One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that authors like to talk about their work areas almost as much as their stories. I can’t say this is me, but only because I don’t have a designated writing area. I’d love one, but it isn’t in the cards. That would be playing, tarot, greeting, business, and whatever other cards you have. Eh, I’ve made it work for me to most extents and being able to flick my imagination on like a light switch definitely comes in handy.
I do have writing tools that I prefer and feel more comfortable using, which is something I don’t see come up a lot. You might see a passing mention of a favorite pen or lucky notebook, but rarely details. In fact, I’m sure you could ask 5 authors about their preferences and get at least 6 different answers, but you have to ask first. Some days I think these tools are the unsung heroes of our trade. From the disposable mechanical pencil to the stapler held together by rubber bands, we should give these things more credit.
So, what are my tools?
Pens and Pencils
I do a lot of my character bios and outlines in notebooks, so pens and pencils are key. I prefer pencils because I find that I might change some things in a bio once I get to an outline or vice versa. Even writing a book, I might see how a character ability isn’t working and come up with something new. For example, Luther Grathan got a power change from his original concept. All of this requires being able to erase because I fill the pages and a pen can’t always be undone. Only so much space in the margins too.
I use mechanical pencils, so I buy those in bulk. There were a handful of unique ones that I had as gifts, but they ran out of lead that I couldn’t replace. I tried with one and it fell apart never to be repaired. Unfortunately, I do go through erasers really quickly, so I need to have block ones around. My wife had a collection in college that I’ve been taking from when I need since she doesn’t seem to care any more. She might think they were thrown out at one point too, but I’m not going to bring that up in case she tries to hog them.
Now, I do mention pens because I have one pen that I use for outline marks. This is when I go through a finished outline and see if anything needs to be added, merged, or deleted for clarity. I use a sword-shaped pen that is starting to run out of ink for this to make the changes feel more locked in. This is the tool I use to make my post topic lists too.
That is the notebook pile that I’ve put together over the years. 30+ ideas with various incarnations and this might not even do things justice. I prefer the marble notebooks over spiral because I thumb through things so much. After a while, the early pages in a spiral begin to fall out and the whole thing becomes a mess. That doesn’t happen with marble notebooks unless I begin pulling pages and I stopped doing that long ago. Better to just put an ‘X’ on the page or note that the overall idea might not work. One book in that pile was the worst though because the binding was held together by glue. Why I thought that would be a good idea in Florida when I carried things around in a Samurai Champloo satchel is beyond me. Thing fell apart during the trip back to New York and I don’t know if I recovered all the pages.
Now, I use the notebooks to create the character bios, monster profiles, and overviews of the story plots. This is the stage before I grab one of my notepads that I got from one of my early office jobs, which gave personalized notepads to project managers. Got to take the box home and they’re the perfect size for doing my outlines. You can see one of those on the upper left of the pile. It’s 3-4 pages with the chapters cut down to 2-5 sections with one line each to tell me what the key points of the scenes are. I always make these for a series before I write the first book and review them as I move along.
The actual writing is done on my laptop. I used to write the first draft by hand and then transcribe as a way to do the first editing run. This was back when my writing was a lot more basic and I had the time. Besides, it was becoming impossible to store the piles of paper and moving was a serious challenge. Eventually, I decided that I’d stop killing a forest for every book and went more digital. Took me years to master the art of backing things up though. You never think losing a whole manuscript will happen to you until it does. Then, you do a little backing up and swear it couldn’t possibly happen again. Then it does. As much as I love my laptop, I’ll admit that my relationship with technology hasn’t always been the best.
Every author has a handful of quirky tools that are more of focus than anything else:
- Music because I just can’t concentrate when it’s quiet or other people are controlling the noise. With outlines, it can be TV since I simply need noise. Maybe I’ve been working against distractions for so long that I can’t function without something to overcome.
- Seltzer or something to drink. Water doesn’t always cut it.
- Pizza reward for when I reach a milestone . . . I swear I’ll get it at some point since the last time I did this was when I published Legends of Windemere: Path of the Traitors. There might have been one more time, but it was still long ago.
- A blue standing stapler that I got during my freshman year of college. It was kind of translucent and never failed. At least until I let someone borrow it once and they managed to break it. I jury rigged it for years, but it eventually stopped working entirely. It sits on a shelf next to its mediocre replacement, but I still try it before the other one to put my outlines together.
So, what are your writing tools?