Kayleigh Reviews / NaNoWriMo / Writing

NaNoWriMo 2013: Writing Tools

I’m taking a break from the inevitable madness that is settling in as everyday becomes a struggle for more words, any words. Is that a word? I must pounce on it and try to make it breed! Words words words words. Sorry, I seem to have drifted off there for a moment. But what tools am I utilising this year? What am I using to create my rough and unpolished first draft? Some brand spanking new tools that you might be tempted to think that I purchased for NaNoWriMo! You’d be half right, because although they weren’t purchased for NaNo they have become a welcome fixture throughout this month so far. So, what have I been using?

HP 11 Chromebook

HP 11 ChromebookI bought this laptop on such a whim it’s embarrassing. I’d been doing masses of research for months into tablets, as they be the Next Big Thing. But whenever I would test them out in shops then I’d be left feeling frustrated and angry regarding their lack of keyboard. Working on a flat glass screen without any feedback when a character was pushed proved to be incredibly unsatisfying, so I never purchased one. The HP 11 Chrome book is about the same price as a tablet but it is a laptop – in a somewhat restricted sense. The operating system is based entirely within Chrome as a web browser. This means that you can’t download software and install in on the hard drive, instead you find apps through the Chrome browser and download them. This means that all of your applications are open within pages of your web browser, in different tabs. This means that I can no longer access most programs such as Adobe, film editing, advanced photo editing and Steam. This is quite a drastic change from how I’ve used laptops in the past but I haven’t wanted with regards to funky apps. After all, I’ve been using one of them exclusively during NaNoWriMo 2013:

Writer: The Online Typewriter from Big Huge Labs

Writer is an online app and website I discovered soon after purchasing my Chromebook. Unlike software that is made for a Mac or PC, Writer can be used by anyone with an internet connection and an internet browser. The default setting is black with green writing but you can change the colour settings to whatever you please. There’s a full pallet and you can make a choice that works best for you, admittedly I just put it straight to black and white. You can also change the fonts within a pretty good range, with more than a dozen to choose from. Other edits include the font size, line spacing and sound effects when you type. I am happy to admit that I have spent a considerable amount of time writing with a typewriter effect to make me feel extra classy. If only I had a monocle as well….

Screen shot of Writer chromebook app

This is Writer when not used in full screen mode and when first opened.

You require an account in order to access your writing from different computers but Writer can be used entirely for free. I’ve experimented with accessing my files on different computers and there is no variation. In fact, once writer logs me in for the first time then using the email address will put me directly in contact with my writing, no fuss whatsoever. This is great for using during NaNoWriMo. The initial screen gives you the run down of the previous files you’ve been working on, as well as a word count. It will open the last file you were working on and, if you don’t make any selections then the other files will disappear, giving your current writing full prominence. The full screen mode is also excellent for writing in a distraction free environment (perfect for large writing projects).

Screenshot of Writer in full screen mode

Writer in full screen mode

Writer goal meterOne feature that is exceptional for using during National Novel Writing Month is the ability to set goals. Simply type in a goal in the upper left hand space by clicking on the circle. Give yourself a target word count and date for your goal to be completed and writer will keep an unobtrusive counter that tells you the percentage way through your goal. Whether this becomes an uplifting reminder or a damning sentence is entirely down to the writer themselves! This is one of my absolutely favourite features and is always encouraging me to push a little further.

Downsides include that if you’re not connected to the internet then your work won’t be saving. I recently lost a few hundred words because I failed to notice that my home hub died on me and I needed to restart my Chromebook. But this just requires a little extra consideration and I certainly have written without internet support a few times just to get wireless ASAP and save afterwards. The saving features are actually quite advanced, particularly if you pay $5 for a month of their pro membership. You can save as a PDF, connect up cloud computing to save and upload automatically. If you have the free version then the “Saving” and “Word Count” take up the same space, meaning that you can’t see your word count if the website is saving. Upgrading to Pro gives you a prominent word count in the centre bottom that is never covered. See comparison below:

The ease of use has certainly made Writer one of my favourite distraction-less writing applications, being able to log in at work and squeeze in a few hundred words during my lunch break makes it incredibly versatile. During a previous NaNoWriMo I also did a review of Ommwriter, which is another program that serves to encapsulate you in your writing. Whilst Ommwriter is far more attractive and offers a diverse range of music specially designed to be relaxing and non-distracting, the sheer availability of this Online Typewriter makes it my choice for NaNoWriMo’s to come!

Brief HP 11 Chromebook Review

Screeshot of HP 11 Chromebook desktop

My HP 11 Chromebook desktop (photo by me)

I love my Chromebook. I’m glad I didn’t get a tablet when writing will always be a crucial requirement for me. As much as some tablets with keyboard attachments look flashy I never get the feeling that they’ve been designed as the tablet’s primary use and (once again) when I tested them it didn’t quite fit right for me. This small laptop is startlingly light (I keep freaking people out by gently tossing it to them!), great looking with a vibrant screen and an excellent battery life. The keyboard is punchy and great to use, though I’ve already noticed that it is more prone than others to get small particles stuck in it, which is a problem for someone as messy as me. Investing in a proper skin or case ASAP methinks.

If you’re looking for a tablet but you also spend a lot of time writing then this is an excellent out and about laptop. I don’t think it can stand alone as a computer for someone as tech savvy as me, so I’m intending to start building my own computer in order to compliment my Chromebook. And the extra features are delightfully few, meaning that I can specify exactly what I want without any frills that may take away from battery or processor power. I did not need a built in webcam and it seems like I need a full spotlight in order to get any decent pictures out of it but I suppose if I’m ever trying to talk with someone online then maybe I’ll appreciate it. Plus it’s affordable at £200, cheaper than some tablets, though obviously you lose out on touch screen etc. I like the idea that there’s something out their for everyone and my new Chromebook is 100% perfect for me.

Developments in my Chromebook so far this November….

So imagine my surprise when I discovered (via BBC News) that my new Chromebook has been abruptly pulled from UK sale due to some unforeseen issues with some chargers. HP is requesting that customers don’t use the charger that came with the machine, thanks so much for that HP, not offering to give me a new one for free even though this is a fault on your end. Much appreciated.

So I wandered into PC World in order to find myself a new one, only to find it incredibly difficult. The mini USB connection that the HP 11 uses isn’t a standard laptop charger, meaning that I had to find an alternative. All charger than do use mini USB connections are for phones, which actually don’t offer sufficient charge at all.

Funnily enough, I was sat in a coffee shop writing up this blog and a man came over and asked about my Chromebook. Turns out he works with Google and was in San Francisco last week (please remember that I live in the South West of England!) and he pointed me towards some helpful websites that I can get some feedback on. Hopefully my charger won’t blow up and I’ll be able to continue enjoying my Chromebook!

Now, back to those pesky words!

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One thought on “NaNoWriMo 2013: Writing Tools

  1. Interesting. A friend of mine uses Google Docs when she proofreads my stories, but it sounds like Writer is another option.

    On your Chromebook: I recently bought a 17″ laptop. Yes, 17 inches. I looked at the Microsoft Surface at a Microsoft store, but the keyboard was just too tiny. I could not imagine spending hours writing on that.

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