Write Hacks 11: When your notes get too long


Do you accumulate voluminous notes when you write a book or a series?

One of my favorite writing tools is this little gem, the Alphasmart Neo, once made by Renaissance Learning. The original had a very stiff keyboard, but it had everything else I’d been yearning for ever since I heard the phrase “laptop computer.”

o It partitions into 8 files.
o The 8 files can hold up to 200 single-spaced pages altogether.
o It runs on three AA batteries from the drug store (don’t bother with the lithium battery version).
o It cost me about $150 new, now available for $20-$45 used on eBay.
o It uploads to any text processing program, DOS, Windows, Mac, Linux, Sun Station, you name it, because it just stores keystrokes, so your computer thinks you’re typing really really fast.
o You hook it up with a generic USB cable.
o The on-off key is the save key, and it turns itself off if you don’t type anything for oh a few minutes or so.
o It’s virtually indestructible: I’ve dropped it on many hard floors, and not a scratch, still keeps on ticking.
o It shows you only 8 lines max on the display, so you can’t go back and edit; it is the ultimate draft-writing tool.
o The Neo version has improved on the original keyboard until it rivals the NBI, a dedicated word processor from back at the dawnatime that used 8-inch floppy disks. Sexiest keyboard I’ve ever handled.

But that’s not the write hack I want to talk about.

I keep a Neo on my nightstand where I can lay it on my lap, turn it on, and start typing in the dark. I always think I’ve written fewer notes than I have. Then I take my Neo over to the computer and plug it in, and voila, I’ve somehow filled seven or eight files full of great ideas.

paper avalancheSo here’s the write hack.

I upload each Neo file to its parent novel folder under the title movenot.N, where it stays until I transfer the data into more appropriate files. (I use WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, an elegant little program which fits comfily on a 3.5 floppy. You may now laugh all you want, because you’re using Microsoft Word, which runs to at least 50 megabytes, hides half its codes from you, chokes and freezes occasionally, and completely changes all its menus and GUIs every few upgrades.)

On a long book, the movenots really pile up. I think Amanda, the fourth book in the Coed Demon Sluts series, is up to movenot.57. Sometimes a movenot is just a quickie thought: “What if Amanda is an army brat?” Sometimes a movenot goes on for many, many pages.

My latest write hack, when I find a movenot running long, is to break it up into summary bullet points and put the bullet points at the top of the file. That way I don’t have to read every movenot to the end looking for that great idea about Amanda being an army brat and how I fleshed it out to the tune of 25K worth of notes.

Those little summaries are saving my sanity now, as the movenots mount toward 60 files.



Write Hacks 11: When your notes get too long — 2 Comments

  1. Another great place for vast background material is your web page. All the stuff in the Appendices at the back of THE RETURN OF THE KING? They can now go onto the author’s web page — the genealogical tables, the list of kings and events, the phases of the moon.

  2. It really is a useful little machine. A friend borrowed it at my retreat and wrote obits on it, different versions. Downloads worked like a charm.

    And no Internet distractions!