The Workspace

People are wondering how The Great Stay Away From the Internet Plan of 2011 is working, and I say, well, jeez, I’ve only been doing it for three days now, give me a break — but that said, it’s doing fine. Good progress is being made on the current work, and I’m being reminded generally that I do tend to write pretty quickly, so I’m making my intended quota in a reasonable amount of time each day. Early days yet, as noted. But so far, so good.

For the current batch of writing I’m also choosing to use the Cr-48 for creative writing, for two reasons. One, when I applied for one, I said that I would write a novel on it, by way of seeing how a “Web OS” experience had an impact on the writing experience. So in that respect I’m doing what I said I would do. Two, although technically the Cr-48 is constantly connected to the Internet, in a practical sense when I have Google Docs up on full screen there’s nothing else going on but what I’m writing. So all the distractions I have pretty much melt away and I focus on getting my work done. And then when I’ve hit my quota for the day I close up the Cr-48, turn on the big monitor, put the desktop keyboard back in position and check up on how the Internet could have possibly survived without me.

I’ve also found that so far writing the novel via Google Docs hasn’t been a problem. The major change I’ve made is to make each chapter its own document rather than to have one very large document, both to save me from having to do a lot of scrolling and because that way it’s easy to pop up an earlier chapter if I want to refer to something in it. Google Docs automatically saves what I’m doing every couple of minutes or so, so it’s nice not to have to worry about that (I have my Word program set to save every five minutes or so, but sometimes you can write a lot in five minutes that you don’t want to lose). Google Docs is still a fairly limited word processor, but generally speaking for writing novels I don’t use a whole lot of complex functionality. When Doc finally put in a ruler that allowed indenting it became full featured enough for my novel-writing purposes. I still back up what I’ve written every day offline — Google could explode, you know — but from a practical point of view, writing this way is pretty functional.

The one other reason for me to be writing on the Cr-48 is simply to shake myself out of the idea that my longer-length writing needs to be done on the desktop computer, with the big fancy-schmancy screen, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big fancy-schmancy screen; it’s my lovely 24-inch baby, and I really do have use for it. But its more to the point that I spend a substantial amount of my time traveling and being on the move — I’m going to be averaging a week of travel out of each month of this year — and that travel time is lost productivity time if I’m only doing my creative writing at my desk at home.

I understand this point I’m making is well-nigh incomprehensible to those writers used to writing on their laptops wherever they may be (including the dreaded coffee shops), but, you know. Everyone has a routine that works for them. The problem is when you start working for the routine. This is me working to make sure I’m focused on the writing, not the where I’m writing (and in front of what screen, and in which chair I’m sitting).

In short, I’m doing all sorts of things to shake myself up and keep myself writing. It’s working right at the moment. Let’s see if it keeps working moving forward.

31 Comments on “The Workspace”

  1. For what it’s worth, I was starting to feel a little locked into my own big fancy-schmancy screen (not quite as big as yours, but it’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it, ahem), so I purposely did a lot of writing at the end of 2010 on my laptop, partly because, although a vacation rarely means NO WORK AT ALL, it might mean I can do it somewhere else than my office, like say, the lounge chair in the living room while the TV is one. And I think it’s good to adjust your writing paradigm from time to time.

  2. Google docs is deceptively useful. Your weight-loss post, along with success that some of my friends and family have enjoyed watching their caloric intake, has inspired me to start watching, and recording, what I eat. It turns out the easiest, most portable way to track this is to keep a Google docs spreadsheet that records this. I can access it any-damn-where and it’s as real a spreadsheet as you would need for something mundane like this.

  3. I got a little refurbished Acer off ebay I’m using to write. My wife likes to si in the den and make scarfs and sweaters, so I join her with my little Acer. I use OpenOffice and not much else.

  4. JS-Since you touched upon the subject of writing I was hoping to get a couple of answers to some questions. When you write, do you go through the process of outlining the book, breaking it down by chapters with a brief description of the chapter, develop a character sheet that details some basic info such as background, parts they play etc? Or is it a sit down and start pounding stuff out and then go back and rearrange, organize, edit, etc?

    I am not a writer but it all interests me. Sort of like wanting to be a rock star in a fantasy life, being a successful writer is a fantasy I have. But as they say, one has to know their limitations. Anyway, if you have discussed all this before in some previous article I understand.

  5. While others oooh and aaah over the laptop or the monitor, I immediately focus on the Crowded House CD. Nice!

  6. Is there a process for compiling all your separate document chapters into one when you’re finished? Or are you going to have to copy and paste them into a new doc one at a time?

    Sounds like a pain.

  7. Speaking of tech-based resolutions, I remember you posted about using the Livestrong calorie tracker to keep track of your meals and exercise. I got a smartphone for Christmas and it was the first app I downloaded. So far, it’s been going well. (The app makes it very easy to convince myself that I don’t really need dessert)

  8. I can’t recall the keyboard size of the Cr-48. I have problems with typing after about an hour with a keyboard smaller than the “standard”. That would have been where I might have expected any less than satisfactory results to occur for a writer. That and possibly text size on the screen for those over 40 (like me!!!!).

    But then again, I’ve been using curved keyboards for over a decade now, so I think I’m spoiled.

  9. LeftField:

    I make it up as I go along, usually.


    I think Google Docs has a merge function but I’m just cutting and pasting at the moment. It’s not onerous.

  10. How do you backup your Google docs locally?

    I seem to remember seeing a couple of tools for that, but I can’t remember where.

  11. What one uses for writing is at times more important than the writing itself.

    For example, for a long part of our history we used A Donkey for writing. Then a State Security Agent with philosophical inclinations asked, are we using A Donkey, or is A Donkey using us?

    So we became suspicious and we killed A Donkey.

    Now we are using B Donkey for our writing.

  12. Google docs sometimes frustrates me because when I’m on a stalled or laggy or otherwise problematic connection, I can’t do any work. This happens sometimes at home, but also sometimes in cafes where it makes me look bad in front of all of the other cool writers working hard on their own laptops. So I only use Google docs for quickie stuff like interview notes and such–things that won’t make me scream if my internet connection disappears for three or four minutes.

    i am not doing that well with staying off the internet in the morning. Must try harder. Rome was not built in a day.

  13. I’ve been experimenting with Scrivener lately for my latest novel project, and am loving it. It has a pretty seamless method of adding chapters as subsets within a document, because I don’t like to do a lot of scrolling either, and I really like the bulletin board view where I can look at notecards of characters for reference. It also generates epub and mobi files for ebooks, so I can finish editing, drop a cover on there, upload to Amazon and have a work available for sale within an hour or two.

  14. Another in the “always works on a laptop” crowd.

    Note the extreme difference in scale here. The monster rig is awesome for all manner of things- like my day job, software development- but the itty bitty netbook makes a nice mental focus aid. I can curl up somewhere, see my work processor, and see ONLY my word processor. The little thing would be hard pressed to provide much distraction if it wanted to.

  15. All I can think of is how my desk looks equally clean right now (cleaned up for a party last weekend). I don’t know about you, but mine will be buried under a pile of junk in about two weeks, no matter how hard I try to avoid it.

  16. How’s the cr-48, enviromentally? Power supply / laptop bottom heat? Holding up to abuse (such as it’s had in it’s short span) pretty well?

  17. pwstrain @ #19:

    My Cr-48 runs pretty cool. The underside (presumably that part under the CPU) gets warm enough to notice if I put my hand there, but I don’t feel it through my pants. Usually the fan spins up only if I’ve got it on a soft, uneven surface like the bed (i.e. it can’t vent well). Seems durable so far.

  18. You mean you don’t dictate your work like Jubal Harshaw? (Only here could I get away with that reference.)

    I was shocked to find out that Neal Stephenson writes his doorstops (I keed cuz I luv) out in longhand before typing them in. That’s some serious hand-cramping there.

  19. Catherine @14… if Docs isn’t doing well for you look at things like Writeroom that are fullscreen writing tools. They’re desktop apps designed to accomplish the same goal of eliminating distractions.

    Chris @12 and others… You can save/export Docs as Word, Openoffice, RTF and text files. You can also copy/paste of course.

    @blainsegirl – honestly, you could get a $300 laptop, install Ubuntu for free and Chrome, hit the fullscreen button and do pretty much what the CR-48 does.

  20. #13–How many days have you been awake, and/or when did you break out of the psych ward?


  21. I mostly do my writing on a ten-year-old computer that isn’t hooked up to the internet (because the internet distracts). When I travel, I bring a legal-size pad with spiral binding along the top and a hard backer board, and do my writing by hand. Yep, I still love writing by hand.

  22. I love those pads with the spiral on top. It’s getting more and more difficult to find them, though.

    Thanks for all these suggestions about how to eliminate distractions, people. I think I’ll have to try them all — maybe twice — before I even try to return to my novel.

  23. Is it safe to assume that if I had applied for a CR-48 but hasn’t heard back yet at all, then they have all been handed out to testers? I didn’t see a set date that they expected to finish handing them out, but lots of people seem to have their test netbooks.
    That’s okay (sniff, sniff). I’ll just settle back to my boring old HP Pavillion running Linux Mint. I’m not jealous. Really, I’m not.

  24. JFG–holy crow, you’re right. I loaded up on them a few years back when Staples had a mad sale, but I just checked the websites of all three major office-supply chains and couldn’t find them! Crap!

  25. Chris@24… Look at backupify. Not sure how well it works for Docs, but it’s automated backup of several ‘cloud’ services.

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