What do you carry for a portable writing resort?

Minimum ‘stuff’ to take so you can write

What is the minimum you need to port your writing wherever you go?

There are different ways to write when you are away from your home base, and I’ve tried many of them, with the intention of taking advantage of small (few minutes to a couple of hours) to large (several weeks) periods of away time.

I find it useful, with my fogged brain, to work the details out on paper ahead of time – everything below gets a place on my checklist for packing. Then I take what I will need – without having to think in a hurry.

In my regular, mostly stay-at-home, life I have a very nice setup: hubby got me a huge high res TV for a monitor – 42” (diagonally, but who’s measuring?). I have my printer at my fingertips, plenty of desk space (if I keep it even moderately tidy), and file cabinets and drawers and plastic file trays galore.

I brought my daughter back to her college apartment, and am staying with her until she’s organized and ready for the new term. Not to be in the way when she doesn’t need me, I brought ‘my writing.’ We made the decision to go – within hours we were packed; she made an appointment at school and we didn’t have a lot of thinking time.

But I have had to do some thinking about what it means to be portable but still fully functional. I have all that storage at home for a reason – keeping each finished chapter in its own hanging folder makes it easy to find it later; keeping space to shove the WIP when a crisis arises and I have to use my writing desk and computer to do something in the real world also makes it easy for me to resume work once the crisis-du-jour is over.


I have an external hard drive, and the Mac Time Machine does an automatic backup every hour. At home I’m connected to Dropbox – which, as long as I don’t have the internet blocked with Freedom, will keep my files synced with the ones online. On travel, backup is taken care of IF I have access to WiFi – Dropbox will keep me safe. And I can email copies to myself for extra safety. I forgot to bring a USB portable thumb drive – will have to remember that next time.

I am a big go-to-paper person when stuck, so I need some kind of connection to a printer most of the time; I usually print out the text I’ll be working on and any auxiliary material before I leave home – this time I didn’t have time, so I’ll be figuring out how to connect to a non-Mac printer at someone else’s home.

The last part is the minimum configuration necessary to enable me to actually type text in, and that consists of the laptop, an extension cord for power (or working off the battery and charging overnight – the Macbook Pro has a decent battery life).


For a short period, I can live with the laptop keyboard. I prefer my IBM Selectric-like Unicomp keyboard at home (as a classically trained typist, the feedback from the keyboard is something I find soothing – though when my daughter fell asleep in my office I realized the clicking IS a bit noisy), but I adjust fairly quickly.

But I have to bring a real mouse and a mousepad of regular size – I tried using only the trackpad and drove myself nuts. I just shove my regular mouse and pad in with the laptop automatically now, after trying to do without on previous trips.

Software and paperware

Now that I have Scrivener and Dramatica, all those paper files that I used to need to organize things have become a relic of the past – I rarely use, and even more rarely update, those folders of sheets of paper for notes or research. My plot is neatly stored in a format I’m used to using, and it is completely portable and transparent: since I know I can find anything I want instantly, it makes no sense to print things out – I’m going to change them anyway.

Last addition: my current notebook and a handful of gel pens, so that no idea has a chance to escape just because I’m somewhere without the laptop, and voilà, we are portable.

Ready to go? Packing quickly

I noticed that on this trip everything came together in minutes. It used to take planning and notes and worrying about what I would need that I couldn’t take with me. So, progress.

What do you do special when you take your writing with you?

12 thoughts on “What do you carry for a portable writing resort?

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      For an extended stay I need more than a notebook and pen to make real progress. I’m a slave of editing on the computer, I’m afraid.

      For grabbing as I’m out the door: nothing. I have borrowed paper and pen at a hospital while waiting for a friend, at a restaurant, or written on a scrap in someone’s car. That’s for idea catching. For real writing, I have to set up a mini office.

      But, if you have time, at least grab the current notebook and a pen. I agree.


  1. kanundra

    Jee the minimum. A boat…. seriously I just can’t go anywhere without several things. But if push comes to shove. I make do with just a notebook and my mac. Luckily dropbox syncs everything. 🙂


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      How did we all manage before Dropbox? I sometimes feel guilty that I use such a small amount of the space they give me for free – I’m not used to the new model where FB and Dropbox and Wikipedia are free. I know they’re supported by the big users, but I get so much from the internet I feel I should make more of a contribution somewhere (I support Wikipedia every year).

      I love Heidi, my Macbook Pro.


  2. Will

    I decided a while ago that I wanted to unhook from as many roadblocks to my writing as I could (physically and process-wise). Part of this was inspired by finding myself trapped by too many proprietary formats (MS Word, Apple Pages, etc.). I use a Mac and an iPad, but if my equipment were stolen or damaged or circumstances forced me to use a different system (Windows or Linux or Android) I still wanted to be able to write, to pick up where I left off. This has shaped my thinking for a while, and I’m still experimenting.

    (And, yes, I’m rather “geeky” when it comes to writing, as you’ll see.)

    Here’s where I am so far:

    * Hardware

    iPad Air + Apple Bluetooth Keyboard + InCase Origami Workstation

    This is my “on the road” set up. Sets up quickly with a small footprint so I can work in just about any limited amount of space (restaurant, Starbucks, public transportation).

    I’ve moved completely away from desktop machines. My at-home workstation is a Macbook Air. This is where I use the software that does my “heavy lifting.”

    * Software

    I write exclusively in plain text because it’s universal. I can trade plain text files with anyone and edit on any platform (OS X, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android). I do formatting later and use MultiMarkdown (and I’m playing with Fountain when I take a stab at screenwriting).

    On the iPad I use Notebooks or Editorial to edit text. Both can render MultiMarkdown files.

    I use Dropbox for file exchange and syncing.

    I’ve been a Scrivener user for a while, but to render MultiMarkdown on my laptop I use the Marked app. Marked recently added a feature that builds large documents from collections of files, which is essentially what Scrivener does. I can keep notes and track updates using CriticMarkup and metadata in each file. Is this approach better? The jury’s still out for me, but it does remove one more proprietary piece of software from my workflow. Again, if I lose my laptop, I’m not scrambling to grab my files from a Scrivener project bundle.

    Marked can render Fountain files, although I prefer to use Highland.

    I do my note taking in Drafts for iOS and push them, along with reference material, to Evernote, since it’s cross-platform (I’m Mac-based, but I use an Android phone–long story). Drafts uses X-callback URL actions which let it tie into other apps to add functions. I use TextTool (by Black Fog Games) as a Swiss army knife for text manipulation, and it ties into Drafts and Editorial without much problem.

    And, finally, I rely on TextExpander to save keystrokes.

    * Accessories

    I have a CaseCrown over-the-shoulder messenger bag that holds my iPad, Origami case with keyboard and various cables, chargers, etc. For the laptop I have an InCase soft case which also holds charging cables, etc.

    I wouldn’t suggest that my approach is good for anyone other than me, but I thought I would share.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Will –

      It sounds like you have a lot of fun – and have thought this out very carefully.

      I personally won’t write in plain text – I use italics in very specific ways (https://liebjabberings.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/rules-for-punctuating-consistently-a-writers-unique-style/), and I need to use them AS I write, and I also need to SEE them as I write (so no marked up text in any way – I can’t stand to see something like [ ] in my file – need almost WYSIWYG on the screen). Which leaves me with text already partially processed – and into the formatting problems.

      Word seems fine with my Scrivener files which already have italics where I need them, EXCEPT for sometimes at the beginning and end of a scene (ie, at a break), so I have to watch for those 1) when the text goes into Word, 2) when I post the scenes on my blog FROM Word (tried doing it straight from Scrivener, but WordPress is already set up to take input from Word, and it works better that way), and 3) for whatever the final product (ebook, print book) will be. Known trouble spots are easily checked – but it IS annoying, because sometimes I do start or end a scene in a character’s thoughts (italics), and it is annoying to look at them, realize I already made the decision to put something into italics, and that some software program has reversed my decision – and I’m lucky I caught it. Sometimes it messes it up for a paragraph or two.

      As for letting ANY pieces of software correct my typing or spelling, a pox on that. Every time I use autofill programs I get typos and errors I wouldn’t make. I turn them ALL off in ALL programs I use, including phones, iPad, Mac, Word – ALL. My fingers usually catch mistakes, too.

      People work differently – your system works for you, and it was interesting to read. You’re set up for all eventualities – I write mostly at home, but you can write anywhere.

      Trick is to do as you have – think it through, solve all your problems, and get to the WRITING.

      BTW, what DO you write?


  3. serendipitydoit

    You are very organised, Alicia. Like you, I love the sound of the keyboard, but I like to use paper and pen too. I am forever buying notebooks and journals, pens and paints. I must practicing using Scrivener; it would be a great help with keeping everything organised.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I do paper less and less for note-taking, because once you type something into Scrivener, it is searchable – and if you don’t remember where you put it, you can turn the WHOLE Scrivener project into a single, searchable file (Scrivenings mode – choose all possible files where you might have put it) – and find what your brain tells you is there somewhere, with one search command.

      Beats digging through individual files for something you know is in there somewhere, but can’t remember where.

      And I have a whole stack of notebooks, plus gel refills I bought 100 at a time (better price online) for my gel pens – and they are going to last years now, because I hate writing things by hand and losing the ability to search.

      But I still like working on a scene or chapter on paper – it engages the brain differently. And a notebook by the bed or with me on the plane is easier than dragging out the laptop. If I have a lot to transcribe into Scrivener, I can use Dragon.

      Happy writing.



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