Tag Archives: Richard Beaty

Change In Posting Schedule

After much thought I’m going to move the posts to every other week. Currently my wife and I have too much on our plates and anything that does not produce revenue has to be lowered in priority. This should be temporary with regular weekly posts resuming in the June/July time frame.

 

 

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Do You Have a Productive Printer?

The days of typing a manuscript to send off to a publisher seem like ancient history to younger writers. The number of publishers requiring printed manuscripts shrinks daily. And some authors write, edit, submit, and publish without ever touching paper. The whole eco-arguement aside, is this the best way? The printed -I’m talking ink and toner here- word can be a good thing.
I started using a computer when I was eleven. It was a time when the era of huge inflation was giving way to the era of huge hair, but I digress. To get to the point, I was raised on paper. There are times I hate paper. This time of year is one of them, taxes and the annual file cabinet purge have me surrounded. Then there are times I insist on paper. For final editing, there is no better medium than paper. It’s easier on the eyes, it doesn’t require a battery or outlet, it’s portable, works on most surfaces, and never blue screens while you’re reading a sentence. And a shout-out to the green minded, it’s recyclable. The hidden issue with printing what you write is cost. Ink, toner, paper, the amount of time it takes all add up. This is why we need to look at printer technology. A printer, is not a printer, is not a printer. You would not use a finishing hammer to replace shingles and you would not use an InkJet printer to print your 500 page manuscript.
Printers put words on paper using two different technologies. InkJet, which sprays or paints the words on the page. Consider this the machine version of fountain pens. The other is laser. This technology uses a powered ink, called toner. The toner is transferred to the paper using an electrical charge and then fused to the page with heat.
Why choose one over the other?
Two main items set these technologies apart. Cost per page and speed. Let’s look at two Hewlett-Packard printers. A basic DeskJet 1000 and a LaserJet Pro P1102w.
For comparing the two printers, we’ll use a 100,000 page manuscript, assuming 250 words per page to give a real world example of 400 pages.
DeskJet 1000 LaserJst Pro P1102W
Cost $29.90 $159.99 These are retail prices from hp.com. Most likely you can find either printer on sale
Speed (PPM) 5.5 19 Laser is 3X Faster
Resolution *=(DPI) 600 1200 Laser will be more crisp
Duty Cycle # pages/month 1,000 5,000 You can get 5X more productivity from the laser
Tray Capacity 60 sheets 150 More time writing and less time filling up paper trays
Ink/Toner cost $13.99 for 165 sheets$27.99 for 480 sheets $68.00 for 1600 sheets You’ll spend over $100 in ink for the same capacity of toner
Cost Per Page $13.65 cart – $0.085$27.99 cart – $0.058 $68.00 cart – $0.04 At 400 pages that’s $23.20 vs. $16.  You just paid for lunch!

The cost difference per page is only 0.018. But as Grandma used say, if you pay attention to the nickels and dimes, you’ll soon have dollars?

Given the same number of pages, the InkJet will take over an hour to print what the LaserJet will kick out in 20 minutes. The duty cycle spec tells us InkJet will wear out more quickly. The cost savings in ink will quickly pay for the increased cost of the laser printer.

The numbers indicate that laser technology may be the way to go. But don’t run out to the nearest office supply store yet!
If you write for magazines and only need to print 20 pages per month, InkJet tech may be the most cost-effective and cash flow friendly option for you. However, if you’re working on the next novel that will make War and Peace look like a bathroom read, then laser tech makes more sense. Only you can decide what makes the best productivity fit for your situation.
If you don’t use a printer in your writing process, I urge you to give it a try. I’ve found that printing a manuscript with a 14 or 16 point serif font on yellow paper, makes those punctuation and  spell check errors stand out. Plus I can stretch out on the backyard swing under our red bud tree while editing.
Next week we’ll explore duplexing, scanning, WiFi, Air Print, and color options.
Are you a paperless author or one who will risk the dreaded paper cut? Please share why you think paper or paperless is the best way to go.

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Creativly Link You Social Network Accounts

Most social media sites have made it easy to link your accounts. But what if you want to link more than just Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn? What if you want to link your Google reader account to Twitter and use a specific hash tag? Or Instapaper to Facebook pages?

Face it, not all social media sites play well together. WordPress plays well with your primary Facebook account and Twitter, but isn’t so cooperative with Facebook Pages. And what if you don’t want to link all your accounts together? Do you really want every Tweet going out to all your social media feeds?

Some creative folks out west have created a solution just for this. The site ifttt.com is still in beta, but it is one of the most innovative services on the Internet. The service is currently free. Simply create an account and your off and running. You can create tasks that link different social media sites. They refer to the differing services has channels. Basically you ink your ifttt account to a service in the channel list. Then you create a task with a trigger.

For those of you who follow theWriteTechnology on Facebook and Twitter (@theWriteTech) you may have noticed some posts have ‘via ifttt’ associated with them.  I have created tasks that automatically check for blog updates and then post to my Facebook Page for the tWT. I’ve also create tasks that link my Google Reader account to Facebook Pages and Twitter using tags. When I’m reading an article in Google Reader I think needs to be reTweeted from @theWriteTech I add the appropriate tag and the magic happens. It reTweets the article for me. I have created separate trigger tags that add different Twitter hash tags. For example, if I think an article is good for the #writetip, I have a unique trigger tag that automatically adds the #writetip hash tag to the Tweet. The same goes for publishing tips. There’s a separate trigger tag that can reTweet an article with the #pubtib hash tag.

This site saves a lot of time when it comes to sharing information with other writers. If I’m sitting in the doctor’s office reading an article or simply browsing posts over lunch, by adding a tag in Google Reader I can share the information over any social media channel I have linked to ifttt.com.

The site currently has channels for over 40 services. This includes WordPress, Gmail, Pinboard, Facebook, Google Reader, Readability, Twitter, Delicious, Evernote, YouTube, LinkedIn, and more. No longer do you have to remember to post something when you get back to your computer. Now you can do it from your smartphone or tablet with ease. This site will reduce the time you spend on social media and allow for more writing time.

Now stop thinking about your next excuse for burning through your writing time and get down to business. Close out you browser and open your word processor. You have magazine articles to sell and novels to pen.

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Internet On The Go

Writers today are not chained to a location. Some write at coffee shops, others on trains, some at home, and if you’re like me — any outdoor place you can drag a pen and notebook to. This mobility is great for finding distraction free writing spots, but what about research? Not so long ago, you would simply go to the library and sift through card catalogs, files, book shelves, microfiche, and an endless piles of dusty books. Today, the Internet is the primary research tool. Fortunately we can now take the Internet with us to most of our favorite writing spots.

I think most writers are familiar with using the free WiFi services offered at popular coffee shops and restaurants. This is the easiest and cheapest way to access the Internet when out and about. Some cities are now offering WiFi hotspots in select parks. I’ll take sitting outside researching a subject instead of sitting in a library any day of the week.

But what happens when WiFi service isn’t available?

Cellular companies offer data plans with smartphones and tablets. These plans aren’t always cheap. The big carriers start around $40 a month and move up in price, but this allows you to connect your smartphone or tablet to the Internet and retrieve data over a 3G or 4G network. However, surfing on smartphone can be tedious. Those little three inch screens are hard to use with aging eyes and big fingers.

Tablets are a good substitute. Much easier to use and you can purchase ones that are compatible with CDMA or GSM cellular technologies.But once you purchase a tablet using either technology, you’re stuck with it.

Cellular companies also offer an AirCard option but these can be restrictive too. AirCards plug into your laptop’s USB port or card slot. These offer a lot of flexibility, but they require a separate data plan. It’s also another piece of tech to keep track of. They can get lost, damaged, or stolen. An alternative to AirCards would be a technology called tethering. It allows you to connect your computer to your smartphone and access the Internet. Not all smartphones will allow this and not all carriers provide the service. The ones that do, charge extra for it. If you use tethering, be mindful of any data usage limits on your accounts. A browser designed for Windows, Linux, or MAC will consume more data than a browser designed for a tablet or a smartphone. You can hit that 2Gig limit fairly quick.

There’s another option that allows the flexibility of connecting any WiFi capable device. It’s called a hotspot. These are offered by every major cellular carrier. Again, they will require a data plan, but you can use these handy devices for anything. Most will accommodate multiple connections–there’s a cost in speed when using multiple devices–allowing you to share it with others. Select smartphones have the ability to be used as a hotspot thus reducing the amount of tech you need to carrier to access the Internet.

Some of the bargain carriers offer no contract hotspots.They offer scaled data plans allowing you to spend only what you need to and to use it only when you need to. Most do have a requirement that you use your hotspot once every six months or so. This is the option I use. My iPad is WiFi only and my wife and I both have laptops. When traveling I purchase what I think we’ll use. As long as we have cell service, we can access the Internet. It’s a great thing when flights get delayed and the airport doesn’t have free Internet. Or if you’re driving long distances. We drove to Florida in 2010 and had Internet access for almost the entire drive. There was one section in Mississippi that we couldn’t get any service. It was a grueling fifty minutes, but somehow we made it through.

I like the hotspot because I can pack a composition notebook, a couple of fountain pens, an iPad, the hotspot, an external battery pack and take off to any park or local hiking trail. All of it weighs less than five pounds and easily fits into any small backpack or netbook carrying case. This is great for getting away and doing some serious writing.

Taking the Internet with you does bring along all the distractions like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, email, and your favorite games. However, for me the distractions aren’t a concern. The Internet is along for quick fact checks.

Whether sitting on a hillside rock overlooking the city or a remote riverbank, great weather, scenic writing spot, pen and paper in hand, the only thing left to do is write.

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Transcribing Recorded Interviews and Notes

I’ll have to credit the topic of this post to John Wooley. During a recent presentation, he stated that transcribing takes four times the length of the taped interview. Did I hear that correctly? Taped? What are we living in, the 19th century?

It does take time to transcribe anything recorded. However, we have options and most importantly, none of them involve using tape. Today all you need is a cell phone, iPad, Android tablet, or digital voice recorder.

I’ve touched don Evernote in an earlier post. This is an amazing piece of software. It works on any platform and stores data in the cloud. I’ve recorded several meeting with Evernote. However, I must admit to never transcribing anything recorded. A quick search of Evernote’s Trunk reveals a service called Quicktate.  For a fee, they will transcribe your recordings. A word of caution about transcription services. While they save you time on transcribing audio, you have no control of what they choose to leave out. It could be something small, yet more significant than the main answer.

If you’re not into Evernote and wish to use a digital voice recorder. These are available from any online retailer or your neighborhood brick and mortar office supply store. I received an Olympus years ago as a gift. It’s a handy device. With it configured for basic audio, I can record over 70 hours of audio. Once done I can pop it into my laptop’s USB port and transfer the files. You should be able to find a DVR that creates recordings in your favorite file format.

Once the file is transferred, you’re left with the same issue of start, stop, back up, and type some more, that leads to such a long transcription time. Thanks to the world of dictation, there are solutions you can purchase for your PC. Olympus makes a kit that allows you to use a foot switch to control the playback so you can continue to type. This can be a huge time saver. But with all things that save time and increase productivity, it comes at a cost.

There are many models of DVRs made by a multitude of manufactures. Go to Amazon or Newegg and search for digital voice recorder. No matter what your previous choice of recorder, wax cylinder, wire recorders, reel to reel tape, or cassettes. None compares to the flexibility of digital devices.

You may be thinking that you can use your cell phone too. This is true. Most smartphones have recording capabilities. But they are geared more for recording notes, not lengthy interviews. How many times a day do you have to connect your phone to a charger? An hour-long meeting puts the smack down on my Android phone’s battery and electrical outlets are not always handy. However, I’ve had excellent luck with the iPad2’s battery. But if you have that all import interview that could go hours, nothing beats a DVR and a fresh AAA battery.

Microphones are another consideration. My Olympus DVR can pick up more audio than any other device I have. This includes making recordings while it sits in my shirt pocket. The mics on laptops and mobile devices can be hit or miss on quality. Some handle ambient noise better. Others may be too directional to be functional in an interview setting.

Do you use recording devices for notes or interviews? Please share any tips or tricks you’ve learned over the years.

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Dump That Brain

Have you ever had a great idea for a story that kept spawning plot points along with the perfect protagonist and the most wonderfully annoying antagonist? This burst of creativity keeps swimming around in your head continually building on itself. It’s consuming all your brain power just to keep it straight. You’re jotting notes down on every piece of scrap paper you can find. Smoke wafts from your keyboard as your fingers go numb from the hours long session. Off to the side, you family watches and wonders if you have some new form of OCD. When the brain dump is finally over, you’re left with a mix of handwritten notes, a long typo ridden narrative that you won’t understand a week from now.

There is an easier way. Mind mapping. No I’m not talking about hiring a cartographer to translate your latest CT scan. Mind mapping is a concept that has been around, in various forms, for some time. Anyone that’s been involved in project management has probably seen an Ishikawa diagram, or fishbone diagram. Don’t worry I’m not going to dig into the intricacies of cause and effect as it applies to risk analysis.

Mind mapping is an easy thing to do. Chances are you’ve done it with pen and paper. It involves creating a central idea and then associating other ideas and concepts. You can draw pictures, use color coded lines, and different fonts. There is no limit to what you can do.

Here’s a sample mind map created with FreeMind for Windows.

There really is no limit what you can do with mind mapping. Google mind map and you’ll get a variety of choices you can use. Software is available for almost any platform, including iOS and Android, allowing you to use your finger and tablet while waiting to see the doctor or while the kids are practicing their seasonal sport.

Good software will allow you to quickly move your ideas and branches around. Keep in mind there will be a learning curve, so take some time to learn your software. However, if you find you just can’t figure it out, try another program. On my iPad I use Mindjet to quickly capture project ideas for my day job. If you’re all Apple, all the time, this could be a good solution for you. But there will be some cost.

A low tech ways of mind mapping include white board. Using a Sharpie on whatever surface is at hand. Paper and pen. If you want flexibility and low tech, try note cards. Simply put one idea per card and then you can arrange the cards however you need to. Of course this will require a large table or bulletin board. Levenger‘s has a nice note card bleacher for this purpose.

Unless you’re an author who rigidly follows the original outline, stories evolve, plot points change, character traits change, and settings get altered. Mind mapping quickly allows you to see all this in a visual form and easily rearrange or change it. Next time you’re kicking an idea for a story around, or creating a main character, give it a try.

Do you currently use mind mapping or similar techniques? Please leave a comment and tell us about your methodology or favorite program.

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Writing and Banking Do Not Belong Together

The mantra “writing time is for writing and only writing” is drilled into the mindset of anyone serious about succeeding as a author. But let’s take it one step further, “your writing laptop is for writing and only writing.”

Now you’re thinking why on earth would you limit the use of a computer to one task. In a word, security. Writers today are mobile. Working at coffee houses, favorite sandwich shop, waiting on flights at the airport, or sitting in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment. All of these scenarios are opportunity for a thief to strike.

The obvious threat is that someone steals your laptop. If you use it for everything, you’ve lost everything. This includes any user IDs and passwords stored in your browser. A bad guy just needs to click on your banking bookmark and sit back while your browser automatically logs in. Presto they have full access to your accounts.

A hidden threat of using your laptop on a public network is getting hacked. The quiet guy in the corner could be scanning the coffee house’s public network. Even if you’re running a firewall, it has to allow your programs to interact with the Internet. The industry refers to this a punching a hole. If you punch a hole in a section of cardboard does it only allow you to see through it in one direction? This may be a bit  simplified, but you get the idea. If you let programs out through your firewall, data usually comes back through the same way. Given the right circumstances, a hacker and exploit this. Even if you update your computer’s OS and programs on a regular basis, hackers can also exploit known flaws. Years ago the Blaster Worm exploited an existing security hole affecting part of Microsoft’s Windows OS and impacted computers all over the world.

 

I’m not trying to scare anyone, but think about what would happen if your laptop disappeared. What information would go with it? Do you know all your IDs and passwords to every account you use your laptop to access? Do you have the phone numbers to these institutions to call and have your online account disabled?

What are some steps you can take? An easy one is do not store usernames, IDs, or passwords in your browser. Storing them in your browser creates a file on your computer containing this information. Hackers can access these files and thus your accounts. You can use password programs like LastPass to store your information. Programs like this remember your IDs and passwords, but do not store information locally. I’m partial to LastPass because it has the added benefit of working on multiple platforms. No matter what device I’m using, I can find the password I need.

The best thing to do is to separate your financial information from the laptop you carry with you. Today you can buy a basic laptop in the $300-$400 range. If you’re really thrifty and shop around, you can get something for around $200, but you’ll have to be dedicated to find these bargins. Think of it as insurance. A small investment to ensure that your information is safe. After all, you wouldn’t carry around your bank statements to the coffee shop and leave them on the table for all to see. Why do the electronic equivalent with your laptop?

Word processing files can be backed up with little effort and this topic will be explored in a future post. However, once money is drained from your checking or retirement account, it’s gone. You may be able to recover some of it, but in the short term you’ll have no cash and you’ll have the stress of dealing a complete preventable mess. And if you’re stressed and on the phone with your bank all day, you won’t be able to write. And if you don’t write you won’t sell anything. Then you’ll have even less money and more stress.

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If I Only Had More Time

This post will be more about methodology than technology.

If you have ever attended a presentation by Robyn Conley aka The Book Doctor, you most likely received a button sometime during the presentation. It is supposed to serve as a reminder to keep your butt on the chair and write. This is important because so many things can interrupt good writing time. Facebook and Twitter aside, there are important things to be done. Like washing those gym clothes you haven’t used since that time…two or was it three months ago. Or watering those brown plants. Or dusting light bulbs. Or just random self indulging web surfing. You justify these things because you write a little here and there. When the end of writing time comes and you only cranked out four sentences during the last ninety minutes, you wonder where did all that time go?

Writing is hard and we often look forward to the next break to give our brains and keyboard worn fingers (or in my case ink stained) fingers a rest. You’re thinking there has to be a way, a complex productivity system, a bloated Windows application, a spiffy iPad app, a nifty Android driod-something, that will magically force brilliant writing.

Guess what? The answer is no.

But… (Just when we think we have the perfect excuse to be lazy, a big but gets in the way.)

There is a methodology call Pomodoro . It was created long long ago in a century almost forgotten, the 1980’s. For my generation, it was the time of high school and big hair. But I digress. An individual named Francesco Cirillo created it. The goal is to focus your concentration on a single task in 25 minute blocks.

It goes something like this. You schedule a block of minutes, 25 by default, and work on a single task during that time block. If you finish early, take a break and then start a new 25 minutes time block. If you run long, take a five minute break, and start a new 25 minute time block to finish out the task.

I don’t confess to be a Pomodoro guru but I have played around with the concept. Several apps exist for this methodology. You can Google Pomodoro on your PC or MAC and download a timer or use a web base solution. Or you can search in the Android Market or the App Store. Each will present you with a list of choices. I have an app on my Android phone and on my iPad. A good timer will allow you to configure the Pomodoro unit and break time. Or you can opt for the Luddite version and grab your favorite vintage oven timer. Choose a timer that is simple, accurate, and most importantly, one that you will use.

I’m not a purist so I do change my time intervals around. Sometimes I’ll go in 15 minute time blocks or stretch it out to 45 minutes. You can adjust it to match your task, mood, or the environment you are working in. But once that timer starts you mind needs to be on your task and only that one task. The alarm will tell you when it’s time to break.

To me this is one of the great mysteries of the universe. If you surrender to a timer you mind frees itself and the task at hand gets worked. If you try to keep it all in your head, then your like a sugar charged, caffeine infused seven year old with ADHD. You have enough energy to power a third world nation, but nothing gets done.

All I can say is it works for me when I need to get things done at my day job. Work for 25 minutes, take a 5-10 minute walk outside, and then start it all over again. Give it try, don’t be afraid to be creative. If you’re working on a draft, write for 25 minutes and then take a 20 minute walk. While you’re walking, work out the next scene in your head, or use the time to reconcile conflicting plot points. After the walk, spend the next 25 minutes writing it all down.

You can combine a New Years resolution into this methodology. Write for 25 minutes and then hop on the stationary bike for 10 minutes. Exercise, lose weight, and finish that novel all at the same time.

Same goes for editing. Line edit for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, put the pen down and spend the next 15 minutes reading over the next section. When the 15 minutes of reading is up, reset the timer to 25 minutes, pick up the red pen and start chopping words like you just received a deluxe set of Ginsu Knives.

My point is, we’re not all wired the same. Find what works for you and stick to it. As long as your spending writing time writing, then life can’t be anything but good.

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Speed Up Your Editing in Word

I’ll state this up front. This post is about Microsoft Word. If you don’t use Word feel free to exit this blog quietly. But please do so in a manner as not to disturb the other readers.

Over the years I’ve used a variety of word processing programs. All have their quirks, strengths, and complex functions that make you want to break your keyboard in half and pound your computer into compost. Don’t worry we not going to get into complex functions. Instead we’re going to go over several handy keyboard shortcuts to increase you editing speed.

For clarity purposes let me explain how I’ll denote these shortcuts. For some of you this may be obvious, but for others I have met, they have only used mouse functions.

Control Key = CTRL,  Alt Key = ALT, you get the idea. I use the plus sign ‘+’ to denote combinations. So CTRL+C means to use press and hold the control key then press the C key.

Some of the shortcuts do require mouse interaction so here is an explanation on my terminology.

All mouse clicks will be for the left button unless noted.

Single click = single left click, Double click = two left clicks, again you get the idea.

Click and Hold = push down on the mouse button and hold it.

Why use keyboard short cuts? For me, moving my hand back and forth from keyboard to mouse to keyboard gets a bit annoying.  Especially if all you want to do is switch to underlining or italic. Also if you’re trying to select text, clicking and dragging that cursor to select everything can be tedious. So let’s start with some easy ways to select text.

Word makes it easy to select a single word, sentence, paragraph or all the text in the document.

To select a single word, double-click the word.

To select a single sentence, CTRL+Single Click on any part of the sentence.

To select an entire paragraph, triple click the paragraph.

To manually select individual characters, words, sentences, or paragraphs, SHIFT+Arrow Key. Using SHIFT+Down-Arrow is a quick way to select multiple lines within a paragraph.

Once you have your text selected you can right-click on it. A pop up menu will appear providing all kinds of options. Did you know you can click and hold on your selected text and drag it to a new location in the document? This can be handy when moving sentences around in a paragraph or rearranging action sequences in a scene.

When editing, I typically hit CTRL+A, this is the short cut for Select All. It highlights every word in your document. Once all the text selected, I right-click, select Font, and increase the font size to an 18 or 20 point size. This makes it much easier to catch typos that spell check missed, find those pesky punctuation faux pas, and any hapless homophones to — or is that pronounced too? Anyway, after I’m done editing, CTRL+A, right-click, Font, and it’s back to 12 point.

I’ll finish this out with a simple list of shortcuts. If you have any handy tricks for Word, please post a comment.

CTRL+C = Copy
CTRL+X = Cut
CTRL+V=Paste
CTRL+B=Bold
CTRL+I=Italic
CTRL+U=Underline
CTRL+Z=Undo last change
CTRL+Y=Redo last Undo
CTRL+F=Find
CTRL+S=Save
CTRL+O=Open File
CTRL+A=Select all

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Don’t Sign That Contract!

Writers live on a budget. There are times when money is tight and you’re looking for a contract to sign. However, there is one contract you should never sign. That’s right by not signing a contract, you’ll be saving money — on your cell phone.

Over the years I’ve heard author after author claim this one particular piece of technology helps them manage the social networking aspect of being a writer. It’s used for Facebook updates, a blog reader, Twitter, Google+, email, texting, and believe it or not, a phone. But you don’t have to pay $80-$200 a month to get the service you need. And you don’t have to be locked into a restrictive contract. Yes, I’m talking about prepaid cellular service.

Before your imagination runs off with images of the worst customers Wal-Mart has to offer and a constant lack of bars, keep reading. You can purchase prepaid cellular service just about anywhere, including online and signal coverage can be as good as one of the big four cell providers.

A year ago I upgrade to an Android phone and switched to Virgin mobile. Their plan of 300 voice minutes and unlimited data/text fit my usage perfectly. Now I did have to buy the phone, but I waited until it went on sale for $180. The price for this plan, at the time I purchased the phone was $25. That’s right. I pay $25 a month for unlimited data and text. I’ve never gone over the 300 minute voice limit. So let’s compare.

(At the time unlimited voice and data averaged about $80/mo before taxes.)

Prepaid                                                              Standard Contract

Phone:    $180                                                     Free with contract

Service:  $325 (13 months at $25)                  $1,040 (13 months at $80)

Total:     $ 505                                                      $1,040

Savings: $535

I can go out and purchase another $200 phone and still be saving money compared to a standard contract plan. But you’re thinking, That was thirteen months ago, the economy has changed things. No one can get a deal that good these days.

You’re right, things have change. Virgin Mobile has raised this plan from $25 to $35. That means in 13 months you’ll pay $455 instead of $325. I don’t know about you, but that is still significant savings and could easily pay for lodging at the next writers convention. Keep in mind that voice/text/data contract plans are much more expensive these days.

You also may be thinking that the coverage sucks. Virgin rides on the Sprint network and I haven’t had any more coverage problems than my wife has had her ATT contract phone. If we’re out in the sticks, usually one of us will have service.

The Virgin Mobile plans may not be right for you, the company is geared toward the young crowd. Some of the other services out there are T-Mobile, ATT, TracFone, Net10, Straight TalkBoost, and the list goes on. Heck just Google “prepaid cell providers” and your eyes will glaze over before you can compare all the pricing plans. You can also check out Clark Howard, he always has the latest scoop on the cheap cell phones.

Most of the prepaid companies have agreements with Sprint, ATT, T-Mobile, and Verizon to use their networks, so you’ll want to pay attention to the coverage maps for your areas. Be brutally honest on how you use for phone. Some prepaid services will charge you a daily usage fee if you make a call. If you’re on your phone hours a day, this may not be an issue, but if you’re like me you may make one or two short calls a day, if any. The extra fee adds up quickly. Also, do not overestimate your data usage. Cell phones are fairly efficient on data usage. But if you must have unlimited everything, Straight Talk has a plan for $45 a month and Virgin has one for $55.

I’m not saying this is the best way to go and there are some draw backs. You have to buy the phone outright. You lose it, break it, or don’t like it after six months…tough. You’re stuck with it. Also the prepaid service doesn’t get the same data priority as the contract customers. For the most part this has not been an issue for me. However, if you are moving a lot of data, being throttled may cause problems. A huge draw back for some people is the fact you are limited on the phones you can purchase. You cannot go out and buy the latest iPhone off Craigslist and active it the next day. If you want an iPhone, you’re stuck with a contract. If you can use an Android or Blackberry you’ll have a few of options. And don’t just look at the specifications of the phone you’re thinking about. Read customer reviews. These can be found by searching for the phone model and the word reviews.

Smartphones are very much required tech for the modern writer. Are you paying over $1,000 a year when you don’t need to? Look over your last few statements. Pay attention to the voice, data, and text totals. Maybe you could save hundreds, over the course of a year, by dumping the contract and going to prepaid.

Now stop reading blogs and playing Angry Birds on your phone and get back to writing.

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