Back to Writing Gear Basics #amwriting

I have a regrettable tendency to over-complicate things. Mostly it happens due to impulsivity, made worse by ADHD. I’ve recently taken stock of my customary writing gear—in particular, the load I carry in my backpack. In order to make it practical to walk as much as possible to coffee shops and to the train stations to my part-time office in Chinatown, I’m doing a thorough overhaul and downsizing of what gear I choose to pack.

The upswing in gear started when I discovered Duet Display back in 2016. Not that Duet Display isn’t a fine, fine piece of software; it’s just that I decided I needed to have two displays all the time, so I needed to schlep my iPad and a cable along all the time, and I always needed to be able to plug the MacBook in, because—well, the MacBook assumes it’s supposed to charge the iPad, even when the iPad has more battery life left than said MacBook. So I had to take the MacBook power supply, and I might as well add another cable to charge my phone, and why not take my external hard drive? It only weighs a few ounces…

As of last week, for almost any writing expedition, I’d take:

  • MacBook Air 11
  • External hard drive for backups
  • Charger for the MacBook
  • Extension cord
  • iPhone with stand
  • iPad (mostly for use as a second screen) plus folding screen cover/stand
  • 2 Lightning cables for the iDevices
  • USB 3 hub so I can plug everything into the MacBook at once if needed
  • Bluetooth stylus
  • Charger for the stylus (just in case)
  • Non-electronic backup stylus (just in case)
  • 2 Bluetooth keyboards, one each for the iPad and iPhone (just in case I decided I wanted to work on the phone or the tablet—or both—instead of on the MacBook)
  • Mini USB cable to charge the keyboards (just in case)
  • Bluetooth mouse with extra batteries (see above)
  • Noise cancelling headphones with extra batteries (ditto)

When I got where I was going it would take me ten to fifteen minutes to set up and later the same to pack.

I started thinking about this when I realised that I almost never actually used the iPad any more as a second screen. I found a little-known feature of Scrivener, available even in version 2.x. This setting works in MacOS full-screen mode (as opposed to Composition Mode), and enables the Binder and the Inspector to slide in from the sides when I move my mouse to the left or right sides of the screen, respectively. This effectively increases the screen area available for Scrivener by nearly 40%. I wasn’t using my iPad because this feature is disabled if a second monitor is present. Also, I’ve become skilled at using a split full screen on the Mac, for those times when I’d like to have, say, Aeon Timeline on the screen at the same time as Scrivener. (Mostly though, I can’t do that because AT can’t sync a Scrivener project that’s open.)

Slide-in panels increase Scrivener’s apparent screen size.

I still need the mouse as it’s hard for me to touch-type on the MacBook without accidentally hitting the touch pad which moves the insertion cursor, with hilarious but irritating results. (I’ve set up the mouse to disable the touch pad.) When I’m at my part-time office, I can borrow a big monitor from the monitor pool, and then a BT keyboard comes in handy. But I’ve dropped the following from my list, and my pack feels a lot lighter.

Items dropped:

  • External hard drive for backups
  • stand for iPhone
  • iPad plus folding screen cover/stand
  • 1 Lightning cable
  • USB 3 hub
  • Charger for the stylus
  • 1 Bluetooth keyboard (keeping the one that has a built-in iPhone stand, thus avoiding duplication)

When I’m going to my office rather than to a coffee shop, I can also leave behind the extension cord. If I’m going to a coffee shop I can leave behind the second BT keyboard. If I’m only going for an hour or two, I’ve taken to just packing the iPhone, a keyboard, a couple of cables, a USB adapter—and the headphones. I might see if I can come up with a really lightweight and compact extension cord—alternatively I might carry a small external battery. But that’s it.

Where does this leave my poor lonely iPad? I’m not sure. I really like its bigger screen, but I can’t use it as a phone. 95% of what I can do with the iPad can be done on the iPhone 6s Plus’ large screen (for a phone) as well, and the rest can be worked around. And there are many things that I can do with the MacBook that absolutely cannot be done on iPad (or iPhone.) Sometimes I go days without opening the iPad’s cover. I suppose I should sell the silly hunk of aluminium and simplify my life, but as you can tell, I’m emotionally attached to it.

A problem for another day.