Last week’s Part One of Momming Monday featured the start of a discussion about working on the go. We covered a breakdown of the tasks we as writers generally need to accomplish. Now, it’s going to be up to you and your individual writing process to figure out which tasks you can take with you, and which are better left at home. This week, we’re talking how to work mobile.

Let’s start with what ideal, efficient mobile work feels like.

  • Flexible: Working mobile means that you’re rarely able to do so in optimal space, so the more you’re able to swap out one thing for another in the limited space you have, the happier you’ll be. This also goes for digital mobile work–laptops need plugs (and laps!), while paper solutions need light (at the very least).
  • Fast: If you’re mobile, it’s because you’re on-the-go in some form or another. You need to be able to both start and finish your work without taking too much time–if you’re shifting in a waiting line, or practice is over and all of a sudden it’s time to go now now now before the kids start eating furniture because dinner needs to be in ten minutes. You want to be able to pick up your stuff and git.
  • Focused: If you’re working mobile, chances are you’re stealing time in little slices. In order to get the most out of those little slices of time, you need to focus the work you want to accomplish in those time-slices. Carrying everything around, “just in case” is a bad idea–you’ll end up unable to work on anything because you can work on anything. Before you venture forth, decide what you want to accomplish while you’re out, and take only what you need for that. Take only that chapter’s worth of edits, only the relevant plot cards, only that section of the manuscript.

Next, let’s talk about the obvious divide–paper and digital.

Paper methods of toting your work can range from binders full of loose-leaf paper and entire manuscripts in printed-out form, to a simple handful of notecards or Post-it notes, and everything in between. Digital portability can mean anything from a laptop to a pad to a smartphone. Let’s delve, shall we?

Paper Portability

Paper works best when it’s modular. It is a lot easier to take a chapter of hard copy, or a stack of plot cards around with you if you’re only sticking to the ones you need and you have a convenient and easy way of handling them while you’re working in less than optimal conditions. So consider these tools:

  • Binders: If you are lugging around larger volumes of paper, I suggest sticking to nothing bigger than a 1″ binder.  Binders are flexible in that they allow you to move around paper, and sturdy in that they provide you with a rigid surface to write and/or organize. And you can cram them full if you need to.
  • Pockets: Nothing gets in your mobile working way more than the inability to keep your paperwork under control. A pocket–whether it’s integrated into the binder, or simply a Ziploc bag large enough to keep your papers and scraps and tools safely secured, keeps your work from turning into a mess.
  • Clips: I’m including clipboards in this, because I’m a recent convert. Clips hold things together (duh, I know) but they also allow you to separate and rearrange them into groupings. Clipboards both hold things together and provide a flat surface that can be used at odd angles without your paper sliding all over the place (total win/win).

Digital Portability

It can be tempting to lug everything around when you’re on the go, because you’ll never know what you’ll need. It’s especially easy when you’ve got a laptop or a pad. But laptops, in spite of the name, are not the only digital portables out there.

  • Laptops: Laptops are by far the most obvious, hence the name. Laptops, however, come in a range of sizes and weights. Some of those only qualify as portable if you’ve got 4 wheels or a forklift somewhere on your body.
  • Netbooks: Smaller than laptops, and the smallest “full functionality” computer outside of southeast Asia where they laugh at us for our ridiculously putzy internet speeds, netbooks are designed to be used in cafes and casual eateries when you just can’t leave your facebook alone. Long-term work on a netbook might find your fingers aching, because while they try, the keyboard is still a little more cramped than a full-sized. Netbooks are cheaper than many laptops, but even when they’re not, they do sacrifice some of that functionality (like sophisticated graphics cards or lots of memory), so if you work in a writing program,  you might experience some lag while the gerbils redraw your great-looking graphic-heavy collages.
  • Pads: While everybody thinks “iPad” and winces at the price tag, there are Android and WebOS-based pads out there, and they’re entering the market at a pretty aggressive clip by competing companies. I would suggest personally that you wait and see the prices come down a little and wait for functionality quirks to work out. But beyond that, many people report that the larger sized pads are quite comfortable to write on for short periods. Pads have the advantage of being instant on/off, and connected to the internets via wifi or mobile phone carrier. There are also hosts of apps that are compatible with basic word processing. You may never see Scrivener for Smartphone, but you may find something you can at least cut and paste in.
  • Smartphones: Yes, it’s hard on the eyes for anyone past the age of 16 sometimes, but don’t rule out your smartphone’s ability to capture small snippets of text and–for those of you thinking outside the textbox, audio. Your smartphone probably has a voice memo recorder and a camera – use those to your advantage.
  • Other electronics: Discrete voice memo recorders, dedicated e-readers, or e-writers (there’s this thing from Sharper Image that’s for sale at my Staples that may well become the electronic pad of the retro-future for doodlers).

I can’t tell you what the best tools are for your work process–only you can do that. I can tell you that I’ve used just about every one of these (except for the pad–like I said, I’m waiting for the prices to come down). Some worked brilliantly–for a time–but were unsustainable in the long run. Some parts of my work process are too private to work on in a coffee shop or at a practice. Others require a dining room table no matter what. I switch back and forth from a paper to a digital solution every other step in the process. But one thing I don’t do is accept the excuse that I couldn’t keep moving forward because I don’t have a toy or a tool.

Part 1 is here. Next week, I’ll talk addendums and attitudes.

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