A Few Pointers on Writing While Travelling

You’re not a writer if you’re not writing. I’ve heard it countless times, and true enough, while I might be suffering the first slings of burnout following this insane vacation, I did write my way through two weeks in Costa Rica.

If you, like me, fear losing your mojo by stopping your creative streak because of a vacation, then look no further: this post is for you:

A Few Pointers on Writing While Travelling

I’ve compiled, for your reading enjoyment, a few pointers to help you slog through your travels without having to stop writing.

Since I blog, I’m actively working on a short story project, and I’m working on novel revisions, I had to figure out some way of cramming some light gear into a backpack before heading into the Costa Rican rainforest. Vacation is never really vacation. I’ve gotten to that point in my life and my pre-career, and I know it at the onset: you take away my computer for two weeks, and I go a little crazy.

Hell no, I’m not going to write by hand. What do I look like, a monk?

I’m connected, people. I’m in the cloud. I use the shit out of my push notifications and you can bet I’m using my laptop, a tablet, and an iPhone to get those words down on the regular to spare my own stupid sanity because not writing for that length of time? That’s not only bad practice, but that’s guaranteed to turn me a bit batshit.

Let’s begin by contextualizing where I was headed, and the difficulties this presents:

Costa Rica 2016: Monteverde

This is Monteverde. It’s a cloud forest: high altitude, super humid, and it rains a lot. Sometimes it pisses, sometimes it pours, but mostly, you get this fine mist that looks really magical when snapping a photo, but will leave all your clean laundry sodden and stinky because you’ve been wearing the same shirt for three days and it’s lived in your backpack, dirty, for four more.

Costa Rica 2016: Manuel Antonio

This is Manuel Antonio. It’s a beach. Beaches have sand. It’s a romantic ideal to think you’re going to sit under a palapa with your laptop with your toes in salt water and write a few thousand words while accompanied (or inspired) by the little paper umbrella in your drink. It’s hot, sand gets into everything, and if you’re not watching the tide, everything gets sunk.

Now that I’ve dispensed with showing off a couple of my vacation pictures (ha! suckers!), let’s get to the meat of it.

Things to consider if you’re backpacking but want to write on the road

  • Too much extra weight in your pack sucks, so forget your laptop. Try a tablet with a keyboard instead. It’s lighter, smaller, and less of a pain in the ass to cart around when you have thirty pounds of gear. Soon, you’ll be so used to typing on that itty bitty keyboard and poking at your touchscreen, when you’re back in front of your laptop you’ll be leaving finger smears on your retina display. (Not funny at all. I’ve been doing this all week.) See below for my iPad Keyboard recommendation.
  • You can write on your phone. I do this regularly when trying to make my Midnight Society deadlines while on my way to work. It’s annoying, but it’s doable. Would not recommend for expediency, however. Word count, baby: I like a big one, and a big word count is hard to achieve when you’re typing without all ten fingers.
  • If you are going to be dealing with inclement weather, pack extra large ziplock to drop your gear into so it doesn’t get wet. I bought fancy ziplocs from MEC that cost me (I shit you not) $75 for three of ’em in different sizes for my phone, tablet, and Kindle; when I went traipsing through the rainforest with my sodden self, my gear remained dry. Ziplocs work with touch screens, so these also work for you when you’re on the beach and you want to read your e-reader but sit in the waves. Sidenote: Also effective for bathtub reading, or, messy wine drinkers who demonstrate a tendency to spill. (Don’t be embarrassed, it happens to the best of us.)
  • If your pack with your gear gets stolen, always have a backup plan — choose software that syncs to Dropbox, or iCloud, or Amazon Cloud, or wherever you store your stuff that is not exclusively on a physical hard drive. You lose the drive, you drop the drive, you drown the drive, you’re effed: you’ve lost your work. Don’t lose your work. Sync. Backup.

Gear Recommendations for Writers on the Road

I should point out that this is what works for me, and it’s taken a bit of time and tinkering to get the right mix of apps and gear working to my advantage. Still not at the 100% mark, since I’m a devoted Scrivener user for novel writing, and Scrivener is restricted to computer use and not mobile devices.

Soon, I hope, we will have an iPad app to go with the desktop.

A Tablet

I’ve been struggling for a while with my MacBook Pro. I love it/hate it. It’s a powerhouse, but it’s on the large side, and it’s often way too heavy to drag around with me. I did it the last time I went backpacking in Europe, and I got to blog comfortably the entire time, but running for a train with that thing and my gear on my back was not an experience I’d like to repeat.

I compromised by using an iPad Air 2, but writing directly on the iPad is likewise, a royal pain in the tuchus. For me to be as efficient as possible when producing the words, I need a keyboard — a slim, lightweight, aesthetically pleasing, functional, bluetooth keyboard.

Not like I ask for much. *shrug*

So I did a little digging and found this:

A Tablet Keyboard

The Logitech Canvas. Boom! Instant productivity with a low profile. Cost about $120 CAD at the Apple Store, and I don’t regret a cent of it. It’s got a little magnetic strip that holds the iPad in place while you’re clacking away, and the keys make very satisfying tap tap sounds.

Basically all you need, right?

Logitech Canvas

I produced six book reviews on the road, two blog posts, and I spent the bulk of my last day on airplanes writing a short story. (Something I’ve never managed before. I might’ve also scared the stuffing out of the kid sitting next to me in coach. That’s what you get for sitting next to someone writing ghost stories, kid.)

Big win. It’s so light that it’s become a permanent addition to my purse, which means I can write anywhere. And I have been. Whenever I bloody hell want.

Software Recommendations for Writers Who Travel

So. Here’s the deal. Being a devotee of Scrivener it follows that I should have figured out an interim way of syncing the Scrivener database with a non-proprietary tablet app. There are a few ways to do it, and a few apps to do it with, and I have tried before, but I… I… well.

It’s just not the same, is it?

A few of those tutorials can be found here, and here, and here. Try it out if you’re adventurous. In the process of searching for an alternative, I came across this article about Using Scrivener files with Storyist: a clever bridge solution aimed at converting Scrivener users to more expensive software that does sync with iPad and iPhone? Intriguing.

Storyist

Welp. I guess I’m a sucker, because I tried syncing my (massive) Scrivener document with Storyist, and I found the desktop app wanting. It doesn’t offer the same feature set as Scrivener, so it doesn’t preserve the exact same file structure. I doubt I’ll use it for any big work, but! But!! Between Storyist and Storyist for iPad, the syncing is seamless, so I happy imported a travel version of my manuscript to work on while on the road so that when I got home, the documents on my tablet would transfer over to my laptop without a fuss.

(They did, in case you’re curious.)

Granted, this necessitates exporting the document after I’m done with it, but since I didn’t make major changes and only produced new work to add, this worked out for me in the long run.

Oh! And those documents were all safely synced to iCloud whenever I connected to wifi so I was making automated backups whenever.

Storyist

Overall, a very good, very seamless experience that helped me get a ton of words down on a variety of projects.

I hope this was helpful for those of you considering bringing your work on the road. Even if you’re staying local but looking for a change of scenery for your writing, I’m pretty sure you can find some application to these notes.

Especially about the thing about reading your kindle while getting sloshed in your bathtub. Wine & books, baby.

 

Happy travels, happy writing!

 

Costa Rica 2016: Manuel Antonio

…Okay, so that was one more gratuitous vacation shot of Manuel Antonio. Now we’re done.

Until next time!

 

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