Can the Right Tools Help You Write Better?
When I first started writing, it was just me, a ninety-nine cent pen, and a cheap spiral-bound notebook. Using those tools, I wrote dozens of poems, stories, and journal entries.
These days, I’m surrounded by far more sophisticated writing tools: fancy pens and journals, a computer with writing software, a library of writing resources, and the Internet.
My writing has come a long way since I was a thirteen-year-old curled up on the floor with a pen, a notebook, and my imagination. Certainly, experience and studying did a lot to help me write better, but did these newfangled tools also improve my writing?
Yes and no.
I think a few tools do help us write better, but for the most part, tools make writing easier or more comfortable. They don’t improve our writing, but they do improve our writing process.
Today I’d like to share a few excerpts from my book, 10 Core Practices for Better Writing. These excerpts are from “Chapter 8: Tools and Resources.”
“It’s best to have your tools with you.” – Stephen King
Where would we writers be without our tools and resources? From cheap pens and notebooks to expensive word-processing software, from thick reference books to online databases packed with facts and information, our tools and resources are both bane and boon. Love them or hate them, one thing is certain: if you’re a writer, you need them.
When we are striving to improve our writing, the act of writing and all the skills that go into craftsmanship are just one piece of the puzzle. We need a place to write, tools to write with, writing references to consult, and research material to cite.
Every writer will develop personal preferences—a favorite writing spot, preferred writing instruments, and a host of trusty resources. These things might not directly improve your writing, but they will make your experience and your process more enjoyable and more efficient.
When you are fully equipped with the writing tools and resources you need to get your job done, you’ll do your job better.
Your Writing Tools
Writers’ tools may seem obvious: a pen, notebook, computer, and writing software like Microsoft Word are the basics.
But technology has opened up a wider range of tools that we can use, and not all of them are designed just for writing.
Lots of modern products cater to personal preferences. You might prefer a thick pen with a sturdy grip and steady ink flow, or maybe you’d rather work with disposable pens so you don’t have to worry about losing them. Maybe an expensive notebook with archival-quality paper forces you to put more thought into your writing, or perhaps you’re more comfortable with a cheap notebook so you don’t have to worry about making mistakes or messing up an expensive blank book.
Your preferences might be based on your budget or your personal taste. As with most things we do as writers, you have to find what works best for you.
Here are some basic tools that most writers use:
- Pens: Choices include ball-point pens, fountain pens, pencils, highlighters, and markers. I like to keep a few red pens around for editing.
- Notebooks: Blank books, journals, and notebooks come in various sizes and with a range of quality in the paper. You can also get hardcover or softcover, spiral or perfect bound, blank pages or lined pages.
- Office supplies: You might need supplies to help you organize your writing notes and materials: binders, file folders, labels, tab dividers, staplers or paper clips, and binder clips (for securing large manuscripts) are just a few examples of office supplies that might come in handy.
- Hardware: The typewriter gave way to the computer. Now we also use tablets, smart phones, and e-readers.
- Software: Microsoft Word is the industry standard, but Scrivener is the writing software preferred by most of today’s authors. Other popular software includes Pages (by Apple), text programs (like TextEdit or Notepad) and online, cloud-based software such as Google Drive (formerly Google Docs).
- Apps: There’s a huge range of apps for writers, including dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, e-books, voice-to-text, and recording apps, plus apps for ideas and inspiration. One of my favorite apps is Scapple, a brainstorming app created by Literature and Latte, makers of Scrivener.
Whatever tools you use, if you’re writing electronically (and you probably are, otherwise you will eventually), make sure you have a backup system in place. An external hard drive is ideal for backups and there are online backup systems you can purchase as well. Ideally, you’ll store backups off-site (keep a backup at a friend’s house or store it online).
Be judicious when shopping for your tools. One great way to preview various writing tools is to shop online. You can read reviews by other customers and get a sense of the product’s features and flaws. It’s also easier to do price comparisons online.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself about collecting tools. Some people will use their lack of the proper tools as an excuse not to write (I can’t afford this expensive software right now, so I can’t start my novel). All you need to get started is a pen and notebook. You probably already have access to a computer. Remember that, ultimately, writing is about getting the words down. The tools we collect just make the process easier or more comfortable.
What are some of your favorite writing tools? Do the tools you use improve your writing or make your writing process easier? Do they help you write better?