I’m writing this blog post in the shade of a Ponderosa Pine, on the Upper Bluestem trail in the City of Boulder’s Mountain Parks. I can hear half a dozen different kinds of birds whistling, twittering, warbling, screeching, and cawing–all to the musical background of one very happy poodle’s panting. Insects buzz and the air smells of sage, carried to me on a deliciously cool breeze. (Yep, that picture above shows my current view!)
Even though the parking lot was overflowing, the trails have been peaceful. I passed a half dozen moms with babies in those little front pack carriers and a troop of elementary kids clambering over (and into) the deep ruts left by the flooding we had a year back. Sitting here, surrounded by waving grass and wind and birdsong, I can feel the week’s stress evaporating.
I’ve gotten pretty good at taking my writing on the road–or trail–with me. Earlier this summer, I took writing on a backpacking trip to Zion National Park. There I spent 5 days hiking and camping, taking photos during the days and transferring notes to my iPad in the tent after dark.
I haven’t always been the write-everywhere gal, though. I used to stick to my desk. It seemed that every time I tried to take a project elsewhere–say, my local coffee shop–I’d end up forgetting something.
Or batteries would die in a key device.
Or I’d need a power outlet when none was available. Can you say…
You can’t beat the inspiration provided by a change of setting, though, so over the years I’ve assembled some “best practices” that make such outings more successful. In fact, now taking writing out the door is relatively stress-free! I’ll cover the first 2 best practices this week….
Best Practice #1. Utilize the Cloud
As the Internet grows from luxury to necessity, it’s becoming easier and easier to keep a copy of my current projects in the cloud. I use Dropbox as my tool of choice. When I finish work for the day, I copy over the latest draft of my current project to a Dropbox folder–and voila! The file is ready for me to download to iPad, iPhone, or Kindle next time I want to work at my local coffee shop.
If I need to access the file(s) offline, I simply mark them as favorites in Dropbox:
As long as my device syncs before I’m out of Wi-Fi range, I’ll have the file available for use.
Other free-to-use cloud storage and collaboration tools include One Drive, Box, and Google Drive. On top of that, many software companies are moving to subscription, cloud-based services. Microsoft 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud are two major brands now providing cloud storage for on-the-go access to files and projects.
For nonfiction writers, Endnote referencing software now has an iPad app with the capacity to store files online so you can access your research materials away from your desk. I’m experimenting with it at the moment.
Evernote, OneNote, and Simplenote also provide online file storage and access. Simplenote is text-only, so it’s not the way to go if you need lots of formatting or other high-tech functionality. However, its lack of bells and whistles makes it extremely stable–I’ve never had it crash or lose data, which is more than I can say for any other mobile app. Or desktop program, for that matter!
Best Practice #2. Embrace tablets, smartphones, and other portable devices for your writing.
Mobile devices have gotten smaller and more powerful over the past few years, making them perfect for writers on-the-go. Most will have far longer battery life than any laptop. Increased screen size and resolution makes it easy to find a device with a large enough screen size for you to read and write comfortably. Many devices even have the ability to keep multiple windows open (albeit not simultaneously visible) at the same time.
With so many options, how do you choose?
You need to choose a device (or combination of devices) that works for your particular situation.
Want to write on-the-go? Find a setup that works for YOU!
Here are some key things to consider:
- What device(s) do you already have? You’re most likely to use a system based on technology you already use–and carry with you–on a regular basis. By using technology you already own for your mobile writing needs, you can save…
- Money – you won’t have to purchase a new device.
- Time – you won’t have to learn how to operate a new device.
- Energy – you won’t have to develop a new habit to make sure you have the device with you when you need it.
- Where do you expect to want to write “on the go”? If you plan to write while in motion, you probably don’t need to invest in a keyboard.
- Consider using the transcription capacity now built into many smart phones and tablets. The iPad and iPhone’s voice recognition software is remarkably accurate for an out-of-the-box program. It’s slower than typing, but can be a good option if you want to capture notes while moving.
- Learn the limitations of your device before relying on this out in the wilderness, though. The word recognition is far from perfect. In addition, some (most?) require Internet access in order to interpret speech. You may need to stick to old-fashioned voice recording if you want to avoid typing.
- Balance the size and weight of writing equipment with how portable it needs to be. If you expect to write at your local coffee shop, you’ll probably be willing to carry a larger keyboard than if you’ll be writing in the woods.
- Do you expect to write for long periods of time or simply jot down a few notes? The more time you plan to spend typing and/or viewing a small screen, the more important ergonomics become.
- Avoid hours of “thumb typing” (ahem, like I’m doing now…)
- A tablet case may make screen viewing easier and help prevent neck pain.
- Although iPads and other tablets have larger keyboards than mobile phones, many people have trouble typing on them. If typing on the screen keyboard causes you pain, annoyance, or both, experiment with other options. Multiple styles of Bluetooth keyboards are now available, including everything from flexible, roll-up versions to folding keyboards to full-size models like the Logitech keyboard I use. (I have small-ish hands, though, so I usually don’t bother using a keyboard.)
What tools or routines help you to take writing out of your office? Let me know!