Your NaNoWriMo Portable Writing Studio: No Computer Required

One reason a lot of writers tell me they’ve never tried NaNoWriMo, the annual November challenge to write 50,000 words in a month, is that they can’t fit in long writing sessions; they work and have other commitments, or they don’t have a portable device and can’t write at home because there are too many distractions.

Image Credit Green chameleon

One strategy for coping with the requirement to write every day for NaNoWriMo is to have a portable writing studio that doesn’t rely on digital technology and a convenient electrical outlet for writing. The “portable” part means you can carry the basic necessities to make any place your writing studio. The “basics” are what you personally need to be able to write. They need to be portable (and I really do mean “the basics”) and you need to have a convenient way to carry them.

Everyone’s Portable Writing Studio (PWS) is a little bit different. For some writers, it means having everything they need for several hours of intense writing, including food and drink. For others, it means their notebook and pen (or pencil), and grabbing ten minutes here and fifteen there, to write. Your PWS will reflect the way you write. You might need a small backpack; others will be able to pack their studio in a slim messenger style bag, or even in a back pocket, for the true minimalist.

It’s a matter of personal preferences, with the goal of being able to write effectively, without distractions, and without the need for electricity. For some, that means a battery powered tablet or minimalist laptop; for me, that means paper, pen and pencil.

It took me a couple of years to figure out what I really need to write effectively almost anywhere; there was a lot of trial and error, and it changed for me recently because it became  harder to rely on the ubiquity of the Internet for backup and the availability of electrical outlets for power. I mostly write in long sessions; 90 minutes or so, then a break away from my chair for 15 or 20 minutes.

My PWS consists of:

    1. 1 “large” A4 (c. 8.5” x 11”) or B5 (“composition notebook” sized) notebook with good paper (suitable for a fountain pen)
    2. 1 “medium” A5 (c. 5.7 x 8.3) notebook with good paper1)Good paper is a matter of personal choice and intended use; I want to be able to take notes with a fountain pen without a lot of bleed-through, or with a pencil and be able to erase the pencil easily without smearing
    3. 1 fountain pen with spare ink cartridges in blue or blue-black
    4. 1 fountain pen with spare ink cartridges in green
    5. 1 Kuro Toga mechanical pencil with spare lead
    6. 1 Tombow Knock eraser with refill
    7. 1 set over-ear headphones
    8. 1 iPhone with music/ambient nature recordings for writing

I fit this in a small messenger bag, with room to spare for a bottle of water or a snack. I do a lot of writing in places where connecting to the Internet or electricity is problematic, or downright impossible because the AC outlets aren’t usable or are in use. That means I’m often writing by hand, with handwriting that only I can read. I draft and take notes and plan by hand, and later, keyboard the actual draft. Often I don’t have time to type up the previous day or night’s work, so I begin the next session by making a clean copy of the writing from the previous session, and revise as I go. This process of making a clean copy and revising really helps me get back into the flow of what I’m writing.

I use the larger “composition” sized B5 notebook for drafting, notes, and planning; I use the smaller notebook for clean copies of drafts, to keyboard later. I use Mead Composition books that are made in Vietnam from sugarcane; they work well for first drafts with fountain pen or pencil (I can write on both sides of the paper) and cost less then $1.00 on sale.2)Look at the back of the notebook for a tiny label that says Made In Vietnam, and sometimes, the word sugarcane will be included I use an A5 sized notebook (c. ) with decent paper for my clean copies. This might be a Scribbles that Matter notebook, or a Baron Fig notebook, or a no-name similarly-sized notebook with decent paper (lined or dot-grid for me).

Test whatever notebook you plan to use with the pens and / or pencils you’ll use, to make sure they’ll work for you.

I frequently my rough draft in pencil, writing as fast as I can before the ideas melt away. I’ll revise in ink, or use a different color of ink, if I need to distinguish between versions or possible alternatives. I’m a multiple drafts/recursive reviser sort of writer, usually, so I’ll draft and revise, and then copy a clean draft in the smaller notebook.

I like the Kuro Toga mechanical pencil because it’s designed to rotate a little each time you press and lift the pencil up from the paper; that means it’s never dull. I like Tombow Knock erasers because they let me erase precisely and very cleanly.

I prefer to write with fountain pens because it’s easier on my hands; fountain pens glide over the paper. When I’m writing away from home I use pens I can afford to lose, like the Platinum Preppy.

I listen to a playlist of downloaded local music or ambient nature sounds on my iPhone to help mask background sound.

A Possible “Minimalist” PWS:

      1. 1 Pocket sized notebook (c. 3½” × 5½” c.30–48 pages)
      2. 1 multipen or a pencil.

The idea behind the minimalist PWS is that you can fit your notebook and pen in your pocket, literally. You can write anywhere you happen to be. The poster child for “pocket” notebooks are the small paper bound Field Notes; there are similar notebooks on Etsy, and from a number of other companies. Some writers use one small notebook per chapter, and carry a second notebook for background note, plot ideas, etc. Some people like to use a single small bound A6 notebook like Moleskine or Leuchturm; they still fit in a pocket.

A multipen means that you have more than one color of ink available, and even a pencil or stylus, depending on the base pen. You can write wherever you are, whenever you have ten minutes, with the intention of either keyboarding your current work later or making a “clean” copy by hand after you edit.

It’s not too late to create your own PWS for NaNoWriMo. What’s in your PWS for writing anywhere, anytime?

Originally published on AbsoluteWrite.com

References   [ + ]

1. Good paper is a matter of personal choice and intended use; I want to be able to take notes with a fountain pen without a lot of bleed-through, or with a pencil and be able to erase the pencil easily without smearing
2. Look at the back of the notebook for a tiny label that says Made In Vietnam, and sometimes, the word sugarcane will be included