The New Writing Set-Up

I've made some recent changes and acquisitions with regards to my daily working environment which I thought it might be worthwhile detailing. The keys on my two and a half year old Macbook have been getting progressively spongier-feeling and less responsive, until finally the 's' key in particular became very nearly inoperative over the last several weeks. Other keys felt like they were starting to go the same way. I could have got the keyboard replaced for the equivalent of about £150, which is not an unreasonable amount to spend on fixing or upgrading the machine on which your livelihood rests, but a few browsing sessions for solutions and a few Twitter conversations, most particularly with Orin Thomas, author of innumerable computer manuals, led me to an alternative solution: a Roost keyboard stand, and an external keyboard.

That the keyboard should begin to fail in this way is, in all honesty, hardly surprising. According to Scrivener, the submitted draft of The Deeps, the sequel to Extinction Game, contains approximately three quarters of a million keystrokes. Add in all the previous drafts and notes, and you could easily double that to one and a half million. Add in Extinction Game itself, and most of Marauder as well, and that's a heck of a lot of pounding for a single laptop keyboard to take. And even that's not including innumerable Facebook and blog entries, tweets, Google queries, emails and so on.

Put it all together and that's upwards of maybe five million individual keystrokes over the last couple of years. No wonder it started feeling a bit mushy and unresponsive. Still, you live and you learn.

You can can see the new setup in all its glory in the photograph above. The Roost stand, I believe, was the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign. It's supremely light, being made out of carbon fibre, very easy to use, very, very stable, and hopefully will reduce the crick in my neck that's been bothering me recently when I go out on long cycling expeditions in the hills and mountains around Taipei. I find from looking around the net that a lot of people have a similar set-up, and I think it very likely indeed that even once the current Macbook gets upgraded for something newer in a couple of years time, I'll continue with this set up. Apart from anything else, it isolates the Macbook from random desk-based threats, such as spilled liquids.

The external keyboard - also Apple, naturally - has the same wonderful responsiveness and lightness of touch that for me is one of the defining features of the Macbook experience. It's a genuine delight to write on, no exaggeration. I might add an external touch pad at some point in the future, but for now this combination works just fine.

Speaking of liquid spills, that big red mug to the right is a Mighty Mug. If you smack it on the side, it Does. Not. Fall. Over. It wobbles a bit, but sticks to the desk like it was glued there. The trick, apparently, is in the design of the material used in the base, which is, I believe, modelled after the same trick Gecko lizards use to stick to walls. In fact, you can do precisely that - stick it to a wall, so long as the surface is smooth and flat enough. To unstick it, you just lift it straight up, easy as that.

I also recently acquired a Logitech Ultrathin keyboard cover cheap off Ebay for my Ipad Air. I must admit, although the Ipad felt useful, I couldn't make up my mind whether or not it was in fact essential. The Logitech, however, is shifting my opinion away from the former and closer to the latter. It's also much smaller and lighter to carry them than the Macbook, which is a regular Macbook, and not one of the thin and light Air models.

Of course, you might say why not just buy a Macbook Air then? But the fact is I am a touch clumsy by nature, and all too aware of it. Buying something that light and fragile that's going to get used on a daily basis and have numerous novels banged out on it is really just asking for trouble. I think they're great for people doing a lot of travelling, but my Macbook is more in the nature of a semi-portable workstation.

But with the Ipad plugged into this keyboard, it's much easier to head for a local 7/11, grab a soft drink and work away at a window overlooking the park. Similarly, if I want to head into the centre of Taipei and eat and then find somewhere quiet and comfortable to work, I have something that satisfies the need for both a tablet computer and an ultra-portable laptop.

Finally, although the photograph doesn't quite make it clear enough, I have a stand that can hold both my Kindle Paperwhite and my Ipad sans case. It's a 'Magic Mobile Stand' I picked up in a shop in Songshan Creative and Cultural Park, and looks like a cross between a tiny Lego set and some Tetris pieces. You can configure it to hold a bunch of mobile devices, then slot it together into a little rectangle about the size of a matchbox you can throw in your bag and forget about. Very useful for me when, say, I'm out eating somewhere and I want to read something on my Kindle. And very fun, in a gadget-y sort of way. 


Unknown said...

Dratted newfangled stuff !
If clay tablets were good enough for UR and Sumer they should be good enough for you.
Sent via pigeon post

Gary Gibson, science fiction writer said...

Pigeon Post? Pigeon Post? What the hell happened to good old-fashioned drums in the jungle, eh? Next you'll be telling me you've harnessed the power of lightning!

Anonymous said...

Looks good and uncluttered. Just had a conversation with the gf where she pointed out that I need to set something similar up.

Personally I don't see the point in stands ... but that's just me. I also use an external keyboard but it's just a basic old Dell keyboard which I like and it's cheap (being um... free).

Gary Gibson, science fiction writer said...

There's something to be said, though, for the visceral pleasure of working with very well-engineered tools that encourage you to work. Just writing on this external keyboard feels so damn good. And my back and neck do occasionally give me trouble, and raising the height of the computer is good for that. Also beneficial if you like the idea of standing up when you work. Anything that makes the process of staring at a computer screen and working for long hours smoother, more enjoyable and ultimately healthier has got to be good.

paul f cockburn said...

Since I purchased a Logitech keyboard for my iPad (a frankly prehistoric 3rd generation model–sigh!), it's effectively become my default laptop when I'm out and about–the MacBook Pro now seldom ever leaves my desk, let alone the flat! (That said, the MacBook's still my main writing tool, especially when it comes to articles, invoices and such like.)

Gary Gibson, science fiction writer said...

Paul - I find I'm heading the same way, with the Ipad as my go-to laptop and the Macbook situated effectively permanently at home - although it'll be entirely perfect once the iPad version of Scrivener finally, finally appears.

Brian Mansur said...

Nice, tidy set up. Is that a 13" Retina? Hard to tell at this resolution. If you have the extended Apple warranty, you should still be able to get the keys fixed for free. If you complain (politely) enough at the genius bar, sometimes they work out a little discount.

Since you already write a lot at your desk, if you have the means perhaps you could trade up to a $2500 iMac Retina. Fewer ergonomic issues.

Brian Mansur said...

Lol! Loved that. Then again, how much do we read their literature nowadays? Perhaps the ability to edit their epics would have made them better. Smudging out those Sanskrit errors had a tendency to ruin the line above.