I love writing. Writing is a definite passion of mine. I have a few publications I am quite proud of, ranging from “Letters to the Editor” in my college newspaper to a full e-book. My niche is generally in the realm of military veterans and their transition into civilian life; resumes, work, life, benefits, and so on. I am also a career, benefits, and life coach which leads me to do a lot of research and writing for my clients. I am now proud to be a writer on dadshideout.com’s new blog, “The Good, The Dad, and The Ugly,” so all my experience is finally being put to good use! With having typed hundreds of thousands of words (Have I typed a million words?) for business and pleasure, I have a pretty well established writing technique. I figured I would run through some of the things I do and use so you might be able to pick up and integrate something to make your writing easier!
This first post will be about equipment - the physical stuff I hold or use when writing. I will explore software, environment, and other aspects in later posts. I want to stress that this is MY stuff that I like. You should not go and buy anything because I say so! You might not like my style or techniques. Still, it can be useful, as you can see if I have good ideas and then you can try them out to see what works best for you! So, on to writing equipment!
The Old School
When you want to talk equipment, any craftsman or artist worth their salt is gonna tell you - start with the basics, start with the foundations, start with the time-proven! In this case, we are talking good old fashioned “pen and paper.”
I have two types of notebooks - the “carry with you anywhere” pocket version and the “writing at a table” size version. You also need a pen (or pencil). The trick with these is you need to train yourself to carry the pocket version like your wallet, keys, and cell phone. You need to have it with you when an idea strikes. I am certain that I will not remember my random “good ideas” and by writing them down I have a chance of developing them later. The table size version is for those time when I get tired of digital work or if using a digital device is not an option. Watching a show with the wife, going to one of my kids' friends birthday parties… It should be large enough for some serious writing or to make thought webs, sketches, and so on.
For a writing implement, I prefer a pen. They are more durable in my pocket and less likely to be “useless” when I need them. I could spend an hour or more walking up and down the pen aisles at the local craft store, admiring and testing pens, looking for the perfect fell on paper, the perfect fit in my hand. Sometimes, though, you go with your tried and true. From my time as a combat civil engineer, I became partial to “write anywhere” pens, specifically Fisher Brand; pocket version and normal size. They write at any angle, and back when I was doing field work they are paired beautifully with the “Rite in the Rain” brand Notebooks I used. Honestly, I have considered having a “Rite in the Rain” Notebook and Fisher Pen in my shower! What, I get the best ideas in the shower, don’t you? I also use Bic pens (cheap, plentiful, easy to write with, no worries if they get lost of “borrowed”), so I am not a total pen snob! My buddy likes the thick lead mechanical pencils - whatever floats your boat!
Notebooks are like pens, there are hundreds of types and you need to find what feels best to you. For the pocket version, I find that quality matters. With it being in a pocket and getting shuffled about day after day a cheap notebook is gonna disintegrate on you. Then again, when I started I used the bargain bin small spiral bound notebook with 30-50 pages. I happen to like “Moleskine” brand 3.5 x 5.5 Inch Ruled notebooks. There are plenty of other similar styles too. I have used these super thin notebooks by TWONE - they only have 30 sheets, but don’t take up any room at all. That makes them easy to carry around all the time. I have a tall single fold wallet and these will fit almost completely inside.
For my “table size” version I go simple - 8x10.5 spiral bound notebook. These take far less of a beating, so I don’t spend much time or thought on these. I went with the tried and true once again. I go with a spiral bound 100-page notebook. It got me through high school, it got me through college, and I did all my research papers with these things, so why change what works? I like the larger size when I am bringing a backpack, a case or when working at home. I prefer the spiral style so I can fold it completely if I need the space, or if I am writing on my lap while on the couch!
The New School
I love my Microsoft Surface 3. It is my primary tool for whenever I am working on a writing project, to include “The Good, the Dad, and The Ugly.” While the keyboard on my desktop is a little more comfortable for long sessions of writing, the Surface 3 holds the role as the “inspiration” and “first draft” tool. Once I tap out those first few hundred (or thousand) words, I take the data to my desktop for edits and polishing.
Why start on the Surface? I love the portability of it, I can run the same software between the Surface and my desktop, and most importantly, the keyboard cover. The keyboard cover? Yes, the keyboard cover. The feel of the keys as you depress them and the staccato clicks as you type are delightful. The damn thing is 5mm thick but it more enjoyable to type on them most laptops I have owned! It is enjoyable to work on, and that is important. If it isn’t enjoyable, you won’t do it or long if you have a choice…
The software interchangeability is nice, allowing me to work on the same software that I use on the desktop. This makes the workflow more streamlined; I don't have to spend time copy and pasting between systems and such. I transfer data between Surface and Desktop with a 64gb thumb-drive. I tried to use Microsoft OneDrive, but I found that taking the thumb-drive between computers worked better for me than making sure everything was synced up. If I am in a rush, I grab the thumb-drive; no need to turn on a computer, log on to the internet, and then sync. I use the thumb drive as a removable hard drive - save and load from it. If you are going to do work between multiple digital platforms, as I do, getting a system in place for transferring and tracking files is critical.
Finally, the portability of the Surface makes the interchangeability useful. It is about the same size as a tablet. I have a case on mine to increase its durability - still comes in about half an inch thick. Battery life is great - way better than my laptop. I get 4-6 hours of full video playback off a full charge, and I can type for 8 plus hours on reasonable brightness. The Surface 3 charges using a micro USB, so I can use the same charger as my phone if I need to. I can boot it up really fast - sub 20 seconds - which means I can turn it off completely to save battery. All this adds up to a relatively powerful, very portable, enjoyable to use writing tool.
You could also use a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard or a regular laptop. I used my laptop previously, but I have found being able to bring the Surface with me to more places is more useful than being able to do more varied tasks on the laptop. When the workflow progresses beyond words and basic editing, I step up my game to something more robust.
When all is said and done, I have way more equipment than I need. You could do everything on the Surface 3 and call it a day - I have and do from time to time. Still, when I am handling multiple projects, research, or online learning/teaching I need my dual monitor desktop.
I became spoiled by multiple monitor setups during my time in the Air Force working as a Geo-spacial Engineer. The ability to put the main program on one screen and source material on the second was a godsend. No more alt-tabbing or manually clicking between views. When writing, I find the same is true - dual monitors allow more information to be up at the same time and reduce time spent flipping through windows.
The desktop also has the power to do full editing of audio, video, and much more. It has sufficient storage to keep everything centralized, but I have a backup drive… just in case! The best seat in my house (other than my recliner!) is my office desk chair which makes long sessions far more comfortable. I also have a keyboard I love and a speaker setup that allows me to play background music to keep my mind from getting too distracted by outside noise.
I have been using this equipment setup for about the last year and a half. Before I purchased the Surface 3 (second hand, I might add. Save your money where you can, right, dads?) I used a laptop from college. It was a 2013 model but it did everything I needed for writing, and it could even run a second monitor! When I used the laptop my setup was two things; paper notebooks and the laptop. Now that I have a more workspace, the current setup rewards me with better overall results by splitting the laptop into two different machines better suited for particular purposes. The Surface fills the portability and “drafting” niche while the desktop fills the editing and finishing niche.
I am sure over time my equipment will change again. I know that I need to add in a camera to my equipment, as taking my own high-quality images for use on the blogs is something I would like to do. Right now I get by using my cell phone, but that will only go so far. Still, why spend money on perfect, when good enough will do?
So there you have it. The equipment I use to get the words from my head to your eyes. I will be following this up with the software I use and then the process I use to bring it all together. If you have equipment that you use when writing and would like to chime in, comment below! I would love to hear what you use to get those words on the page; I might even borrow some of your good ideas!