The Only Two Tools Writers Need

Time to get rid of that special software that promises to write your novel for you.

Let’s talk about writing tools.

There are eleventy billion products out there that will attempt to convince you that you need them to write. Software. Notebooks. Workshops and courses. Special pens that make coffee and are also vibrators.* Some of these things might help some people. But, aside from things to write with and on, there are only two tools you really need when it comes to writing, and both of them are mental.

Are you ready?

Your two tools are: the magic wand and the sledgehammer.

The magic wand** is your creativity and wonder. It has a sign that says Ideas come from right fucking here, asshole.*** This is the thing that shows you all those possibilities. Everything you can possibly create comes from here.

But the magic wand, for all its power, is useless on its own. It’s fun, sure. It always keeps you entertained. But it’s incapable of making anything.

For that you need the sledgehammer.

The sledgehammer doesn’t give a shit about magic. It’s about results. It takes the ideas and makes something out of them. Stories, mostly. Every time you sit down to grind out the word count, that’s the sledgehammer at work.

And, like the magic wand, it is also useless on its own. With no magic, your writing will lack life. Ever read a story that felt like a DVR programming manual? That’s a sledgehammer with no magic wand. The story gets finished, but you’re left wondering why you bothered in the first place.

Here’s another way to break it down:

Magic Wand: Holy shit, check out this dinosaur ninja I just thought up, it has lasers and claws and is also a princess, oh my god, hahahahahah

Sledgehammer: Turn on the computer. Let’s figure out how to make this work. Oh, and you’ve got 1000 words to go today.

Of course, they don’t always work this well together. Sometimes the magic wand gives you samurai unicorns and the sledgehammer thinks that’s stupid. And sometimes the sledgehammer builds something that the magic wand thinks is booooooorrrrrring. They fight. They work at cross purposes. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like they’ll ever get it together. But, like the odd pairing in every buddy cop movie, if you keep throwing them into ridiculous situations, they eventually figure out that they work better together.

So strengthen both. Absorb the weirdness that the magic wand runs on. Hone your practical skills so the sledgehammer is easier to lift. With those two in your toolbox, you’ll be amazed at what you make.

*Could someone invent this real quick?

**Bonus fact: The Husband used to have a magic wand at his place of work, for customers who demanded the impossible. When new regulations required that everything be labelled, he even labelled it ‘magic wand’.

***Magic does not equal nice.

You’re A Tool, Part One: Hardware


Ah, there’s your problem: Laptop Shoulder. (Photo credit: linus_art)

Every writer develops their own set of tools to get their job done. I divide mine into three categories: hardware, software, and wetware. So here’s a look at my tool box. Part One: Hardware, because scrawling on the floor in your own waste only takes you so far.

Tech Level:

1. The Computer of All Things: The vast majority of my life is spent on my Macbook Pro these days. She’s an upgrade from my old plasticky Macbook, who I loved very much but who has now retired to live in my steamer trunk with all my yarn.* I like the mobility a laptop gives me, so I can drift around the house to work. And also take it on trips with me. I suspect, however, that I will someday pay a price for the lack of ergonomics, probably in the currency of Shoulder Pain.**

2. The LifePhone: I fucking love my iPhone. It’s one of those things that I wasn’t sure I was going to like but now am physically incapable of living without. Seriously, it’s a problem. I’ll have to be surgically separated from it one day. But not today. You will pry that thing from my cold dead hands, and even then, my cold dead hands won’t want to give it up. My zombie self will fight you for that phone.
Writing-wise, I make notes and voice memos on it when I’m out and about and get ideas. Sometimes drawings, too. I’ve also got it loaded with a couple of key apps, including an interval timer to measure my work times on busy days (because I’m insane).

3. The Library: Or, as it is more commonly known, the Kindle. I carry a shitload of books on it, including copies of my current projects. Just so I can have a look at them when I’m away from the computer because I am totally that addicted. I also like it for editing. I spot mistakes on it easier, for some reason. And, of course, I use it for general reading.

Luddite Level:

1. Whiteboards: God, I love whiteboards. These are for working out big ideas. Things that are too big to fit inside my brain. Sometimes I have to take something out of my brain to unfold it properly, and whiteboards seem to be the best for those. I’ve tried chalkboards, but they’re too dusty. And I’ve used that brown paper you wrap packages in. That’s great for maps and things I don’t want to erase. But it’s usually whiteboards, with many colours of markers.

2. Actual Paper: And finally, I have a notebook. A thing with covers and pages that I take notes in. Actually, I have three: the personal journal, which stays on my desk; the hardcover one that I write most of my story ideas in and which travels to and fro; and the emergency back up notebook that is tiny and lives in a hidden pocket of my purse and never comes out except when I have no other notebooks on hand and really really need to write something down. And, of course, I have a selection of pens. Not pencils, I hate writing in pencil. Smudgy grey bastards. Pens for me. Preferably black. And one red one, in case I want to do some drawings of more than one colour. Also, it’s my favourite colour.

These items make up my survival kit. Some variation of this comes with me everywhere. On long trips, it’s everything but the whiteboard; day trips are more likely to be just the phone and the notebook. I never like to be too far from my writing. It makes me twitchy. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m twitchy.

But, like I said, everyone’s got their own. And mine is constantly evolving as I try new things and steal methods from other people. Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of trying Pinterest, which seems to be a current darling of many. So tell me, Dear Reader: what’s in your kit?

*Not a metaphor for something unspeakable. I also knit, and really do have a steamer trunk full of yarn. I like to think of the old computer in there hibernating like a bear, with a steady stream of Zzzz’s coming from under the lid.

**And the exchange rate is shit.