Tools of the Writing Trade: Personal Preferences

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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.

Notebooks

The Idea Pile

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.

Laptop

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.

The Quirks

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?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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57 Responses to Tools of the Writing Trade: Personal Preferences

  1. Janet Gogerty says:

    I have notebooks in every bag – I can write anywhere. At home I have a desktop computer with a television screen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I still had the sight to do so, I had a notebook with me all the time, and used a particular fountain pen I’d had since I was in school to make my notes. It was a Pocahantas one that was easy to get refills for. When I lost my sight, I destroyed my notebooks, and gave the pen to a friend who collects pens. Now I use the notes app on my phone when I can’t use the computer, but do most of my writing via the computer. Both my phone and computer have speach software on them (my phone is an iPhone, and they come with it automatically, but my computer’s software was expensive to buy, since it’s designed to be able to work with most things that run on Windows and most websites. Unfortunately it also costs to update, which needs to happen every so often).

    Beyond that, I have a pair of red thermal mugs that get filled with some kind of drink before I sit down… Sometimes I’ll fill just one with a hot drink like tea or cocoa, or a cold drink like fruit juice or something, other times I’ll grab both mugs and have one of each. I like a snack on hand too, but that’s not essential.

    I also generally have something on hand to fiddle with when I need to think about something for a few minutes. Small toys, silly putty, little metal or wooden puzzles, etc. Right now my “toys” are some superhero figures I got in Kinder Surprise eggs not too long ago. I don’t play with them as such, just sort of have them in my hands to give my hands something to do when I’m thinking rather than typing, if that makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pen and pencil refills are always a pain. I have a packaged of mechanical pencils that don’t seem to work with any lead sizes except what they came with. What is a Pocahontas pen? Is that a specific style? Sorry about the notebooks and the price of the software. That second one is really irking because it’s such a necessity for so many people.

      I used to have a few thermos of iced tea or seltzer, but they got frozen and warped at one point. Still no idea what caused the fridge to think it was a freezer.

      Never really thought about the fiddling. I wonder if that’s common because now I’m remembering a lot of authors I know doing that. If it wasn’t fiddling, it was doodling.

      Like

      • Yeah, I think they take advantage of the fact it’s a requirement to charge more than they should. There are cheaper ones out there, but I’ve been working with this software since its early days, so I know how it works, and that it does.

        Pocahantas as in the Disney movie. It was a generic style of fountain pen, but decorated with pictures relating to that movie. I’m not sure why I loved it so much… I’ve always liked the movie, but can’t say it was ever my favourite… But I took a liking to it from the first, despite not usually being a fan of fountain pens. It just kind of felt right in my hand, you know?

        Sorry about your cup and the freezer incident. That sucks!

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      • I’m guessing the cheaper ones have a lot of flaws. You get what you pay for in that way. I really wish people wouldn’t take advantage of those situations though.

        Interesting about the pen. Maybe it was just had it was made. The contours could have fit your hand perfectly. I’ve dealt with various pens that feel awkward for some reason, so maybe that’s a subconscious thing.

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      • I wish they wouldn’t take advantage too. Not just for my own sake, but because it’s wrong in general. But, yeah, you get what you pay for with things like this. Plus, like I said, I’ve been working with it since its early days, so I’m familiar with the keystrokes needed to make it do this and that.

        Yeah, it probably was just that as regards the pen.

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  3. I used to use notebooks and fountain pens. I still have them, but the pens are migrating to my office. These days notes are in my iPhone app. If they have merit, I start a storyboard using a different app. I also write exclusively on my iPad Pro. it helps that everything is there including all the apps. I need silence, and a caffeinated beverage, usually coffee sometimes tea.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. L. Marie says:

    So, you outline by hand in your notebooks? Wow. That takes discipline. It sounds like a great system. I need to implement something similar. I’m too dependent on the computer. Having lost an entire novel due to faulty technology, you’d think I would have learned my lesson.

    I scrawl notes in my journal, which I then enter into a file on the computer. I keep a separate folder of character profiles, which include drawings and photos. I also have a research file, which I store on my computer. I draft by hand and on the computer.

    Sometimes I use boards on Pinterest for inspiration.

    Like

    • I don’t think I’d be able to outline comfortably on the computer. Something about writing it by hand makes me pay more attention. Probably because I can’t take it back as easily as I can with Word.

      I’ve lost parts of novels, but the worst one was actually losing the entire 250 page write up for ‘Legends of Windemere’. I still had the notebook, but all of the changes I made while typing it up the first time are long gone.

      Drafting by hand is something I used to do, but my fingers ache a lot. Not sure why that happens with a first draft, but not an outline. Maybe I take more breaks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        I tend to write more by hand also, probably for the reason you mention. So when I’m stuck, I pull out my journal and write in it. But when I want to draft quickly, I turn to the laptop.

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      • I’ve found being on a laptop seems to gather more privacy too. A notebook is almost like a sign that things aren’t that urgent.

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  5. Excellent, Charles. I use three things. 1. My MAC laptop. Here is where I do all the writing. 2. My windows personal PC. I do all editing, and final galley set up on the Windows 10 PC and then transmission to Amazon from there as well. It is far less quirky than the MAC for the finished product. 3. A notebook like yours to keep track of new ideas and other things. I do use a pen or pencil in the notebook.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi, this is a great post. I too use mostly pencils. I use white noise for fewer distractions. There are some great ones on Utube. Good notebooks are harder to find now. I do love my writing space. Most of my work is done on a desk top…for now. I use a lot of USB sticks to keep my work backed up.

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  7. It’s always so interesting to me to find out how other writers work. I used to write in notebooks, but now I do everything on the computer. I am amazed by all of the work you put into your characterizations as well. That might be a good habit for me, too. I never thought of doing that before. Hmmm. You’ve definitely triggered some ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I’m actually surprised by how many people switched from paper to computer. There are a lot of lost manuscript stories out there, so I thought the planning stage was more of a notebook thing. With the character profiles, it really helps with the subplot and development focus. You aren’t thing of the main plot as much as their own circle.

      Like

    • Thanks, excuse the typo in my last comment, I am having trouble with my work disappearing before I could correct it.

      Like

  8. I tend to write on any of my technology for the blogs that is – Phone, tablet and laptop. My current spot is on the end of the kitchen table set up to a small tv (connected to the laptop as the screen is damaged due to my daughter stepping on it a few years ago) and that gets moved from here to the bedroom depending on guests. For my novel ideas I have a clear case that holds my notes, blank a4 paper and a pen. With that I can go to the local coffee shop write up ideas, plots, new characters etc. Then I do the writing on the computer using FocusWriter. Great post 🙂

    Like

  9. I write directly to the computer (desktop), but edit on a hard copy using colored Flair fine-points. Right now I have purple & green — I’ll use one color for changes I know I want to make and the other to mark things that aren’t quite right but I have no solution for just yet.

    On top of that, I have “schnitzels” — 3 x 3 pieces of paper for notes — all over the house, and every room has a pen/pencil holder. So if an idea comes at me when I can’t stop what I’m doing, it gets jotted down immediately. My memory is old enough that I know I can’t rely on it!

    Like

    • I used to do the hard copy editing, but paper got expensive. That and people started using the backs as scrap paper, which made all sorts of messes. I like the color system you have.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I save the used copies & print on the back, so that saves some money. Looking at the hard copy shows me stuff I don’t notice on-screen. I’ve heard if you change the fonts while editing, the same thing happens, but I haven’t tried that.

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      • Never heard of the font trick. Wonder if it requires a certain switch since I can’t see it work with Wingdings. With the copies, I had trouble finding a place to stash them until I needed to print again. Once the kid decided they were fair game, I kind of gave up.

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  10. I seldom use paper for more than notes,, mostly because my handwriting stinks, lol. Honestly I have tried writing by hand with pen or pencil, but it’s too time consuming to type it up later.
    I’m using my iPad to write right now, with a Bluetooth keyboard, but I’m hoping to get a new desktop computer this year.

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  11. Reblogged this on DSM Publications and commented:
    Check out this great post from the Legends of Windemere blog with tools of the writing trade

    Like

  12. I pick up interesting and fancy notebooks whenever I can, and use one for each novel. When I have scrap paper with notes, I just tape them into the notebook. As the rest… coffee, music, and chocolate all play a part. ☺

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  13. C.L. Jepsen says:

    So far my writing tools have all been digital – but different formats of digital. I use a certain software to develop my characters, and my world. I use my notebook app to jot down notes while I’m on-the-go, and I use another software called Writed to do my actual writing. I like Writed because it takes away all the distractions that may make you want to edit instead of write.

    Like

    • Sorry for the delay. This ended up in spam.

      Sounds like a handy system of programs and apps. I’m always nervous about going full digital because I have terrible luck with computers. Feels like I’m tempting fate there. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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