Dana Alphasmart & The Writers’ Retro Revolution

photos of dana alphasmart

typewriterJust lately I’ve noticed a quiet but growing army of writers who’re turning their backs on current technology in the name of simplicity and creative freedom. Sick of information overload and app multi-tasking, they’re turning to creation without distraction, setting themselves free from constant social notifications, email and mindless surfing.


For years we clamoured for more functionality in our writing apps. We wanted dedicated, customised formatting, outlining and planning functionality. We wanted script writing and story writing templates with clues on story structure built in. We wanted storyboards, timelines and index cards, and more recently we wanted to export files that were indie-publishing ready.


Developers heard us, and we got what we wanted. It started a love/hate relationship with the computers we rely on.


Dedicated Writing Software

Scrivener is the master of writing apps. It does everything bar write the story for you. From session targets to mobi exports, research integration, sophisticated annotation and more, Scrivener knows how and makes it simple. It’s been my writing app of choice for four years (I bought my Mac just so I could use it), and I love it as much today as I did at first sight.


But man, that screen is busy. Happily, there’s a full screen composition mode that gets rid of all the clever clutter and lets you focus on the words. Because when a project starts, it’s all about the words. The fancy gizmos for organising and editing come into their own much later in the creation process.


Another writing app, Ulysses, is a similar beast although more slimline in function. I’ve only played with it a little because my heart belongs with the Literature and Latte crew, but if you’re looking for a dedicated writing app, it’s well worth a look. There’s a trial version that works for 10 hours. And if you want to read what other another writer has to say, David Hewson has a couple of good posts about it on his blog.


And that leads me nicely into the point of this post. David Hewson’s most recent blog entry on Ulysses mentioned that George RR Martin wrote Game of Thrones using a DOS computer running Wordstar, an antiquated word processor. Martin says he likes it because it’s just for writing. No spell check, no internet, no nothing. Just the words.


Learning that one of my favourite authors is part of the writers retro revolution pleased me no end.


Dana Alphasmart

I was around when computers had green screens and no hard drives (go on, you can do the maths). My first one had twin floppies and I used a word processor called Borland Sprint. Later I graduated to 3.5 inch floppies and a 250mb hard drive. My first printer was a dot matrix. The internet was still science fiction.


Dana Alphasmart for distraction free writing
The Dana Alphasmart goes far enough back in time for me.


My antiquated machine of choice today is the Dana Alphasmart. I remember Alphasmart from when they first made their appearance back in the nineties. I wanted one then. Fast forward a couple of decades and I’d forgotten about them until a writing friend mentioned that she’d bought a 3K model and loved it.


Would it really be useful? Curiosity piqued (and nostalgia riding roughshod over sense) I started watching them on eBay and Amazon – and eventually gave in, snagging an auction Dana for just over twenty quid. Bargain.


I have to tell you, it’s super. Charmingly retro, beautifully simple, and the perfect muse partner when the words are the most important thing.

photos of dana alphasmart
It’s got apps, but not as we know them. They don’t tempt me to play.


Back in the day, I wrote my first novel on a portable typewriter, and this little blue Dana takes me back to those days of joyful creation. I’d hate a typewriter now, I think, because I’m used to the low profile tippy tap of the modern keyboard. The keyboard quality, or possible lack of it, was my one big worry about the Alphasmart machines. Having never used any but the Dana I can’t speak for the others, but the Dana keyboard is lovely. Tippy tappy, light touch, no louder than your average laptop, responsive, and very easy on the fingers. Perfectly sized, too.


I’m proud to be part of the retro revolution. Writing, believe me, is a richer experience without the siren song of wifi. I’m not sure I’d go as far as a DOS computer and Wordstar (or Sprint), but the Dana Alphasmart suits me very well.


How about you? I’d be interested to hear what other writers think about the movement towards a simpler way of working. If you’re part of the revolution, what’s your method of avoiding current technology? Pen and paper? Typewriter? DOS? Alphasmart? I’d love to know.

Dana Alphasmart & The Writers’ Retro Revolution

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