Tools of the Trade

So you're serious about this writing thing. Excellent! Great news! I love your enthusiasm!

But where do you start?

Well, that is an impossible question, really, because everyone starts somewhere different. Some writers begin with an outline. Some fly by the seat of their pants. But no matter HOW you begin writing, you need to actually, you know, begin writing.

But with what shall you write with? Dear Liza, dear Liza

Every author I know has a host of tools they use to slap the old words on a page. I rounded up a few of them and asked them what writing tools they can't live without. Here's what they said:

Jodi Meadows, author of the forthcoming, sure to be epic INCARNATE (Katherine Tegen Books, Spring 2012) said this: "My most beloved thing is, of course, Scrivener, but also: I must have some sort of map in front of me. It doesn't matter if it's fab or not. I like having a basic idea of locations and which direction the character is facing. It also keeps the sun from rising in the south."

Beth Revis, author of the NYT bestselling ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Razorbill) uses: "A combination of Scrivener and Word. When I draft, I draft in Scrivener--that way I can get all the ideas down easily, move from chapter to chapter, etc. Then I compile the manuscript and move it to Word when I'm ready to revise. It helps me to see problem areas if I switch format when I go from writing to editing."

Kirsten Hubbard, author of the forthcoming, gorgeous novel LIKE MANDARIN (Delacorte, March 8 2011), can't live without "The 'hide white space' mode on Word, yellow legal pads, Rhapsody streaming, my mutt at my feet, and lots and lots of Tazo chai."

Veronica Roth, author of the forthcoming, ass-kicking novel DIVERGENT (Katherine Tegen Books, May 3, 2011) said: "I only use notebooks for brainstorming and outlining, but I do a lot of that, so I take them seriously. I recently abandoned my trusty Moleskine notebook for a Muji notebook because it lies flat, it's thin so you feel like you're filling it quickly, and it's not too big. I also use Scrivener. If that program had a face, and it wouldn't sue me for harrassment, I would kiss it."

And if you're curious what's on MY list of necessities? Here they are:

Scrivener. Seeing a common theme, here? I've been meaning to write a post about how I use it, and I will, someday, I swear. Suffice it to say for now, though, that while I began THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER on Microsoft Word, because that was all I had at the time, I switched to a Mac from a PC (and therefore from Word to Scrivener) about 3/4 of the way through the process (on one of my later revisions), and it changed my writing life. I'm drafting MARA 2 on Scrivener, and already, I can see how much of an impact it's having—in the best way—on my drafting.
Cost: $40.

Mac Freedom. When I just need to get away from it all, I take a vacation. I remove Tweetdeck from my dock, and because I am lazy, I don't have the patience to use the web version that much. But when even that won't do, or when I find myself looking at pretty shoes or at pretty, shiny pictures, I turn it on, turn off the internet for a few hours, and usually? I don't come back. I like the silence and I forget the internet exists. It's pretty awesome. And if you want or need to turn it off? You just reboot your computer. But if you're like me, you'll hold off on the reboot and just wait until it's finished. One of the best tools out there.
Cost: Free.

My sexy new iomega 500 gig external hard drive + Time Machine. Okay, so, confession time: I wrote a whole book without having my own dedicated external hard drive. The Help Desk was in charge of my backups, which we'd do whenever I was feeling panicky or superstitious and I had an assortment of thumb drives and dropbox accounts and various and sundry backup accoutrements for my Most Critical Files. But do I recommend that approach to my fellow writers? No. No I don't. Guys, you NEED to back up—regularly and often and in an organized way. What Time Machine does is this: when connected to an external hard drive, it does one long, initial backup of every single thing on your hard drive - pictures, documents, PDFs, .scriv files, everything. And then every hour on the hour, it saves any changes you've made in said hour to each and every single you've modified in the past 24 hours. It makes daily back ups of files you've modified. No thought process involved. No extra steps.
Cost: $129.99.

My Macbook Pro. I had a random Dell laptop which I wrote 3/4 of THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER on. It froze. It crashed. I panicked, due to previously referenced haphazard backup practices. And then finally, after much research and after being shown the glory of Scrivener, I took the Mac plunge. A desktop wasn't for me, because I hate sitting at a desk—I like moving around from the dining room table to the couch to the bed to the local indie coffee shop to Barnes & Noble to wherever. And I knew I wanted to be able to play DVDs without the hassle of needing an external drive, thus eliminating the super sexy Macbook Air from the competition. And with my particular needs, the 13" Pro suited me better than the Macbook, so that's what I bought. I haven't regretted it for one second. I use many, many applications while I write: Scrivener, ITunes, Safari almost constantly. And on my PC, Word + ITunes + Internet Explorer did NOT get along. I know that having 10,000 Internet Explorer windows open didn't help, and I *KNOW* having 10,000 Word document windows open didn't help, which is why Scrivener's split screen feature is probably the single most valuable aspect of it, for me, but I digress (See? I can't stop TALKING about SCRIVENER. It's a disease). Bottom line: the way I write and use my laptop is perfectly suited to my Macbook Pro. Also, it's pretty.
Cost: $1200, but Mac laptops range in price from $950-$1700.

3" Drugstore spiral notebook. I often find that dialogue or snippets of conversation fill my head first. Sometimes the scenes even evolve from the dialogue. And when I have those bursts of inspiration, I need to write them down. Wherever, whenever. So I keep a teeny notebook on me at all times for exactly that purpose. Cost: $0.99.

And there you have it- my most beloved tools, and those of Beth, Veronica, Kirsten, and Jodi! What are your most beloved writing tools, pray tell?


  1. since im much more of a character-over-plot sort of person, i do character interviews beforehand to understand their voices. i thought it was sort of, well, weird in the when i found out about them, but when i found out elana johnson (author of upcoming YA dystopian possession--im sure you know of her :]), i tried it out and its a lot of fun!
    and as for the plot--i really need to get a grip on that. its because of the un-outlined plot and poor structure that it seems i can never finish a novel.
    sorry for the rambling :D
    great post!

  2. Fantastic post! Extremely helpful for people like me who are taking on their first writing project. Also wanted to let everyone know that I found this while checking out Scrivener this morning:
    http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivenerforwindows/ For those of us who are still stuck with a PC!

  3. This was such a great post. I don't have Scrivener but I've been debating buying it. This list of outstanding writers may have convinced me. (Though I'm all for a post on why it's helpful!)

    And I totally agree with the Mac vs. PC preference. Aside from being more reliable, never getting viruses, being faster, etc. they're just easier to use and make organizing your files so much better. I'd love to see someone color-coordinate files on a PC.

  4. Great post!

    I love Scrivener and my new MacBook Pro. I wrote my first two MSs on the Windows laptop in Word, but transferred them both when I took the Mac plunge in the New Year. Scrivener was a huge reason why. I'm so happy I did. I still use Word (in the same way as Beth Revis does), but my drafting is easier now.
    I also make a book playlist. I have to have iTunes open when I'm writing.

  5. Thanks for all the info! It's really interesting to see what writers actually use (for a while, I'd thought that they just used Microsoft Word, or a pen and paper! Haha!).

  6. Many, many writers use Word. I didn't know there were so many using Scrivener. As far as I'm concerned, it's the right tool for the right job. Word is for writing letters and reports. Scrivener is for writing novels (or screenplays or other long creative writing projects).

    Interesting thing: My Manuscript has 50 items in Scrivener. The project Trash has 262. I never worry about hitting delete. It keeps everything.

  7. I still can't hop on the Mac train yet, but I recently downloaded the beta version of Scrivener for Windows. I think I'm already in love. :)

  8. I've been playing around with the Beta version of Scrivner for Windows. It is a pretty spiffy program! I'm pretty sure I'll be purchasing it once it becomes non-free.

  9. Scrivener! I would love to see a post on how you use Scrivener.

    My tools: Notebooks, laptop, large amounts of tea, and occasionally blankets.

  10. I'm a bit of a backup-aholic. Every few thousand words (which is like 3 days or so) I email the draft to all 3 of my web-based emails. I'm not worried about losing them, because the day my computer, hotmail, yahoo and gmail all crash it's probably because the Terminators have won.

  11. PS. I don't think Scrivener's for me. I tried doing the plot-y thing on the computer, and I find that story and character development don't work for me on-screen. I'm trying all the prewriting in notebooks now. The computer is for the crazy month-long gallop to the end of the first draft.

    (I also can't onscreen edit. Have to print it out and scrawl it up.)

  12. Pencil and paper. When that's done, I type it into OpenOffice. I do most editing and revisions on paper, too. I can't get as creative on a computer as I can on paper - maybe it's because a computer has always meant 'work' to me, so I get stuck in left-brain mode. I need paper for right-brain creativity.

    Yes, I'm weird. I've never said I wasn't.

  13. I've heard so many good things about Scrivener but, having a PC and being terrified of downloading and installing almost anything on my computer, I've never even thought about getting it.

    I use word, but I also love Office OneNote. I use it for plotting, organising, making little notes and jotting down ideas. It's incredibly useful and I think comes with Windows Vista and 7.


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