Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Best Writing Tool You’ve Never Heard Of

By Dario Ciriello, @Dario_Ciriello 

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: If you're looking for a way to be productive without distractions, Dario Ciriello shares his experience with the Alphasmart Neo. 

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago and bemoaning my recent complete inability — or should I say lack of interest — in getting words on paper. Beyond the usual procrastination and displacement activity common to us all, I tried to defend my laziness with a number of pathetic excuses.

First, working as a freelance editor exacerbates my already dire tendency to edit as I write.

When I do try to write, everything from names to esoteric technology demands a quick detour onto the Internet, which I confess I enjoy a great deal more than writing.

And last of all, a recent injury has made it difficult, at least for the time being, to lug my 5 ½ pound laptop around without risking its destruction by gravity. 

“What I really need,” I complained, “is a cheap, lightweight, device that makes it hard to edit my work as I write, won’t connect to the Internet, and is portable and easy to use. I’d use a typewriter but then I’d have to retype everything into a Word file to edit it.”

My friend laughed. “I have just the thing for you, and it’ll only set you back $50 or so.”

And so it was that the Alphasmart Neo entered my life.

Originally created to teach kids to type, the Alphasmart, of which the Neo is the penultimate incarnation, is a lightweight (2 pounds), chunky, and supremely practical device, perfect for first drafts, working on beaches, on the front stoop, or pretty much anywhere. Powered by three AA batteries with a purported life of (gasp!) 700 hours, the Alphasmart features one of the best full size keyboards I’ve ever come across, certainly better than any laptop I’ve owned. 

With a basic spellchecker, dictionary, and calculator built in, but absolutely no way to connect to the Internet, the Alphasmart is the best thing that could happen to a writer prone to distraction and chronic self-editing. 

Yes, you can backspace, but the Neo’s eyesight-friendly LCD display limits the amount of text you can see to a degree where the temptation to constantly self-edit recedes before the sheer pleasure of free typing.

There are no discs, floppy or otherwise; your output is stored in eight separate onboard files, each of which can store up to 10,000 words. I needn’t point out that 80,000 words is, serendipitously, the length of an average novel. 

Once you’re ready to save your work, you simply connect the device to your PC with a USB cable and transfer your files. Charmingly, the Alphasmart transfers your files one byte at a time, encouraging you to reward yourself with a drink, snack, or reward of your choice while your masterpiece uploads as a text file ready for you to edit and reformat to your delight.

The Alphasmart range has been out of production for a few years now, but plenty of these devices are still available used on Amazon, eBay, etc., though I’m told prices are rising. 

My best advice to you is to add an Alphasmart Neo to your Christmas wish list right now and hope that Santa is good to you.

Happy holidays, and good writing!

Dario Ciriello is a professional author and freelance editor as well as the founder of Panverse Publishing.

Dario’s fiction includes Sutherland's Rules, a crime caper/thriller with a shimmer of the fantastic; Black Easter, a supernatural suspense novel which pits love against black magic and demonic possession on a remote, idyllic Greek island; and Free Verse and Other Stories, a collection of Dario's short science fiction work.

Dario’s 2011 nonfiction book, Aegean Dream, the bittersweet memoir of a year spent on the small Greek island of Skópelos (the real Mamma Mia! island), was an Amazon UK travel bestseller. The Fiction Writing Handbook: The Professional Author’s Guide to Writing Beyond the Rules (Panverse, 2017) is his second nonfiction work.

In addition to writing, Dario, who lives in the Los Angeles Area, offers professional editing, copyediting, and mentoring services to indie authors.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Panverse Publishing

About The Fiction Writing Handbook

A Unique Approach to the Craft of Writing Fiction

The Fiction Writing Handbook*
 is a complete guide for the fiction writer who wants to develop an individual voice and understand the reasons underlying the so-called rules of writing. Although a few rules really are necessary, the vast majority are either dogma or passing fads. Worse, so much advice like “show don’t tell” and “open with action” is often poorly explained and entirely misunderstood, causing writers no end of problems. Similarly, the importance of both character and narrative voice, as well as tone, cannot be overstated.

Drawing on twenty years of writing, critiquing, editing and mentoring experience, Dario Ciriello explodes writing myths, shreds conventional wisdom, and dissects the often misleading advice and diktats shouted at writers by books and blogs, agents and publishers. The Fiction Writing Handbook gives authors the necessary tools and insights to retake control of their story and make it unique.

Other topics covered in The Fiction Writing Handbook include external and internal dialog, writers' block, traditional vs. indie publishing, PoV (point of view), creating suspense, and much more.

Whether your interest lies in short stories, novels or screenwriting, The Fiction Writing Handbook shows you how to tell your story in your voice and place it before your audience, eschewing novel plotting formulas and cookie-cutter fiction to remain true to your own, exceptional vision while adhering to the few rules that actually matter. Because writing isn’t about prose wonks and industry insiders: it’s about the reader, and most of all it’s about telling a story. Your story.

*Originally published in 2017 under the title, "Drown the Cat"

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | iTunes | Indie Bound | Kobo | Panverse


  1. I thought of a writer friend before I even read this and said to myself, "I'll bet it's a Neo!" She's been using one for a couple of years now when she wants to sit out in her backyard in Scotland and enjoy the sunshine and lack of distractions as she writes.

    1. Anne,thank you for that.They're clearly popular with those in the know, then. It's really a very cool tool!


  2. I love this tip! Thanks for sharing. Okay, off to find one on Ebay!

  3. Brings back fond memories. Used one of these (or one similar) when I wanted a machine more efficient than my electric typewriter. Lots of water under the bridge since then!!

    1. They're more well-known than I'd realized it seems. Sounds like you had plenty of good times with it!