• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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How May I Help You?

Hi Betsy,
I have been looking at Netbooks lately and was wondering if you have an opinion on their usefulness to writers? I’ve visited our local Best Buy Store and have asked a lot of questions but alas I still not sure. This will be a backup computer, one to take along to the coffee shop or to class.
I’ve been following your blog now for sometime. I have a well-worn copy of your The Forest for the Trees … a book I recommend and often use in the classroom (I teach creative writing at our local community college.)
Thought I’d ask

Dearest Darling Reader:

It’s funny, I often get mistaken at Best Buy as a salesperson. I don’t know, maybe it’s my bright blue polo shirt and canary yellow name tag. Or maybe it’s because I’m so darn helpful and knowledgeable about computers. It’s  hard to say.

 I am beyond grateful that you read my blog, my book, and teach it. In my world, you are a perfect human. Sadly, I can’t return the favor on the technology front. I write everything in long hand including my two books and this post. When anything goes wrong on the computer I act like a two year old. And I’ve surveyed half of North America trying to figure out if I should get a Mac or a PC. Does anyone have any advice for me?

Why Was I Born a Woman?

Finally, the last time I was at Best Buy, the kid who helped me didn’t have any aspirations toward being Employee of the Month or a manager. He was a drummer in the metal band, Fate’s Divide.

28 Responses

  1. I write EVERYTHING in long-hand, before I am ultimately forced to painstakingly plug it into the computer. Can’t comprehend why agents and editors won’t just welcome my gel pen-scrawled notebook pages.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth, my 18-year-old electronics genius son has both a PC and a Mac, but barely uses the PC. He swears Macs are superior in every way. And he was more knowledgeable than any Best Buy clerk even when he was eight. Though he played the piano, not the drums, so clearly that made him less competent.

  2. I like Macs, as demonstrated by this shot of my desk. That being said, it doesn’t really matter whether you use Windows, Linux, or OS X; all of them have fine, stable word processors.

    That being said, I prefer desktops because they tend to be more reliable and cost less, as described at the link. The new 27″ iMacs are particularly nice. But it honestly doesn’t matter much: get a $400 Dell with a 20″ monitor and you’ll still have a very nice set up. What actually matters is the time you spend with your ass in the seat, not what you’re facing while you write.

  3. Betsy, I’d like to offer you a complimentary membership to Luddites of the North. We meet twice a week in a rock shelter. Bring your own charcoal for writing. Candles are provided.

  4. I have Mac envy. I wish I had a Mac. They are so pretty and stable and update themselves. They have great gadgets and make you look cool in coffee houses.

  5. One word: Scrivener. This more than any other reason is why writers should own a Mac. I’ve been using it for about six months now, and can’t imaging going back to plain old MS Word. Scrivener is an absolute joy to write with. Check it out, http://www.literatureandlatte.com/ then go get yourself a nice MacBook Pro and be the envy of everyone at the coffee shop.

  6. Macs get fewer viruses, look better, update easier and are more user friendly. Still, I agree, nothing beats pen to paper for an automatic writing rush.

  7. I have a PC. I feel like, if I had a Mac, I’d turn smug.

  8. I’m a computer Luddite, too. My advice – go for a Mac. The extra expense is worth it for the ease of use.

  9. Jennibailey is hilarious.

    I adore my little netbook. I take it everywhere and do a ton of writing on it. It’s a Samsung NC10. The most highly rated, I think.

  10. It’s all about the smell, folds. netbooks smell like, well, harkin back to Mrs. Robinson…plastic!

    The smell of old books analysed by scientists
    Old books smell like grass, with a tang of acidity and a hint of vanilla, according to scientists who have discovered a way to tell the condition of an works by their odour.

    Published: 7:36AM GMT 12 Nov 2009

    The system can measure the degradation of old books and historical documents on the basis of their aroma.

    Now the scientists say their non-destructive “sniff” test could help libraries and museums preserve a range of prized objects, some of which are degrading rapidly due to advancing age.

    Matija Strlic, a chemist at University College London, and lead author of the study, and her team note that the well-known musty smell of an old book, as readers leaf through the pages, is the result of hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper.

    Dr Strlic; said: “The aroma of an old book is familiar to every user of a traditional library.

    “A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.

    “It is the result of the several hundred VOCs off-gassing from paper and the object in general.

    “The particular blend of compounds is a result of a network of degradation pathways and is dependent on the original composition of the object including paper substrate, applied media, and binding.”

    She said those substances hold clues to the paper’s condition. Conventional methods for analysing library and archival materials involve removing samples of the document and then testing them with traditional laboratory equipment. But the new approach involves no damage to the document.

    The new technique analyses the gases emitted by old books and documents without altering the documents themselves.

    The scientists used it to “sniff” 72 historical papers from the 19th and 20th Centuries. Some of the papers contained rosin (pine tar) and wood fibre, which are the most rapidly degrading types of paper found in old books.

    The scientists identified 15 VOCs that seem good candidates as markers to track the degradation of paper in order to optimise their preservation.

    Dr Strlic said, in the report published in the latest issue of Analytical Chemistry, that the method could also help preserve other historic artefacts.

    from Telegraph Books

  11. I loved this post.

    The last time I had to go to PC World (after my old laptop’s funeral) I just walked in with my Visa card, and said, ‘Quick. Sell me something. Anything that knows English and has all its keys. I like blue.’

    Thanks for the links the comments have produced–maybe next time I’ll be a bit more informed LOL.

  12. great discussion. loved this post as well. i’m a mac person and will stay a mac person but have wondered about the netbook thing. will need to read more in the links above re scrivener and also netbooks v laptops. betsy’s still cracking me up regularly. thankful this blog exists.

  13. I can’t imagine writing a book long hand. That alone is an accomplishment.

  14. I just ordered my new imac thanks to y’all (or most of you). I’m going for the 21 incher because I’ve heard that size doesn’t matter.

  15. I was going to stay out but I haven’t seen this advice yet so here goes: my husband uses Macs, I use PC. There are sometimes conversion problems with Word documents, from PC to Mac. Considering 95% of the publishing business uses PCs, you might consider saving yourself potential future hassle and stick with a PC.

    Mac users do not beat me up! That will not change the fact that there are conversion problems! I like Macs, I use an iPhone, we’re buying a Mac for my in-laws for Christmas! But for writing biz stuff, I use a PC.

  16. Then there’s the Neo, which removes all possibility of getting sidetracked by email and non-productive surfing.


  17. Alma, I don’t want to start a big flame-war here, but I use both Macs and PCs, and have for about 15 years, and I’ve never had any conversion issues with Microsoft Word from Mac to PC, or back. There may be some issues with versions not being compatible (for a while you couldn’t open the new docx documents in older versions of Word). But honestly, this isn’t an issue. If you are experiencing something along these lines my bet is there is another issue altogether.

    • I too have had experience with Macs and PCs for at least 15 yrs. Until the most recent versions of MS Office for Mac, there were notorious issues with conversions. And it’s not just with MS Office. You’re lucky if you haven’t had any issues, or maybe you have the time to work out by hand the myriad little problems that crop up. I’m just saying if you’re not particularly computer savvy and have to work in a hurry, shuttling Word docs hither and yon, you might want to save yourself the occasional hair-pulling exercise and sidestep the whole issue by not using a Mac in a PC environment.

  18. I eschew netbooks for a deluxe PC and a very low-tech word processor, my Alphasmart Neo. It’s a tough little take-anywhere laptop with a liquid crystal display that only shows a few lines at a time. Eight files. Twenty-five pages each. It doesn’t heat up like a real laptop and the three AA batteries last 750+ hours. From there I upload and edit on my real computer at home.

    Best of all? No net connection so no distracting games and no distracting porn. I get much more done, typing with two hands and all… The only distractions I have now are the hotties who approach me at the coffeeshop going, “Ooooh, What’s that gizmo?”

  19. Oh, yeah. And the NEO is dirt cheap.

    • Interesting. Thanks for this additional input. And Betsy, where did you find the photo of the five gents? I laugh hysterically every time I look at it with your caption below.

  20. I own a netbook; it’s my main portable computer, but not my main computer (that distinction belongs to the desktop that is currently not living up to its namesake; a deskunder would be more accurate).

    For portability, netbooks are great; I primarily use mine for taking notes in class or reading when I have a long wait. The battery life is quite nice, too.

    For writing, though, I would only recommend them as a secondary computer, and definitely not for editing. If you’re just producing text, they’re great. The screen size isn’t a huge impediment unless you edit as you write; if you’re churning out words, then a 10 inch screen is fine.

    However, the small screen size makes getting a ‘big picture’ both literally and metaphorically difficult. When it gets back around to slugging through and editing, I find that a real impediment. In my experience, you can usually fit about half a page on the screen, and at least when I edit, I like to have more then that.

    So it really depends on what you want to use the netbook -for-; if you only envision yourself using it to take notes or produce text, then I’d recommend it. If you want to use it to edit anything longer then a page, seriously consider getting a midrange laptop with a 15 inch screen.

  21. I bought a netbook about eight months ago after one of my kids tossed his skateboard on top of my beautiful mac and crushed the life out of it. I couldn’t afford to buy another one, so the $400 netbook was very attractive. The trouble with the netbook is that it KILLS your wrists. Something about the slightly smaller keyboard doesn’t work for my hands. Anyway, next time I lose a computer to skateboarding, I’m going to go into the Apple store, find a skater-dude employee and then weep in a scary menopausal way and see if he just hands me one to get me out of there. In the alternative, I plan to steal one.

    As for scrivener — I love that program. When you are sad about your work, you can upload photos or rearrange your bulletin board or otherwise fiddle around with stuff, thus continuing to work rather than drinking heavily. And the panic and depression seems to pass more quickly with scrivener than with gin.

  22. […] post comes in response to Betsy Lerner, who recently observed that she doesn’t work for Best Buy and therefore doesn’t know if an aspiring writer […]

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