunder their way into my cranium.

There. Enough neurotic justifications, now on to the part where I rave about how awesome this keyboard is!

I bought the Microsoft keyboard instead of the Mac one because it has good reviews, it comes with a separate number pad that I can use with my laptop, it is ergonomically designed, and it is black, which coordinates great with the iPad. The Mac Keyboard, of course, is light colored. To be fair, it probably coordinates well with the back of the iPad, which is light colored metal, but since my iPad is in a black case, and since I normally type while looking at the front of the iPad, not the back, all I can see are the black parts of it, and my imagination has a hard time making the Mac keyboard match. This keyboard looks like it was made to go with Paddy.

Yes, such minor cosmetic details are all highly important, crucial even, but what is even more crucial is price. This keyboard was marked down to $10 less than the Mac keyboard, and I was able to get a returned unit from Amazon Warehouse Deals for $7 less than that, so Happy Birthday to me!

Now that it is here, I love, love, love it. The keys have a great feel to them - I can type fast on them with no strain at all. The keyboard is so light and thin, yet the keys feel solid and sturdy. A great combination! Even thought the keyboard isn't specifically designed for the iPad, the volume controls and arrow key buttons work perfectly. I guess that's due to the wonder of Bluetooth technology.

I only had to go through the bluetooth connection procedure once, and after that Paddy has automagically recognized the keyboard whenever I turn it on. Some of the other keyboards I looked at had reviews that said they had to be manually connected every time you wanted to use them. Yuck.

With the iPad, you can't use both the bluetooth keyboard and the additional number pad at the same time. This is not a big problem for me, since I'm mostly interested in using the number pad for my laptop, which doesn't have a dedicated number pad.

The wireless signal on these things is great. In fact, yesterday I tried to use the keyboard, but I couldn't get it to come on. Then I realized that I'd left the number pad switched on when I stored it in the cabinet across the room. I opened the cabinet, removed the number pad from its pouch, and yep - it was still connected to the iPad, preventing the other keyboard from connecting. I switched it off, and we were back in business, but I thought that was a nice example of the range of these products. Not that I expect to need to type on Paddy from across the room . . . but I just think these things are cool. I'm geeky like that.

I actually like the iPad's on-screen keyboard quite a bit. It is wonderful for web surfing, and even emails and such. Since the keys aren't real, though, you can't type by touch. You have to look at your hands while you type, and you can't go as fast as with a "real" keyboard. For serious writing (and I do consider 50,000 words in one month "serious"), the bluetooth keyboard is a very productive luxury.

I've already been using the keyboard to do some initial plans for my WriMo project. I even used it to write this post! It is definitely the coolest keyboard I've ever owned. I highly recommend it to all my fellow procrastinators!

Next up: Choosing what software and apps to use for this project. Otherwise know as: Hours and hours of your life you will never get back, but totally worth it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

NaNoWriMo: a crazy, possibly insane decision

Every November, thousands of creative folks band together to put their internal editors on vacation in the interests of pounding out 50,000 words of prose that may or may not be more appealing than raw sewage.  But it really doesn't matter if the writing stinks. "Quantity over Quality" is the mantra echoed throughout the month.

NaNoWriMo (also shortened to just Wrimo) is the National Novel Writing Month. I've followed the progress of this event for the past five or six years, and it has always sounded like a cool thing for crazy people to do. Basically, participants write a novel in November.  One month - 30 days - to write to the goal of 50,000 words.

Now, those 50,000 words may never see the light of day.  They might even get flushed quicker than little Jimmie's dead goldfish.  But nobody can take away the fact that those authors wrote 50,000 words in a month.  And just like marathon runners, they get the satisfaction of knowing that for the rest of their lives.

And hey, some NaNoWriMo books actually get published, like Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants.  It's being made into a movie starring Robert Pattinson!

Apparently, the possibility of writing a story for Robert Pattinson must have been the last straw, because this year I am officially insane enough to consider trying this crazy little endeavor. I have some character sketches I'm working on, along with an intriguing setting, and the beginnings of some plot ideas. The timing for actually starting on the project in earnest couldn't be better.

So, bright and early on November 1 I'll be writing till my fingers bleed (hopefully not literally) and blogging about the whole process, start to finish.  The blogging part is not a casual afterthought.  It's important, even vital, because it puts pretty significant pressure on me to follow through or risk public humiliation. No matter how ugly things get.  Or sludgy.

Looks like the moment I hit publish on this post is the moment of no return . . .

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wall Street Journal: Handwriting trains the brain!

As a longtime fan of writing in longhand, I thought this article in the Wall Stree Journal was interesting. These days, there are so many methods of quickly communicating and recording thoughts via keyboard that handwriting is frequently taking a back seat to typing.

The article above emphasizes how the act of writing itself helps the brain to develop in productive ways - ways that keyboarding will not.  Information written in longhand is more easily remembered, for example, and the physical act of writing stimulates the brain in ways that could help keep it sharper, longer.

There are, of course, very good reasons why keyboarding has become more popular.  It is legible to everyone, it usually comes with spell-check, it is faster, and it is much easier to edit.

Personally, I use both handwriting and typing.  When I am journaling, I almost exclusively use cursive handwriting.  I have filled literally dozens of notebooks with my random jottings, many of which I'll never read again.  The act of writing them down, of slowly unwinding the words onto the page with plenty of time to reflect - that was the point.  Journaling allows me to put my brain on paper where I can keep an eye on it.  (And nowadays I've graduated from journaling on paper to journaling in longhand with my iPad, which is another story for another day!)  I usually take notes in longhand as well.  I feel that I can retain the information better this way, although if speed or legibility is a real concern I may type notes.

When I am writing anything that will need editing, I usually type it.  It is just so much easier to edit on the computer.  Sometimes I will brainstorm on paper and then type up drafts on the computer, but most of my formal, structured writing is done on the computer.  I have no idea how all the classic masterpieces of human civilization were composed without computers - that makes them even more incredible in my opinion.  I usually don't have a coherent paragraph without rewriting at least three times.  Okay, maybe five.  I could be an obsessive editor, however!

What do I have my children doing?  Well, they are learning cursive handwriting and typing right now.  They do both every day, and I'm convinced that they will both be highly useful tools for training their brains and helping them communicate throughout their lives.