A Writer’s Silver Bullets

I attend several conferences and conventions a year where an abundance of writers and hopeful writers are present. At these conferences it is very easy to distinguish some of the wannabe writers from the actual writers by how they speak and specifically, by what they are carrying.

Many would-be writers, and it is invariably the wannabes, are carrying an AlphaSmart word processor with them, which pretty much marks them out as a “wannabe.”

Real writers invariably do not carry anything around the conference except a small Moleskine or spiral bound notebook which is discretely kept out of sight. I am sure most writers do not even bother with either of these preferring to just not bother.

The conference for the writer is a time to get away from the keyboard, not be reminded of it. They are there professionally to improve their craft and network with people, not write. Any ideas floating through the ether that they might tune in to can be remembered easily enough later on or quickly jotted down in the smallest of notebooks.

Unless they have entered a writing class or workshop, very little serious writing, by actual writers, takes place at the conference.

I have to shamefully admit this; I internally mock people who carry an AlphaSmart at conferences or conventions.

Whilst you must do everything within your power to be as productive as possible most of the people carrying these devices are chasing after non-existent Holy Grails. They are chasing after a silver bullet solution in a vain attempt at preventing themselves from being sidetracked.

"By getting an AlphaSmart," they say to themselves, "I won’t be so distracted and will get a lot more writing done." Off they go, researching the AlphaSmart or other similar gadgets.

They find what they desire on eBay, spend money on it, wait for it to arrive, leave feedback, and then the device languishes in the box, or they carry it everywhere with them for a few months but do not actually produce anything with it.

I often see people with an AlphaSmart at conferences, carried about like a shield or badge of honour that hopefully, in the eyes of the carrier, marks them out as a serious writer to be reckoned with. But owners invariably never actually write anything on the damn things.

I agree that the AlphaSmart is a neat gadget, and yes, I know of just a few people, and I really do mean “just a few,” that are actually productive with the gadget and use it for the purpose for which it was bought. These people would be productive no matter what they use, they have an AlphaSmart for its simplicity and the fact that they do not want to lug a laptop with them but still want a word processor as they are too slow at long hand. Face it, you will not be productive with an AlphaSmart unless you are productive without an AlphaSmart.

In the defence of people who really do use an AlphaSmart for serious writing I will admit that I possess a very fine Cambridge Computers’ Z88, an old A4 sized notebook computer, which I purchased in 1988. The device runs for several days on four AA batteries. This Z88 carried me through my Higher National Diploma, a Bachelor’s Degree and several long distance travels where I could happily write almost anywhere.

But… never at a conference, never at a convention.

To those people who use the AlphaSmart for actually producing and delivering real value, I salute you. For everyone else, work on your self-discipline that causes you to become diverted from your work in the first place. Learn to create and deliver value regardless of what is disrupting your productivity.