10 Things Writers Don’t Need…Necessarily


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?

11 thoughts on “10 Things Writers Don’t Need…Necessarily

  1. Have you used an AlphaSmart Neo? The thing is a beautifully simple writing tool. Think of the Neo as a composition device. It is not a replacement for a desktop or laptop. It is not an editing or cut-and-paste machine. It is a tool to get the writing down. Distractions? The Neo eliminates internet distractions, boot time, software maintenance, viruses, instant messages, and many other excuses to put off writing. Power up in about a one second and take a note or write for hours. The Neo weighs less than 2 lbs. It uses very little electricity, which means it generates no perceptible heat. The Neo has a battery life of +/- 700 hours using 3AA batteries. That’s months and months of use without a battery change. This means no more searching for a seat next to an AC outlet, no more hot lap, no unplugging during an electrical storm.You can offload text from a Neo to a Palm device, a PC or Mac, desktop or laptop. You have the option of beaming a file using infrared, using the AlphaSmart Manger program to transfer files, or sending text using a USB connection and keyboard emulation mode. When using keyboard emulation mode, the Neo text is sent to an open document on your computer. Hit send and your text is quickly retyped into the open document. A benefit of keyboard emulation mode is that, in all cases I’ve found, you do not have to install software on the PC/Mac. I’ll admit, when I ordered my Neo from AlphaSmart over a year ago, I wondered if I was throwing money at a gadget or a toy. The Neo is a tool. If my Neo died today, I’d buy another. Try it. Watch your productivity increase. Other Pros of the Neo:-Excellent keyboard-Durable, made to withstand a drop-8-file storage with corresponding keys for quick switching among the files -It is easy on the eyes. There is no backlighting. If there is enough light to read a printed book, you’ll be able to see the Neo’s display. Steve Brannon

  2. “the AlphaSmart really is just another excuse to play with a new toy and distract oneself from actual writing.”Wow, now that’s ironic! The reason I bought an AlphaSmart Neo was <>because <>my laptop distracts me from actual writing. I can sit in front of my laptop for hours, but I’m so distracted by the instant messages, web pages on the Internet (I can’t stop clicking), operating system updates, and everything else that I never seem to get much “actual writing” done. When I’m at the park with my AlphaSmart, though, I can churn out thousands of words over a lunch hour. It’s amazing.Other than that, I agree with the rest of your article. I tend to get gadget-crazed, too… ooh, that new iPhone 3G is calling… 🙂

  3. Hi, Steve! Thanks for your comments! No, I’ve never used a Neo, but I know lots of writers who do and love it. I think that if I were to start over, I’d want one, but my point was that, as a not-so-rich writer, the last thing I should do is spend more money on yet another gadget. It’s like spending $300-400 on that wonderful scriptwriting software program. Yeah, it’ll make my life so much easier, but not if it means adding more numbers on my credit card bill. In the end, it’s all about the writing, and no amount of fancy (or even not-so-fancy) technology can make you sit your a** down in a chair and finish that novel/self-help book/script.Hey there, Benjamin! Thank you as well for your comment! I don’t diss the AlphaSmart Neo, but is there anything we really, truly NEED besides a pen and paper for writing? I don’t even need my laptop, but I have it, so I’m not going to spend more money on something else that will take up mental and physical space. But yeah, I get distracted sometimes, but I rein it in. I’m about to launch a personal MaNoWriMo (i.e., “Marjorie’s Novel Writing Month” 😉 to get another 50k in August. We’ll see how <>that<> goes!Don’t even get me started on the Apple iPhone 3G! 🙂Cheers,Marjorie

  4. Hi Marjorie! Obviously, you’ve never seen my handwriting. I’m not sure a pen and paper would work for me. 🙂My son was teasing me the other day because I couldn’t remember how to write in cursive. Yep, it’s actually been so long now since I’ve hand-written anything of any significance that I can officially only print things. Wow. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since I’ve using computers for most of my life.Still… ouch. How weird.

  5. Dear Benjamin,No way! You can’t remember how to write in cursive? So what do you do when you have to write something in, say, meetings? (Of course, I’m speaking as someone who spent half her professional office career being one form of “assistant” or another, w/c usually meant that <>I<> was the one writing the minutes while I everyone else stared into space, so maybe we’re coming at it from different directions. Anyway.)Yeah, I use the computer at least 8 hours a day when I’m working (I’m a freelancer now), so I don’t write in cursive <>much<> during the day, but I still do it a lot with my notebooks. And checkbooks!Uhm, honestly, though, the other day I had to think, <>Okay, what was that called where you write in longhand, fancy form instead of print? What the hell is the opposite of print? It starts with a c, I think…<>.I’m with you, though. I can’t write with a pen and paper anymore, although I guess if I were <>forced<> to, I would. Keyboard all the way!So what do you write?Cheers,Marjorie

  6. I work for a technology company, so everyone has a laptop in meetings. No handwriting required. Hooray!As for the cursive writing, I can do a lot of the letters, but I can’t remember how to make all of them, especially the capitals. It just isn’t worth the effort for me. I didn’t even realize I had lost the ability until my son was quizzing me about it, and then it was a bit of a shock.My writing is mostly for my own personal enjoyment, although I do a lot of technical documentation for my company. Writing 100 pages of technical bla-bla-bla can be a bit draining, though, so writing “fun stuff” keeps me engaged. How about you?Although I guess I could just go back in time on the blog here to get an idea of your writing… 🙂

  7. suavito

    The AlphaSmart Neo is a Zen machine. It doesn’t give you more, it takes everything from you that you don’t really need.The only thing you can do with it is writing. (Ok, it has a calculator too but who on earth is procrastinating by doing basic math operations?)It’s you and your text and a simple device always ready for you and always working.It helps you keeping focused while not being shut out of the modern digital world. Once you’re ready—and only then!— you plug the Neo in and then you could edit, format, and whatever as much as you like.But a warning: If you’re the type of person who always finds an excuse for not writing—Neo will strip any possible excuse from you. You will stand naked. Either you will write undistracted and happily ever after or you will be exposed—not at least to yourself!—as a poser.

  8. Dear Benjamin,Okay, when I was a kid in the Philippines, we had tons of penmanship classes. One day I proudly drew what I thought was a really good capital “S,” and brought it up to the teacher. She then took one look at it, held it up for all my classmates to see, and said, “Now, class, this is an example of how <>not<> to draw an ‘S.'”Yeah, I’m traumatized. I’ve never forgotten how to draw an ‘S.’ 🙂I’ve edited technical manuals but never really written any. I can only imagine how difficult that must be, if not tedious. Plus, you basically have to do everything from explaining software to writing things like, “Turn computer on,” right? Yeah, you need to write fun stuff!I’m a freelance writer, so I write a lot of features, ad copy, advertorials, a weekly column, and whatever else people want me to write. I maintain a few blogs both for fun and to develop an Internet network, of sorts. It’s a constant juggle, and I’m still learning how to do it, but it keeps me busy and active. I’m writing a novel and have gotten about 255 pages in it, but I’m struggling with the structure. Gah. I’ve never taken a novel writing class, so that doesn’t help.What kind of fun stuff do you write?Cheers,Marjorie

  9. Dear Suavito,Greetings! I appreciate your comments.Like I’ve mentioned several times, I don’t diss the AlphaSmart. I think it can be a great tool for writers, students, professors, etc. But I already have a laptop and I need Internet access to do my actual work, not just my writing, as I do most of my freelancing over the Internet. To get an AlphaSmart Neo would be to just add one more electronic device to my arsenal that I don’t <>need<>. Some of us can multitask and <>must<>. If you’re writing a novel or script, then an AlphaSmart would probably suit you just fine. But if you’re doing multiple writing tasks that also require research and communications, why should I get a connected laptop <>and<> a device just for writing, when the laptop can do that as well? Cheers,Marjorie

  10. p.s. By the way, I have over a hundred articles and columns published under my byline, including a weekly newspaper column here in my home city. I’ve written over 255 pages for my novel and have only one more act left in my play. My office <>is<> my laptop. I consider that to be the mark of a pretty accomplished writer. What about you, <>Suavito<>?Cheers,Marjorie

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