Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Five Tips for Writing On the Road

It's summer, and for most of us, that means hitting the beach, exploring the country, or piling into the car for a road trip. I'm a big fan of taking it easy, but as a writer with a deadline, sometimes I don't get to take a break just because I'm on vacation. Writing without a reliable Wi-Fi connection or a quiet spot to sneak away can be a challenge, so here are five tips I've discovered to keep those creative juices flowing while out on the road.

 Always keep a small pen and pad with you:
This one is helpful even if the traveling you’re doing is to the grocery store. You never know when you’ll get an idea, and a lot of times the back of a receipt isn’t going to cut it. Luckily, there are lots of great options for tiny notebooks and micro-pens, perfect for purses, pockets, and morning runs. My favorites? Ditch the expensive and over-done Moleskine for some beautiful notebooks from Muji. They come in a variety of sizes and are cheap enough that you'll want to get one for your car, your purse, your kitchen drawer, your bedside table...

 If you travel a lot, consider investing in a tablet:
For longer trips or if you don’t travel too often, carrying a laptop isn’t usually a problem. But if you’re a frequent traveler trying to keep things light, a tablet can be a lifesaver. As for options, the iPad is, of course, the Cadillac of tablets, but I'd recommend shopping around. During the last Black Friday sale, I snagged a deal on a Microsoft Surface, and I love it. It comes with Office pre-loaded, has a great cloud storage program to sync your work with your home computer, and unlike a lot of tablets, it has a great type keyboard with moveable keys that feels almost as good as a regular laptop.

 How to keep changes consistent, even when working on separate files:
Of course, working on a tablet or any computer other than your regular one means sometimes you can run into problems keeping edits and revisions consistent. You can copy-paste changes from the new document to the original, but there’s always a risk that you’ll miss a change or that the new document has some weird formatting you don’t want. There are a couple work-arounds:
1. Consider the cloud: All Microsoft tablets come with OneDrive, which will automatically sync files for any computer linked to your OneDrive account, but also Google has some great free software that allows you to access documents from anywhere online. Part backup service, part online library, Google Drive will automatically backup selected files on your hard drive, allowing you—or anyone else you choose—to view and/or work on the document. This is especially helpful if you’re working on anything collaborative, but it’s also great when you’re on the road. Just open the latest version of your document and get working—all changes will be automatically saved and ready for you when you’re back home. 

2. Sometimes, though, you can’t get online, and then you’re stuck with a totally new version of your document saved on another hard drive. You can make changes in “track changes” to be more aware of your edits, but if you didn’t remember to track changes or just didn’t want to, there’s an easy way to see all the changes in a new document. Open Word, and click on the “Review” tab. Click on “Compare” and then “Compare two versions of a document.” When prompted, click on the original document and the revised document. A new document will open, showing all the changes between the two. Super helpful when there are a few different versions of your manuscript floating around.

 Take time to stop working:
One of the nicest things about traveling is that you’re usually in a state of suspended animation. You’re in between places, you’re moving but staying still, and laptops and notebooks aside, it’s usually not the most work-friendly environment. The nice thing about this is that it can force you to take time to stop, look out the window, and think. You can’t go online (unless you’re in one of those fancy wi-fi enabled planes, trains, or buses), and there’s not much else to do but sit and be quiet. Take advantage of that time. Listen to some music or close your eyes. Think about the people around you, where they might be going, what they might be thinking. I’ll be the first to admit that traveling is hectic and exhausting, but it’s also one of the few times when your mind has the freedom to wander (mostly) uninterrupted. Take advantage of that.

 Giant headphones can be lifesavers:
Back when I worked in radio, I learned about the magic of gigantic, really nice headphones. Not only do they make audio sound uh-maz-ing, but even unplugged they make fantastic noise-cancellers, insulating your little eardrums from the outside world. They might be a little harder to transport than sleek, skimpy earbuds, but they’ll pay you back in blocking out crying babies and argumentative phone calls. My favorite (and the ones I, uh, “liberated” from my old job) is the Sony MDR7506. It's the industry standard, and I promise, you won’t find any nicer.

Happy writing, and get out there and enjoy the sunshine! (if, y'know, that's your thing)

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