Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dollars & Sense for Writers—Guidelines on Where & When to Spend Your Money—Part Seven

By Edie Melson

This is an ongoing series designed to give writers guidelines on where & when to spend your money. If you missed the first six posts in the series you can find them here:

This week I'm covering computers and the programs you need to succeed.

What does a Writer Need in a Computer…and Which Programs do you HAVE to have?

I get asked this a lot, and beyond that, it frequently comes up on the email loops I’m a part of. I’m not going to get deep into the Mac versus PC debate, but I am going to give you some ideas about what’s available and what may or may NOT work for you.

Mac versus PC
It’s a fact that Apple products cost more. So if price is your deciding factor, you’re probably not going to go that route. That said, they usually last longer than a PC (unless your cat dumps a huge glass of water on it—but that’s another story, for another time).

They are also much less susceptible to computer viruses. Technically a Mac can get a virus, but I have never seen documented proof that it’s happened.

NOTE: a VIRUS is a self-replicating malware.

There are other types of computer issues that can affect a Mac, like a malware Trojan horse, but even with those, Mac is exceptionally resilient.

Beyond this information, I’m not going to comment on Mac vs. PC. I drive a Mac and love it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone.

Desktop versus Laptop
For me, this one’s a no-brainer. I travel—a lot—so I have to have the freedom of a laptop. I also move around a lot, even in my own home, writing where the mood strikes. Because of this a clunky desktop just doesn’t work for me. I know other writers who do best with one set place to play…er…create. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either school of thought. The important thing is to know which one fits you best.

How Big a Laptop?
Early on in my writing career I let my engineering husband help me pick out a laptop. For some reason, I’ve discovered engineers have a bigger-is-always-better idea about laptop screen size. I let him talk me into a monster 17-inch laptop and then had to lug that massive thing through airports and around conference campuses for two year before it finally died. I seriously urge you to think along the lines of how heavy a laptop is early on in the shopping process.

That said, You need enough internal room to load the programs you use regularly, and to store your files. You also want a computer that runs at a reasonably quick rate. For this, you want to consider the CPU of the computer (Central Processing Unit). These are critical to computer speed. For example, you might see this advertised: 4th Generation Intel Core i5 1.6 GHz processor. i.6 GHz is the level of the clock speed, as this number increases, so does the speed of the CPU. And a 4th Generation will run faster than a 2nd Generation.

What about a Notebook, Netbook or Any Other Kind of Book
I had a computer notebook for several years and loved it. I know others who have other books and love them. The one thing you must have, though is Microsoft Word. If your BOOK won’t run Microsoft word, then it’s not going to work well for you.

Can’t I Just Use a Tablet?
Again, it must be able to run Microsoft Word—FULLY. You need track changes capability, highlighting, formatting, etc. If your tablet allows that, then yes, you can probably get by with one.

Programs Needed
As I’ve alluded to above, Microsoft is absolutely necessary for writers. As I said, I own a Mac, and Apple’s version of a word processing program is Pages. I love Pages way more than Word, but that doesn’t matter. When I turn in something by attaching it to an email, I need to do it in Microsoft Word. That is the publishing industry standard.

I can hear the arguments now:
But I can use Pages and save the file as Microsoft Word, won’t that work? No, not always. Often your formatting won’t translate completely. That means your perfectly formatted manuscript submission may contain odd characters, misaligned tabs and wonky tables. Not something you want when you’re trying to convince an editor or agent to publish your work.

So if you’re serious about writing professionally, you MUST have Microsoft Word.

There are other programs that are helpful, but none make my list of absolute must. So I’m going to end here. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what to look for in a computer and what programs a writer needs to have. Be sure to leave your comments below.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!



  1. I recently purchased my second laptop. I have always used a PC - the price of a MAC being the deciding factor. My old laptop is more than five years old, and although it has problems, I kept it as an emergency spare.

    As you said, Microsoft Word is a must. I've recently began using Scrivener for my novel project. It has a learning curve, but the things it can do are amazing. (Far ahead of Word)

    1. Joan, I LOVE Scrivener! Thanks for adding to the list, Blessings E

  2. Edie, thank you for this list. If I were to purchase a MAC, would that be helpful to me? Do they normally have a CD drive for me to install the screenreaders I use? When I start my computer and the program begins, it says JAWS for windows. Would this program work on a MAC? Love you!

    1. Jamie, Apple makes computers with CD drives, although all computer companies are getting away from that. Most programs are now purchased and downloaded online. As far as your program, it would have to be a version for Mac. Programs don't translate from Mac to PC. Blessings, E

  3. I had 2 other laptops before I bought my first MacBook. The 1st lasted 18 months before the letters wore off the keyboard. Bad for me. I'm not a touch typist. The send one lasted 1 year before the battery wore out. Each had cost me $600. But I was through. I bought a MacBook for $1200 and used it slightly over 6 years. Hubs is now using it and I have a new one (new a little over a year ago). In the end, the MacBook was much cheaper!

    1. Ane, I've found that to be true for me as well. The initial expense is more, but upkeep and longevity has proved to make it more cost effective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Blessings, E

  4. Edie this is timely as I'm shopping for a computer. I ruled out a MAC because I don't have patience to learn something new. I'm having a problem finding one before conference that has my must list; #1 is speed, #2 is back-lit keyboard, #3 DVD drive and #4 under 17 inches. I probably will have to have it specially built for my specs.

    1. Daphne, it's #3, the DVD drive that's going to make the laptop larger and heavy. Have you considered an external CD/DVD drive? They're reasonably priced now and could be a good option. Blessings, E

  5. Thanks for the definitive answer on using Word. We recently learned our software available through my husband's employer will no longer be available and must be taken off personal machines. My husband wasn't convinced we need to buy Word for me. I'll show him your post!