Silence—a Hostile Work Environment?

I find it nearly impossible to write in total silence.

I was still in high school when I discovered I was most productive in environments that weren’t absolutely quiet. Back then, I would take a portable typewriter to the university snack bar to pound out prose. Years later, when I was writing my master’s thesis, I would park in a booth at Taco Bell with my laptop. A friend of mine was the manager there, so I’d buy a drink and he’d bring me free food.

For a while I thought I was just quirky—or even defective. Then I read David Mamet’s book, Writing in Restaurants, in which the award-winning playwright and screenwriter equates public writing with performance art. A writer in a restaurant is, in many ways, similar to the sidewalk chalk artist who draws both pictures and crowds. The act of public writing includes an unspoken obligation to your “audience.” I know from my own experience that the pressure to “perform” helps keep me on task … even if the pressure is all in my head.

When writing in public, Mamet says, “Joy and sorrow can be displayed and observed ‘unwittingly,’ the writer scowling naively and the diners wondering, What the hell is he doing? Then, again, the writer may be truly unobserved, which affects not a jot the scourge of popular opinion on his overactive mind.”

I wrote most of my first NaNoWriMo novel at a McDonalds in Draper, Utah, where the dining room technically closed at midnight but the staff didn’t mind if I hung around longer. For 99¢ (plus tax) I got unlimited Diet Coke, free WiFi and just enough background noise to get my creative juices flowing. I also got words of encouragement from the cashiers who rooted for me from behind the counter. When I hit 50,000 words and “won” at about 11:45 p.m. on November 30, the restaurant’s employees joined me in my victory dance. It felt like a standing ovation.

Recently, I came across an article that refined my thinking somewhat. The Harvard Business Review piece, “Why You Can Focus in a Coffee Shop but Not in Your Open Office,” reviewed new research on “open office” environments, where office walls doors and even cubicle partitions are dumped with the intent of creating a more collaborative, collegial atmosphere. Anyone who’s ever worked in an open office knows that the model tends to stifle productivity rather than fostering it. The key question is why.

One of the studies mentioned in the article, this one conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, found that “the right level of background noise—not too loud and not total silence—may actually boost one’s creative thinking ability.” Obviously, the “right level” for one person might not be right for the next. But there is some pretty good research to give us general numbers. According to an article in the Journal of Consumer Research, “… [A] moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks…. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity.”

A separate study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology suggested it’s the lack of privacy as much as noise levels that can torpedo productivity in an open office setting.

Which makes perfect sense. While a moderately busy restaurant or coffee shop provides plenty of background chatter to drown out the silence, it also provides a level of relative anonymity you don’t get around your co-workers. Unless you live in a very small town, most people you encounter in public are strangers. When you write in a restaurant, you’re alone in a crowd.

Or as Mamet puts it, “In a restaurant one is both observed and unobserved.”

Obviously, sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop puts you in the crosshairs of the Chatty Cathys of the world. This can pose a real threat to productivity. “What are you writing?” “A novel! What’s it about?” “I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Let me spend the next 40 minutes telling you about it….” This happened to me a number of times until I learned the number one rule of writing in restaurants: don’t make eye contact.

This finding is borne out by a paper presented at the annual conference of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which found “that face-to-face interaction, [and] conversation … may disrupt the the creative process.” Interestingly, the creativity factors these authors tested for include “originality, elaboration, flexibility and fluency”—exactly what you want when you sit down to a writing session. You just have to find a way to keep the kibitzers at bay.

All of this goes to say that where you work—and especially where you write—may have a profound impact on how much and how well you produce. I get it; there are people who require complete silence to get their creative juices flowing. Others need music. The key, of course, is experimenting with different environments to find out what works best for you. If you’re having trouble getting your creative on at home, try trading the silence for some anonymous chatter.

Incidentally, if you find that you’re one of those people who thrives on background chatter, but you can’t always head to the nearest Starbucks to write, there’s a solution for that. Download the Coffitivity app (available for Android and Apple devices) and take your coffee-shop noise with you wherever you go.

You’ll just have to provide your own caffeine.

Silence - a hostile work environment

David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, shoots guns, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play is published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at

How to Write When You Just Don’t Wanna

Can we all just agree that the last two weeks have been the worst? I mean it. No matter what side of the political debate you fall on, the aftermath of this election has taken a toll on all of us.

I’m not here to get political, but I do want to address this toll and the effect it has had on our writing. Many—MANY—of my friends and colleagues have expressed how hard it has been for them to write lately. Many haven’t been able to write at all. I’ve seen several posts over social media bemoaning the looming end of NaNoWriMo and how behind everyone is because the election stress threw such a wrench in their ability to focus.

I’m one of them. At 22,000 words, I’m over 10k behind where I should be right now. I have massive amounts of writing to do if I’m going to hit 50k by the end of the month. I could just give up. I mean, it’s just an arbitrary contest. It’s not like my career is hinging on whether I can write 50k in 30 days. And everything else going on in the world right now feels much more important to me than finishing my draft.

Besides, I’ve failed NaNo before. Several times before. It’s not a big deal. But here’s the thing: at the beginning of this month, I made a promise to myself that I was going to REALLY DO THIS this time. I was going to finish this novel this month, come Hell or high water. Well . . . some might argue that Hell and high water are here, and now I’m struggling to keep my promise. I do still want to reach my goal, but when it comes to actually sitting down to write? I . . . don’t wanna.

I. Just. Don’t. Wanna. I mean, I do, logically. But I don’t have the mental energy for it. I’d rather take a nap, thank you very much, and hopefully not wake up until the year 2020 has come around.

Despite this, however, I’ve been managing to push myself through this writing slump, and so I thought I’d share some tips for how to get words down, even when you just don’t wanna.


1) Allow yourself a few day’s break

This seems counter-intuitive. “Wait, so in order to get yourself to write, you . . . didn’t write?” Yup, I didn’t write. I gave my brain and emotions some time to try and work themselves out, with the promise that after a certain amount of time, even if I still didn’t feel like I was in a place where I could write, I would try to write anyway. That day came, and I turned off all social media, and told myself I couldn’t get back on until I’d written 4k. And amazingly, I wrote 4k. I’m still not sure how, but I did. And you probably can too if you really set your mind to it. But first allow yourself that break.

2) Break it down into small chunks of time

Not words. Time. You’ll probably surprise yourself by how much you’ll get written in that small amount of time. One thing I’ve done on days when I’m especially having trouble focusing, is I’ve set my alarm to go off once every hour. When it goes off, I drop whatever I’m doing (or not doing, as the case has been lately) and write for five minutes. If I hit flow, I’ll keep going. Sometimes that’s all it takes. It’s like a little shove on the back of the sled to get you to the start of the slope. Once you’re there, your sled will tip, and gravity will carry you the rest of the way down.

3) Multitask

I’ve become quite the fan of writing via dictation, and the bulk of my NaNo draft has actually been written via this method while I’m doing other boring tasks, such as folding laundry, picking up clutter, and waiting in the carpool lane to pick up the kids from school. Somehow, for me, I’ve been finding it easier to break through the I-don’t-wannas this way. It’s not for everyone, but if you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend you do.

4) Find a second creative outlet

Set aside some time every day to work on something else creative and/or relaxing that has nothing to do with your draft. Adult coloring books are great for this. Also crafts, such as knitting, crochet, or other needlework—basically anything that relaxes you but also stimulates the creative side of your brain. Sometimes when I do this, I’ll find my mind wandering off to work on my story without me, solving plot problems, coming up with new characters, all while in a nice, relaxed, state of mind rather than while stressing out over a blank page.

5) Don’t panic

If none of this works for you, and you just can’t do it, don’t beat yourself up about it. Stress is a nasty beast that sometimes takes longer to defeat than we would like. Allow yourself the extra time you need. Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, go to bed at a decent hour, and take lots of bubble baths. Your ability to write has not left you forever. It will come back when it’s ready.

I do hope these strategies help you as much as they’ve been helping me. I will point out that they don’t work one-hundred percent of the time. Some days I just have to throw in the towel and admit that writing isn’t going to happen. But even if it works only a third of the time, that’s better than not at all. Also, if you have any tips of your own, please do share them in the comments. I’d love to give them a try.


When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

How to SCARE Away the NaNoWriMo Heebie Jeebies

Happy Halloween! Each year as I come off my candy-induced energy high, I’m always faced with the simultaneously sobering and exciting fact that National Novel Writing Month starts TOMORROW. For those of you participating, are you excited and raring to go? Is this your first time? Are you a little bit scared? Are you suspicious of the 1,667 per day word count that you need to win NaNoWriMo because if you take off the 1 and subtract it from the 7, you get 666?

But seriously, it’s perfectly natural to be a little afraid whether it’s your first time doing NaNoWriMo or your fifth. Totally and completely natural *nods*. So for this special Halloween-day post, I thought I’d offer some pre-NaNoWriMo advice to SCARE away those writing heebie jeebies. (BOO!)



  1. AVOID SURPRISE ATTACKS. Being mindful and present in your WIP as much as possible will allow you to write more. For most writers, we have other things going on in November besides writing. For many writers, the 1,667 words per day is daunting. I definitely fall into both of these categories. However, if I’m stuck in a work meeting and simply can’t write, it helps during the lulls of that meeting to think about the next scene of my WIP — so, when I do have a moment, I can more easily hammer out those words (I might even jot down notes in a memo app if I think I can get away with it, but shhhhh….). The same applies to when I’m cooking dinner or when I’m grocery shopping or driving. Or, or, or.
  2. RUN FOR YOUR LIFE (and write while you are at it)! Write on the go — when you can, as much as you can. This year I’m walking into NaNoWriMo with the new(ish) Scrivener app on my iPad and iPhone, which readily syncs files between platforms (Not gonna lie — that feature is AWESOME). If I’m waiting for the copier machine to spit out my print job, I write a little. If I’m riding in the elevator, same. Walking across campus, same (these days, people just assume I’m playing Pokemon GO). Need more ideas for writing-on-the-go? Here’s a fun little post of how far writers are willing to go with their writing-on-the-go. 🙂
  3. BEWARE OF THE REVISING MONSTER. RAWR! NaNoWriMo is for drafting words, even if those words are super stinky. I have the hardest time with this because my stubborn brain balks at this idea and insists on revising as I draft. In the long run, this means I have less revisions to do when I’m done drafting. However, winning NaNoWriMo is all about getting your words in, not making sure that they are the best words. Those revisions should come later.
  4. SCREAM FOR HELP. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. I’m not sure what sort of support units you have, but do not be shy about asking for a little more help than usual this month. Get your support units together for a mini-writing retreat one evening. If one of your support units is a significant other that’s a non-writer, explain to this support unit that you need to steal away some nights to write (but remember to hang out with said support unit at least some of the time 🙂 ). If you have kids as support units, they can help too (Yes, kids can be support units too, though sometimes they can be a little more challenging than adults, especially if they are 5 and 9, or really any age either younger or older than this). Sometimes I set a timer for 30 min or an hour and we all have to quietly work on our homework/ writing/ drawing/ whatever for that time and not interrupt mommy (who might have her earbuds in anyway) unless absolutely necessary.
  5. AHHHHHHHHHH! Don’t let the NaNoWriMo progress graph scare you. From past years’ experience, I tend to be above the curve for the first week or so (YAY!), then I fall below it for a while (BOO!), and every time the latter happens, I feel the creeping fingers of panic start tugging on me. If you fall below the curve, know that it’s totally FINE. Step it up the next day (write while you’re eating breakfast or lunch). Stay up a little later the next night (but don’t do this too many nights in a row, or it will quickly catch up to you). Catch up, but don’t make a big deal in your head out of falling behind. Also, I personally find the NaNoWriMo buddy feature to be not very helpful. I know it’s supposed to be a motivating tool, but I never find it super useful to compare my progress to others. We already have to compare our progress to the graph/curve, and that can be scary enough.

Above all, remember this about NaNoWriMo: ANY writing you accomplish this month is a WIN. So you see, there’s nothing to be afraid of after all. You got this. 🙂


helenHelen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her writing life at

Speak Your Mind: A Real-Time Dictation Experiment

This . . . is going to be an interesting post to write. I need you, Reader, to bear witness to a little experiment.

Here’s the background: I’ve been playing around with Dragon Dictation for my iPhone lately, mostly to record quick ideas that I come up with while I’m in the car and can’t safely type. I’ve found that it picks up on my speech very well. So today, with this year’s upcoming NaNoWriMo in mind, I decided to go ahead and purchase the Home version for my PC Laptop. It’s a bit of a splurge, but I feel like it will be worth it to keep my writing flow going. I could just go ahead and keep using the mobile version, but the problem, I’ve found, is that the mobile version will randomly stop recording (maybe because I’ve paused for too long? I’m not sure), and I won’t realize it until I pull my phone out of my pocket to see where I’m at. The PC version isn’t supposed to do that. So far, I’m finding this is true. The mic hasn’t turned off unless I’ve told it to.

Anyway, I mentioned an experiment. This is it. This post that you’re reading right now . . . is the experiment. I’m using Dragon on my laptop for the first time while “writing” this, and I will now tell you, in real time, what’s working for me and what’s not. I know. Meta.


So here’s the first thing I’m noticing: remembering to add in punctuation as I speak is really slowing me down. It’s tripping up the flow of my thoughts. In fact, remembering to say “comma,” “period,” and “new line” means my dictation is actually much slower than my typing. This may change as I get used to it, but . . . hmm . . . how about I try something else? How about I just ignore all punctuation, and speak, not as if I’m dictating, but as if I’m casually talking to another person in the room? I can go back and edit in the punctuation and paragraph breaks afterward. (Obviously, most of the punctuation that you’re seeing right now has been added post stream-of-consciousness word vomit.)

The main purpose of writing via dictation for me is to get my thoughts out of my head and onto the screen. Sometimes (not all the time) I have trouble doing that while typing, as if somewhere along the journey between my neural pathways and the muscles in my fingers, my thoughts run out of gas and have to pull over—a bit ironic seeing that I’m writing this post for a blog called Thinking Through Our Fingers.

This occasional brain-to-page disconnect is why editing and revising is so much more pleasant for me than drafting. Once I have my thoughts down, I have something tangible to work with. It’s easier to replace and move around words that are already there.

A way that I’ve sometimes been able to get past this is to switch back and forth between typing and handwriting. And now I have dictation as a third option. And that makes me think of another way in which I will surely be using dictation to assist me with my writing—dictating handwritten pages into my word processor will be so much faster (and easier on my joints) than typing it in.

And here’s something else I’m enjoying about dictating this post. I can get up and move around. I’m not tied to my keyboard. Sometimes pacing and other forms of movement can help get my thoughts flowing, and I know this is true for a lot of other people as well. I may, (dare I even think it?) even find myself dictating my novel while exercising, or doing the dishes, or knitting, or even soaking in the tub. Yes! While taking a bath! With my laptop out of harm’s way, if I speak loudly enough for the mic to pick up my voice, I’m sure it could work. This also means I have no more excuses not to write. Hmm . . . maybe that isn’t such a bonus after all (says the chronic procrastinator.)

Now let’s pause for an update. Remember how in the beginning of this post, I observed that having to dictate punctuation was slowing me down, so I decided to stop? It has now been about five minutes, and I’ve written about 600 words. That would normally take me a half an hour on a REALLY good day—and hour or more on a bad one. Granted, here’s a screenshot of those words:


Ugh. It’s one huge run-on-sentence, stream-of-consciousness paragraph. The editing may take me at least three times as long as the initial dictation took. Not only will I need to add in punctuation and paragraph breaks, but it looks like I’ll also need to remove or rewrite garbled sentences that I swear sounded much better out loud than they look on the page. But as I said earlier, I’m fine with that. I’m just thrilled to have so many words down so quickly; so many words to work with that would never have made it onto the page before.

Overall, I’d say that for me, this experiment has been a success. I am going to dictate the heck out of my NaNoWriMo novel. It’s going to be so great. I’m am so very, very excited. I may change my tune in December when I’m faced with gargantuan revisions, but for now, I think this is going to work.

Do you use dictation for writing? If so, please tell us in the comments what you think of it, and if you have any good tips!

(Note: I forgot to keep track of how long it actually took me to edit this, but I’d say it was probably around fifteen minutes, for those of you who are interested.)


When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

5 Ways to Write More Consistently

I’ve always struggled with trying to do too much, setting too many goals and making massive plans I can’t actually complete. Then I run around, spreading myself too thin, as I try to accomplish them all.

fontcandyThis is especially true with my writing goals. It was like going out to dinner, expecting to have a lovely meal complete with a fresh salad, a tender steak, and a fancy dessert—preferably chocolate, but only taking time to go to fast food restaurant and then ending up with a pathetic and soggy $1.39 cheeseburger.

Between being a mom and a wife and trying sewing projects and quilting and random crafts and keeping up with the work that goes with running an Etsy shop and baking and cooking elaborate meals, I only had small snatches of time to write here and there. Sometimes I’d go weeks without writing. Sometimes months.

BUT somehow I still wanted those small writing moments to magically result in me accomplishing my goals. I was constantly disappointed in myself, disappointed I wasn’t accomplishing more with my writing, disappointed I didn’t seem to be on track to becoming the writer I wanted to be, disappointed I wasn’t succeeding.

I’ve slowly made changes. I’ve become more selective of what I do with my time. I only sew occasionally. I closed my Etsy shop. And I cook simpler meals. I’ve been writing more, but I still wasn’t meeting my goals.

At the end of August, I was chatting with the brilliant members of an online writing group I’m part of about our goals for September. (I’m looking at you Good Writtance.) I mentioned I wanted to rewrite my whole WIP (that’s all new words, people), revise it, and send it to beta readers.

That was actually a pretty impossible goal. I have a husband who likes to see me and six kids that like to snuggle and play with and talk to.

BUT I realized if I really wanted to finish this book, I had to do something different. I was writing more, but I still wasn’t good at consistently writing every day for a large chunk of time. It was hit or miss at times. One day for an hour. Another day for twenty minutes. It wasn’t enough. I had to really commit to this writing beast.

So, I made a goal to write 2 hours a day. Every day. And if I didn’t quite get the two hours in, I’d tack the remaining time onto the next day.

In September I re-outlined my book, based on big changes I needed to make. I wrote 56,432 new words. (Okay. It was about an hour and half into October.)

I also wrote three picture books. I originally started my writing for children life as a picture book writer, but then  moved to writing middle grade novels (after a painful attempt at an epic YA fantasy). I hadn’t written a picture book for ages! It felt so good to dip my toes in the picture book world again.

I also participated in a friend’s memoir writing challenge and found myself writing about hard and happy experiences in my life. It’s given me a chance to work on my craft in a different way.

In short, I spent the month actually being a writer, writing every day, putting in the work I really needed to and LOVING it. It was absolutely fantastic.

fontcandy65 Ways to Write More Consistently

  1. Choose an amount of time you want to write every day. (Make sure it’s an amount of time you can make work for your life and those in it.) Try using a timer to keep track of the time you actually spend writing. Stop the timer when you get on the internet or stop writing to hug a crying child or if your husband interrupts you to ask your opinion on the new mattress you need to buy. (You might be surprised how long it takes you to actually get the writing time in! I know I was.)
  1. Make more room for writing by simplifying your life. Do you really need to take up another hobby or be on another committee or do laundry? (Ok. You probably need to do that last one. But you could also teach your kids how to help. Win-win.)
  1. If you struggle to write for a large chunk of time, try mixing it up. Write poetry, participate in a writing challenge, write a blog post, or dabble with/outline/brainstorm another project. You could also try the Pomodoro Technique.
  1. Get creative with how you get your writing time in, especially if you have little ones around or it’s difficult to write at home. This last month, I had a mobile office which moved between the library, the library park, Del Taco’s indoor playground, and McDonald’s playland.


  1. Tell those close to you about your goal, about the amount of time you’re trying to write every day. My children and husband knew I wanted to write two hours a day. My sweet husband often asks if I’ve gotten my writing time in. If I didn’t and he was able to, he’d make or finish making dinner or read to our little ones or run errands for me, so I could finish my writing time for the day. For our anniversary, he even gave me a writing retreat, speaking to Tasha’s husband about setting up a time when I could book a room at the hotel he manages so I could get a solid 24 hours of writing in. (My husband even offered to bring me dinner!)

“I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it, and apply more energy and time to it, and more consistency, you get a better result. It comes from the work.” -Louis C. K.




Erin Shakespear writes middle grade fantasy full of magic, adventure, and quirky creatures. With six kids, her days imitate her art and are full of magic, adventure, and quirky creatures, too. She also likes to dabble at photography, longboarding, and pretending she’s a grand artist.

Does What We Use to Write Influence How We Write? (iPad vs. AlphaSmart)

I write differently depending on what I use to write. I figured out along the way that I use Scrivener most effectively for revisions but not drafting. When I dictate what I want to write, I primarily write dialogue or direct thoughts (sort of like a deep POV). I’ve always viewed longhand writing as a romantic possibility, but sadly, it isn’t an option for me due to a lingering case of carpal tunnel syndrome. This aspect of the writing process has always been interesting to me, akin to a recent study showing that use of digital media vs. paper influences the way we think.

A month ago, my laptop was pronounced (incorrectly) as dead, as a paperweight, as a piece of scrap. The end of the story however is a happy one: my laptop is fully functional again, and my fingers are lovingly tapping away at the keys as I type this post. However, during that month where we were separated, I had to figure out what to use to write. I have two other writing devices, though: my iPad and my AlphaSmart Neo. These devices are great for portable writing, and having no laptop for four weeks gave me the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of each. In the end, I found a clear winner in terms of productivity, and so today, I offer my comparison of these two writing devices.

Did each of these writing tools ultimately affect how I wrote? You bet it did.

First, my tablet. I have an iPad and iPad mini, the latter of which is shown below with its keyboard*. Incidentally, some of the pros and cons to on-the-go writing with a tablet are similar to if you use your laptop for portable writing.

*This is the setup that I have for my iPad mini with a Logitech keyboard.
I was going to take an actual picture of it, but my kids are using it.

iPad Pros:
Very compact (especially the iPad mini). I can slip my tablet quite easily into my purse and even with the case, it is very portable and doesn’t take up a lot of room.

Easy to revise and edit. This could be a pro or a con. I use the Pages app on my iPad (the iPad-friendly equivalent to Word), so it’s easy to scroll through and revise/edit. Now, I happen to be in the drafting phase, and this is not so great for me, because sometimes I wind up revising instead of what I should be doing, which is laying down new words.

Night-writing. If you’re like me, writing can (and sometimes needs to) occur at all hours, depending on when inspiration and energy strikes. However, recent research shows that staring at bright screens can mess up your sleep patterns. I discovered this handy trick not too long ago where you can invert colors on your screen by going to Settings –> General –> Accessibility –> Invert Colors. The first time I figured this out, it was magical. No more eye strain from staring at a white screen in the dark whilst sharing a hotel room with sleeping children, or at 4 a.m. when your brain wakes you up and demands a bit of dialogue be written. (This is not just an iPad specific thing. I do this on my laptop as well under System Preferences).

iPad Cons: 
Charging. I’m usually good about remembering to pack my charger, but I’ve found myself in an occasional pinch when I’m writing and get a low battery alert, and suddenly my writing quest has morphed into a quest for an electrical outlet. No bueno. (Note: My portable keyboard only requires a charge every month or so, and that’s with fairly regular use.)

Not distraction-free. I’m prone to distraction. It’s my Achilles’ Heel. I realize that this is purely on me, but this winds up being the biggest con for the iPad. However, I have been able to mostly get around this by removing apps from my iPad that provide distractions aplenty (i.e., every single social media app is gone from my iPad). However, it’s still too easy to hop onto it to zip off that quick email, or get onto a browser in the name of book research, and suddenly twenty minutes or *cough* more have gone by.

My kids want the iPad. Self-explanatory.

Now for the AlphaSmart. If you’ve never heard of this wonderful device, that’s because they are fairly old school. The AlphaSmart is a portable word processor that is used for one thing only: typing. There are several models out there, and I’ll explain where I got mine below.

This is actually my AlphaSmart Neo 2, with my bony hand shown so you can get an idea of scale.

AlphaSmart Pros:
– Battery powered with auto-backup for files. The AlphaSmart uses two AA batteries, and battery life is long. I’ve hardly even made a dent in my battery life in the several months since I got mine, and other writers report average life with typical use to be about a year or so. All of your keystrokes are automatically saved to the AlphaSmart’s RAM, even if you take out the batteries (or let them die). I’m a bit paranoid about my iPad files, saving them to Dropbox and Google Docs after each major writing session. Why? Because I’ve lost quite a bit of progress before when the app crashed. I never have to worry about this with the AlphaSmart.

Distraction-free. There are a few extra features on the AlphaSmart such as a calculator, and a word counter, and some typing applets, but they are not Facebook or Twitter. I don’t find the calculator distracting at all (I didn’t know it was there until a friend told me about it), I check my word count after each session, and I don’t even mess with the typing applets because I don’t know what they are. When I use my AlphaSmart, I type, type some more, and keep typing.

– Full-sized keyboardThe feel of the AlphaSmart is really nice. It’s very ergonomic and while the device is slightly bulkier than an iPad (see below), that con is offset by the benefit of a full-sized keyboard.

Inexpensive. I purchased mine for $25. Whoa. That’s less than what I paid for my carpal tunnel arm brace.

– My kids aren’t that interested in it. Self-explanatory.

AlphaSmart Cons: 
– Bulkier. This, of course, is a relative thing. Because of the full-sized keyboard, my AlphaSmart is a bit larger than my iPad mini. It’s not flat like a tablet either, but it is still very portable, weighing in at a little under two pounds. (Yes, I actually weighed it on the scale I use to weigh my guinea pig.)

– No to night-writing. The screen for the AlphaSmart is not backlit and therefore not conducive to night-writing. That is, unless you have a book light or wear a head lamp.

– Transferring files required. The AlphaSmart allows you to set up a total of 8 files, each file set up to hold approximately 10K words (I’m using each file for a different chapter that I’m drafting). When you’re done writing, you do need to transfer your files to a computer. There is supposed to be some way to transfer it using an infrared (IR) signal, but I don’t have the IR app for my laptop. Instead, the AlphaSmart comes with a USB cord that attaches to your laptop, and when you connect the two and hit a magical “send” button on the AlphaSmart, it will transfer what you’ve written to a file on your laptop. It does this by emulating all of the keystrokes in the AlphaSmart file you choose, so this can take up to several minutes (Out of all of the AlphaSmart features, my kids find watching this emulation process the most entertaining. I’m okay with this.)

Third-party seller required. i.e., eBay. I originally learned about the AlphaSmart from another writer, and she had posted all of the things she liked about it (mostly the fact that it got her away from Facebook). She indicated she got it from eBay; this is because the AlphaSmart was discontinued in 2013**. I’d been riding the Struggle Bus with my WIP for some time and the idea of a distraction-free writing device to finish this draft appealed to me. Within minutes, I found several that were priced between $20-30 from eBay sellers with high ratings. (Yes, you always want to check seller ratings and feedback before purchasing.) I selected one from a top-rated seller that was listed with a “Buy-It-Now” option (because I hate waiting for auctions to end) that came with a guarantee and free returns, and within a few days, I was typing away.

**The company that made the AlphaSmart has online guides and technical information for all of their AlphaSmart models at (enter keywords in the search field to find what you’re looking for).

Winner, winner, chicken dinner?

I mentioned above that there was a winner in terms of which device served me better this past month. The AlphaSmart was what I used almost exclusively. With it, I drafted completely new scenes, very rough ones that will ultimately require a few rounds of revision once I transfer them into my file on my laptop. But drafting was my goal, and I’m happy with my progress thanks to this little word processor.

The one time this month that I shifted over to my iPad mini was when I had to travel to Denver with my family for a wedding; I threw it in my purse along with the plethora of snacks I carried for the kids. I wrote a bit during the flights and at night in the hotel room, and while I did get some writing done, it was all revision and fine-tuning.

Now… I just have to figure out what to do now that I have my laptop back. 🙂

What do you use to write? Does it influence how you write? I would love to hear from you below!

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She writes on whatever she can get her hands on.
You can find out more about her at

12 Ways to Write When You Don’t Have Any Time

I have an absolutely lovely writing desk that was purchased from an antique shop and is a fabulous addition to my home. But because of my busy schedule, I don’t ever seem to have time to sit down and use it. Instead I find myself writing in various places, a habit that I think I developed when my children were wee babies and I was constantly running from one thing to another (they have grown up a bit, but the running hasn’t stopped). Today I’m sharing various ways that I and some of my other writer friends manage writing on-the-go, especially during those particularly busy days.* All you need to accomplish your writing in these ways is something portable — your phone, tablet, laptop, or perhaps a notebook and pen — and the will to do it. Note that some of these ways are mostly good for getting quick words down, while others are more amenable to longer sessions of writing or revising.

*For a couple of these, writing locations may be less about hectic schedules than personal preference; see #9 especially.

1. Waiting time is writing time
We write while waiting for a job to spit out of the copy machine at work, while waiting for that staff meeting to start, while sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room or in the E.R., during pre-curtain time at performances, while waiting in the car for our kids or to pick up food at a busy drive-thru, or while standing in long lines at the coffee shop or at Disneyland.

2. Travel time 

Travel specifically can come with its own waiting/writing time. We write while riding shotgun during long car rides. Airport layovers and flights are ideal for writing — in the words of one of my critique partners, “Being stuck in a chair with no internet? Heck yes!” (Note: you may want to pop in your earphones if you have potentially chatty seat mates.)

3. Outdoors inspiration
Inspiration can strike anywhere, and beautiful scenery can not only make for a great adventure but also serve as inspiration for setting or simply perk up your mood. We write on the tops of mountains and on our balconies, while canoeing or river rafting. We dictate dialogue while riding horses (yes, according to one of my writer friends, it can be done).

4. Dictate some dialogue
Dictate, do I say? We aren’t limited to writing on paper. We use our memo apps on our phones or a specialized app (like Dragon Dictation for iPhone) to record notes or to play around with dialogue. Long freeway commute? Cleaning the bathroom? Changing a diaper? Walking the dog? Dictation comes in “handy” when we need to write hands-free (pun intended).
5. Solo lunch dates

Not to portray ourselves as completely antisocial, but we love to occasionally take our laptop out on lunch dates. What better way to pass the time waiting for our food than to hammer out a scene and then have something yummy arrive at our table as a reward. Alas, this doesn’t work so well for fast-food restaurants.

6. Playtime

If you’re a parent, do not feel parent guilt for writing at the playground. We find a nice bench on which to plunk ourselves down with water and snacks. If you try this, be prepared to take breaks, as even the most well-behaved children can have Lord-of-the-Fly moments when running around in packs. (I wrote a large portion of my fourth book during a weekly playdate at an indoor play place one winter.)

7. Coffee shop detours
While I love dedicated writing sessions at the coffee shop, I say “detours” here because this is a post about those super busy days. Some of us love to pop into a coffee shop while running around town. We take twenty minutes to enjoy the boost of a caffeinated beverage while managing to write a few hundred words.
8. Library detours
Coffee shops aren’t the only suitable place for a little pit-stop when running around town. We love to duck into the library for a few minutes of quiet, a comfy chair (or even an actual desk!), and books all around for lovely sources of inspiration.

9. Under the covers of darkness
Some of us do a fair share of writing not while running around, but while in bed. Some of us prefer to write in the fetal position. Writing under the covers happens to be one of my personal favorites. I spend the last few minutes of nearly every night typing out those last ideas of the day before I fall asleep. I keep my laptop right next to my bed, and when I wake up in the quiet of my house of 5 a.m., I write (Insomnia isn’t always a curse). Oh, and did you know that you can invert the colors of your screen so it’s not so hard on your eyes when you’re writing in the dark? I discovered this nifty feature just a few months ago, and it blew my mind! (We think this is great for movie theaters and for those times you have to sit with your child for hours in the middle of the night when they wake from a scary dream about birds.)


10. The magic of bath crayons
Relaxing in the bath? Not a problem. We love to outline ideas on the porcelain with a set of bath crayons, which by the way, also work wonderfully in the shower. If you wish for something more portable and also private, use a waterproof notepad like Aqua Notes and whisk them away with you when you step out of the tub or shower. 🙂

11. Come to think of it, write on anything you can
I mentioned a portable writing device at the beginning of this post, but there are so many other things that will work. We’ve used kid’s placemats or napkins at a restaurant, scribbled down ideas on a diaper (we think it was a clean one) and have even written on our hands, arms, jackets, and pants legs when in a pinch.

12. Last but not least, potty time is…you guessed it…writing time

Yup, I’m going there, and according to at least one of my critique partners, I’m not alone in *ahem* not flushing down this opportunity to be productive. People read magazines, books, and newspapers while sitting on the toilet. My husband plays his guitar. And I write.

p.s. I finished the draft of this blog post while waiting for my son’s choir performance to start. How fitting is that? At least it wasn’t on the toilet! 🙂


Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about Helen at