Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

How to Write for 700 Hours on Three AA Batteries

I'm embarrassed to admit that my handwriting is so bad and so physically uncomfortable for me that I no longer use a pen. Well, except for dire emergencies or for signing checks from the Bank of Mom (which some might call the same thing!) Instead, I use my Neo Alphasmart.

What's that? Originally designed for kids with learning disabilities, the Neo Alphasmart is a small, portable word processor. How do I love it? Let me count the ways:

  • I can easily pick it up and carry it with one hand (although I usually put it into its purpose-designed bag.) It weighs one lb. 13 oz.
  • It runs for 700 hours on three AA batteries. (!!!) Hard to believe, I know, but I cannot remember the last time I changed the batteries.
  • It has no Internet, no email, no Facebook, no Twitter. In other words, it offers no excuses or distractions from writing. Furthermore, it does not interest my children in the least! (To understand the huge advantage of this, you should see them argue over whose turn it is to use my iPad!)
  • It has a very small screen, allowing you to see only four lines of type. This is in fact an advantage if you are inclined to edit while you write because it will smartly break you of that bad habit.
  • It has eight files in which you can create eight different stories or chucks of writing. You gain access to them by hitting buttons across the top of the machine.
  • You can download text you've written by attaching a cable from the Neo Alphasmart to a USB port on your computer. Just open a blank Word document and then hit the send button. Voila! In a matter of seconds, your story will begin downloading to your main computer for editing.
  • Because it was designed for school kids the device is virtually indestructible.
  • It's fantastic for travel. You could take it camping and write at a picnic table or down by the lake -- no electricity required. Airport security people barely give it a glance and it's lightweight enough not to strain the wimpy little pullout trays that airlines inflict upon us.

My only complaint used to be that the device doesn't have a word count key. But now friends have told me that it does. Oh, and it's relatively inexpensive, too. Cost is somewhere between $149-$169 US and the website can direct you to a reseller. (You can see a photograph of it on this link, too.)

Right now I'm sitting in a coffee shop writing this column on my Neo Alphasmart. I find that getting out of the house for at least some of my writing is a great way to break up the day.

I discovered the device several years ago thanks to an ad in a writing magazine I follow. I didn't tell you about it until now because I always thought I'd try to sign up as an affiliate. But, well, I haven't. And I don't even know if it's possible. (In my relatively large city there's only one man who sells the devices.)

I make not a single cent if you decide to buy a Neo Alphasmart but if you ever need to write away from your desk, it's a great way to give your hands a break.

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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Monday August 22nd 2011, 9:33 AM
Comment by: Pamela B.
Daphne, thank you for this column. The Neo Alphasmart is an answer to my writing needs more that you will ever know. I'm ording one today. This was truly a divine answer.
Monday August 22nd 2011, 11:22 AM
Comment by: Mike P. (Seattle, WA)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Interestingly, it's a kind of throwback to the type of hybrid products that typewriter manufacturers came out with in the post-PC days. (For example, in the Wikipedia article on "Word processor," there's a photo of a Brother WP-1400D "editing electronic typewriter" from 1994.) Of course, technological advances have made a machine like this much, much cheaper and, as you say, far more durable.

I personally have a hard time working with such a keyhole view of text; even my netbook affords me a (to me) too small view of my writing landscape. But to each his or her own, and as we know, anything that helps an individual writer be more productive is always welcome. Thanks for the heads-up on another item for the toolbox. :-)
Monday August 22nd 2011, 1:37 PM
Comment by: keith M. (Kula, HI)
I'll check it out. Maybe my adult offsprings will go together and buy me one for Christmas! Thanks.
Tuesday August 23rd 2011, 2:20 PM
Comment by: begum F.Top 10 Commenter
MY handwriting is beyond readable too.
I liked your convincing words for Neo Alphasmart device, but it appears to me that the price of the handy tool is too much.
You can readily spend half of that amount of money to buy similar other types of devices.
My point is the "motivation" to continue writing. For example, six months ago, I bought an i-phone with the hope that I can use it for writing at any time at any place. And to that end, I continued my i-phone for writing for two weeks. Then I stopped. No particular reason for stopping yet, I stopped using yellow Notes pages to hold my precious moments.
However, this article persuaded me again to resume my writing program and so is this response.
Tuesday August 23rd 2011, 3:58 PM
Comment by: T. K. M. (Atlanta,, GA)
I too have trouble reading my notes after the "ink dries", I thought that one of the digital pens like the "Echo" would be the answer but it transcribes the same gibbeish through my computer. GIGO as they say.
Tuesday August 23rd 2011, 6:17 PM
Comment by: Regan B.
I love my Neo Alphasmart! For all the reasons you mentioned! I can brainstorm by hand, but whenever the words start flowing fast, the handwriting gets ugly even faster. But the Neo (nicknamed Alphie by my kids) goes with me everywhere and really helps keep me in the story whether I'm waiting for carpool, practice or whatever.
Thanks for this great post!
Monday September 19th 2011, 12:09 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Begum F, I'm surprised you think the Neosmart is too expensive. It seems quite affordable to me ($169) especially when compared to the cost of in iPhone!!!! I'd also love to know how you write easily with that teeny-tiny keyboard. Don't get me wrong -- I love my iPhone. But I could never use it as a writing tool!

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