In the last month I’ve learned a useful lesson. Tools are important. I know because in the last couple of weeks several of mine have failed and I’ve had to do without. Even when it was only for a day, it was painful. So I thought I’d write a post about tools for writers and in particular, the tools I use when I’m writing content and how I use them. If you’re serious about making money through your writing, whether writing is your business, or you write to promote your business, you need the right tools. Here’s what I use, and why.
- Pens. Yes, I know this is the internet age, but every writer needs to keep track of ideas, and these don’t always turn up when you’re in front of your computer. I use fountain pens because I like the way they write, and since I also lose them regularly, I use disposables. One large pack lasts for ages, makes me feel good when I use them and I get to use lots of different colors of ink. Yes, you can buy single color packs, but that’s boring. Keep a pen everywhere.
- Notebooks. Every writer needs a notebook and the shops are full of beauties with beautiful covers. A pity they don’t give the same amount of attention to the paper. I like a notebook with a hard back because then I can use it anywhere, I don’t need a surface to lean on. I also like one I can open all the way up, and one where, if I need to, I can remove a page easily. I use black and red notebooks in the 8 by 5 size because these fit easily into a handbag and drawer. The paper quality is excellent. I’m not sure why that matters, but I do know that given any other type of notebook, my notes are scrappy. I actually enjoy the sensation of writing in the black and red books and for each new project I start, I buy one, label it up and use it. If, like me, you tend to lose pens, get some sticky velcro and stick one side to your notebook, the other to your pen. Keep a general notebook and pen combination beside your bed for all the ideas you come up with in the middle of the night.
- Avery Index markers. These are the tools I use to index my black and red books. I write a tab and add it anywhere in the book. Its effective, helps me find stuff quickly and its easy to use. Also inexpensive.
- Writers do not really need gadgets, more’s the pity, because I do like gadegts, but one I find invaluable is my Kindle. Yes, I have a real Kindle, not Kindle for Ipad. Kindles have some major advantages over tablets like the Ipad, one is battery life, the other is that they work anywhere at no extra cost. I can download a book instantly, no matter where I am, and I don’t need to pay for a wireless contract to do it. Kindle battery life is superb and unless I’m planning to be away from home for a month, I don’t need to carry the charger with me. Since I do spend a lot of time reading, often for research purposes, I can also say for certain that the screen is much easier on the eyes and it works just like they say in the ads, even in bright sun. I live in Florida, so I know bright sunshine when I see it.
- Porthos. Porthos is the name of my trusty netbook computer. He is an Asus Aspire 11.6 inch netbook and allows me to write pretty much anywhere. Again, if you’re wondering why I have anything as antiquated as a netbook instead of a tablet, there are two reasons. One is usability. If you write a lot, and I do, you need something with a good comfortable keyboard. That means buying a keyboard add on for the ipad. Even with the keyboard, you need to find something to lean the device on when you type, I confess that at weekends I often write sitting up in bed or on a lounger. It’s difficult to use an ipad with keyboard if you work that way. With the Asus I can and do write pretty well anywhere. The second factor is price. The Asus costs about half as much as an ipad plus keyboard. Note: This is an 11.6 inch netbook with a screen resolution of 1366 by 768. I tried a 10 inch netbook with lower resolution. It was OK for writing and had a nice keyboard, but the low resolution was a constant problem since I had to keep scrolling to see the full width of most screens. The high resolution screen on the Asus makes a huge difference and has boosted my productivity. In case you’re wondering I named the Asus Porthos for two reasons. The first is that he was my favorite of the three musketeers, the second is that our household is deeply attached to Star Trek. My desktop computer is named after Captain Archer, so it made sense to call the portable version after his dog.
- Keurig Coffee maker. I cannot write at all without a reasonable supply of tea or coffee, or hot chocolate, mocha, chai tea or whatever I’m in the mood for. Basically, Starbucks is the best place for me to write, but much as I love them, I could easily part with all my writing income, so my Mom bought me a Keurig. At first I thought the whole one cup at a time thing was a bit daft, and it took a little while to build a stock of the different k-cups, but now I really enjoy the variety and being without my Keurig is very painful indeed.
- A Milk frother. Well, as I said, I like coffee. And sometimes, OK every day, I like frothy coffee. I tried a capuccino maker once and hated it, but my little frother is perfect. I add milk to the jug and switch it on, put my coffee k-cup into tjhe Keurig and then pour the froth into a large cup and activate the Keurig to pour the coffee on top. On bad days I add chocolate syrup. On really bad days I add lots.
- Books. I don’t use many books when I’m working. I have a hard copy dictionary and thesaurus, I also have hard copy books of quotations, but to be truthful, I don’t use them very often because I can often find the information faster online, courtesy of Google. One reference book I do use is A Dash of Style, the Art and Mastery of Punctuation, by Noah Lukeman. Punctuation is one of the major tools a writer has, and it can make a big difference. I have this book in Kindle and well as hardback versions, and I read some if it almost every week, because its not just informative, it’s entertaining and well written. What more can you ask for? If you write at all, and you don’t have this book, buy it or put it on your Christmas list.
- Structure is important to writers, even when writing something short, or maybe that should be especially when writing something short! The best way to create a logical structure is by planning, I do this with a mind mapping tool called Inspiration. I actually bought this software because it was recommended by my daughters school, and she has made good use of it, I use it for brainstorming in mind map form – the software will then turn the mindmap into an outline I can use to get started.
- Last, but my no means least, is my favorite piece of software, Dragon Naturally Speaking. This software was a huge surprise to me; I didn’t expect it to work, and I certainly didn’t expect it to work as well as it does. I still need to edit what I dictate, but not very much, I’m not a bad typist, but I’m pretty sure Dragon doesn’t make as many mistakes as I do. Why should you use it? Many people find blogging and article writing difficult, but if you use voice recognition software you just have to talk. Close your eyes, imagine you’re talking to a friend and just let things flow.
- UPDATE. It’s just over two years since the original article was written. My tools are still, largely the same with one major exception. I’ve been writing longer and longer items, both fact and fiction, in fact I’ve just finished my first fiction book and I used a really good piece of software to do it. It;s called Scrivener and it’s very well designed. Scrivener allows you to keep multiple drafts of what you’ve written, to organize the text in different ways, to keep things together, but complete separate. If you intend to wrote anything longer than an article, I suggest you take a look.
I’m sure there are other tools I use, but these are the ones that I use on a more or less constant basis. If you write a lot, you should find them useful.
If you don’t, but you know someone who does, now you know what to get them for Christmas.