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 Your Happy First Draft. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.