I think I speak for a lot of writers when I say that office supplies and high-tech toys are cool. I love going to Office Depot, Office Max, or any stationery store, for that matter, and just inhaling the smell of all things office-related. I once had to go shopping at an Office Depot after being hired at a nonprofit, and I was told to pretty much get what I thought I need, as my position was new and therefore had nothing to its name other than a title. I went bananas, piling pens, pencils, legal pads (yellow!), notebooks, staples, and all manner of supplies before my supervisor gently took my hand and restrained me from making what would have undoubtedly become yet another regrettable purchase.
When my novels sell a gajillion copies, and I become rich and famous, I will probably do that again — go berserk at an office supply shop, that is — but in the meantime, in light of my meager income, I’ll satisfy myself with browsing through random office supply catalogs. Even a quick perusal elicits sighs of ecstasy, but in the midst of my swoons of happiness, I recognize that there are just some things that writers don’t really need and could do very well without.
- AlphaSmart. If you don’t have a laptop but are instead tethered to your desktop PC, this may be a good option for you if you don’t want to spend several hundred dollars on a notebook. Still, if you have a notebook — and most writers I know do — the AlphaSmart really is just another excuse to play with a new toy and distract oneself from actual writing. Sure, it’s cute and portable and doesn’t have to “boot up,” thereby saving oneself valuable seconds of time. But it doesn’t offer Internet access or a full monitor, so freelance writers who need the research capabilities of Google and Wikipedia will be SOL if this is all they have while on the road. For an extra couple hundred, you can get a decent Linux laptop online or at your nearest Wal-Mart and get word processing and Internet browsing, all in one computer.
- Blackberry. I soooo want one of these. I saw the Pearl at my local Best Buy the other day for less than US$100 and almost snatched one. But if I really, really think about it, I’ll admit that this unwieldy gadget has little use to me except satisfy this neurotic need I have to check my email every five seconds. That’s the last thing I should be doing, especially if my month is dry and I need to hustle and get a dozen queries out the door. I already resent the fact that some people get upset when I don’t answer my regular cell phone, as if that little trill is some kind of dog whistle that I have to heed. Imagine what a Blackberry would do to my sanity. No thanks.
- A Virtual Assistant. I’ll admit, I want one of these soooo badly. I looked into hiring a local VA a few months ago when I was blessedly swamped with work, but reason prevailed when the woman quoted her per-hour fee: $40. That’s just for transcribing, mind you, not balancing my books or even answering my phone. Very busy, six-figure freelancers can and should hire a VA to handle their routine paperwork, scheduling, even research and, yes, answering their phone. But since the majority of freelancers still have to hustle to make three figures a month, we really shouldn’t be sharing that money with anyone when we can do it perfectly well ourselves. If you must, hire your son or wife at below minimum wage (if at all) to help you out. Otherwise, stick it out and do your own work for the time being until you make enough so that a $20/hr secretary seems like a bargain when you compare how much you make.
- Fancy bookcases with glass shelves and interior lighting. I dream about having my own expansive, wood-paneled library with floor-to-ceiling custom bookcases and one of those sliding ladders that can traverse the length of the room. I even dream about those cool bookcases from IKEA with the frosted glass doors and, yes, interior lighting. But for now I happily settle for the cheaper, plain-but-sturdy particle board BILLY bookcases from IKEA. With the optional top shelf, it almost looks as if I have floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and they stand up better to the weight of my many, many books than just about any comparable bookcase at Office Depot or Office Max. All you really need is something strong to carry what is likely a massive and still-growing book collection, so until you make that six-figure income, stick with the basics that will do the job for a fraction of the price of those fancy-schmancy “wood” bookcases.
- Fancy desks/workstations. I once had a cherry wood L-shaped desk, complete with a full hutch that took up nearly an entire wall, at a previous job. It was brand new when I took the position, and they hadn’t exactly measured the office dimensions before ordering the giant. It filled the entire space and dwarfed me behind it. Still, I loved it. So much room, so much shine! It cost over $1,000, but hey, I didn’t have to pay for it. Now that I do, though, I’m content with my IKEA desktop and a 6′-folding table I bought separately at Office Depot to create a makeshift L-shaped workstation for myself. It’s not exactly Wall Street, but frankly, it’s not just functional but comfortable as well. Total cost? About $200.
There’s plenty more non-essential goodies I would love to have but know that I don’t really need, and I’m sure you do as well. What office supplies/equipment/gear do you lust after, even knowing that your life won’t necessarily be any better off with it?