Writer's Toolbox: Tools of the Trade
The Basic Writer's Toolbox
There are many things that go into a writer's toolbox, but the most important tool of all is that which they hold inside of them.
Within your imagination are the keys to any number of doors, doors that lead to fantastic places, untold adventures, and fascinating people. Doors that lead to new insights on important topics. Doors that lead anywhere your mind can take you.
It has been said that every person has at least one story worth telling, and I truly believe that. Your stories are a part of you that nobody else can share, and your voice is the only voice that can share them.
It doesn't matter what you write, or why you write it; the only thing that matters is that you write.
I am in the process of collecting my favorite writing resources to share with others. I hope you find something you can use. If you know of other tools that would be of use, drop me a line and I will add them.
What do these people all have in common?
"There are certain things I do if I sit down to write," he said. "I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There's a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning," he explained. "I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you're going to be dreaming soon."
~ Stephen King
"I get up about five... I get in my car and drive off to a hotel room: I can't write in my house, I take a hotel room and ask them to take everything off the walls so there's me, the Bible, Roget's Thesaurus and some good, dry sherry and I'm at work by 6.30. I write on the bed lying down - one elbow is darker than the other, really black from leaning on it - and I write in longhand on yellow pads. Once into it, all disbelief is suspended, it's beautiful..."
~ Maya Angelou
"The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I'd jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week."
~ John Grisham
"I never quite know when I'm not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, "Dammit, Thurber, stop writing." She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, "Is he sick?" "No," my wife says, "he's writing something." I have to do it that way on account of my eyes. I still write occasionally-in the proper sense of the word-using black crayon on yellow paper and getting perhaps twenty words to the page. My usual method, though, is to spend the mornings turning over the text in my mind. Then in the afternoon, between two and five, I call in a secretary and dictate to her. I can do about two thousand words. It took me about ten years to learn."
~ James Thurber
So what do they have in common?
While it is true that all of these people have obtained some form of fame, and they all have published widely read works, that's not quite what I was looking for.
It is much more simple than their habits or their schedules.
The one thing that unites them all is not how they write, but the simple fact that they WRITE.
Each of them takes their writing seriously enough to keep doing it day after day. They don't qualify it, compare it, or require perfection from it. They just write.
Beginning Writers, Take Heed
To be a writer, you must write. That is the only real requirement. Quality, quantity, plot, pace, voice, all of those things come with time, but they don't come to you without first sitting down and putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, or quills to parchment, or even chisel to stone). It doesn't matter how you do it, just that you do it.
Some other tips on writing that will be repeated throughout your career until you are sick of them...
1. Writers must read. A lot. If you don't read interesting books, articles, or cereal boxes, you can't write interesting books, articles, or cereal boxes.
2. Writers should write what they know. I say writers should write what they love. That doesn't mean you can only write about your life. What you don't know, you can research, but if you don't have an emotional investment then the reader has no reason to have one either.
4. Kick the perfectionism. Don't compare yourself to anyone but yourself. Remember the books you buy at the store didn't begin in the form you hold in your hands. What you see is the result of years of practice, many editors, and several rewrites. Just write it for now...
5. Show, don't tell. A step-by-step diagram is fine for a recipe or stereo instructions, but if you want to draw a reader in you need to help them visualize the story. Take the reader by the hand and find a way to gently draw them into your world. Allow room for their imagination to take over, but make sure they have a solid starting point.
Your plot, pacing, timing, and voice all come later, and only with practice. Just like any other skill, you don't begin something and suddenly find yourself a master. With time and practice, you will find yourself getting better.
I look back at the things I wrote in high school and gag, especially the poetry. As we grow our writing grows with us; it is a part of us just like any other. I'm sure my writing a year from now will be different from my writing today. It is not something you arrive at but a journey to the next step, and the next, and the next...
Enough about the basics, let's review some tools to get your writing done!
Tools of the Trade
What works for one may not work for another.
There is nothing wrong with using the word processor that came with your computer. I write all of my rough drafts long-hand in a spiral notebook. The key is simply finding something that works for you.
When it comes time to get it down on the computer though, there are many wonderful programs designed with the writer in mind.
RoughDraft has been my tool of choice for over five years now. I run everything through RoughDraft: my blog entries, my Squidoo lenses, and my novels.
It is a free and very stable program. It is no longer being updated, but I've had no problems running it on any of my machines, XP or Vista.
I love the built-in dictionary and thesarus (actually, it is an add-on provided by Word Web).
My favorite features are:
* The side panel. I can't say enough about it. It keeps notes, it has a file tree, and stores search results.
* You can open up to 100 files at a time. That means having every chapter in its own file and being able to edit them all at the same time with search and replace, or figure out what happened when all in one screen.
* All of the features you are used to, such as live spell-check you can toggle, word count, etc.
* Special writing modes depending on your needs (normal, screenplay, stage, and prose).
* Auto-insert. You can program in characters' names, places, and anything else you will be using frequently.
* A clean, easy to use interface with nothing unnecessary.
* Hey, it's free!
If you feel more comfortable with a more traditional word processor, but not the cost associated with them, fear not! There is a free suite that has all of the power of MS Office, without the ridiculous pricetag.
I've also been using this program for a few years. It is a lifesaver. I can still open MS formatted documents, but I don't have to keep paying for the real deal. With five computers in my home, the price is certainly right.
It doesn't look and feel exactly the same, but most of the shortcuts, commands, and features you are used to are there. Once I got used to it I could run it just the same.
It is more than just the word processor, you also get the spreadsheets, presentations, and databases that come with a full office suite.
White Smoke is not a free program, but it might be something you want to look into if your grammar and spelling skills need a little work, or if you would just like to find better ways of wording your writing.
White Smoke is a comprehensive proofreading and editing tool that serves to simply help you write better. It works with existing programs, email applications, web browsers, etc. It is more than a spell-checker, it makes style suggestions as well that will help bring your writing to life.
It includes a core grammar checker, spell-checker, and style-enhancement features, plus a dictionary/thesaurus and spelling database.
Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Rules For Writing Fiction
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them - in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
For more great writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut, don't forget to check out:
"Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style."
"On Writing" - Stephen King
There are many, many books on the shelves about writing. My all-time favorite and constant companion was written by the master, Stephen King. You get a wonderful chance to see him as more than a writer, as a real human being with doubts and fears.
He outlines his struggles to finally get published, and the process that led him to the point he is today.
He also offers some of the most practical advice I've ever read with regard to the craft of writing. His love of writing shows as he walks you through the basic steps.
This is not a writer's manual, but a memoir on the craft itself. Beautifully written and inspiring, no matter how experienced you are.
There are many websites dedicated to the craft of writing, tips on plot structure, pacing, and narrative. Many published writers are willing to share their knowledge with beginners and seasoned pros alike.
- Holly Lisle Official Author Homepage
Holly Lisle is a a full-time novelist. Her website offers articles, workshops, a writing newsletter, and a mini plot-outline course. Plan to spend many hours here, as she has a lot of great tips to share!
- Deadline Dames
Nine urban fantasy writers blog about their experiences with writing and getting published. Thought-provoking articles on every subject imaginable. I love this place.
On Editors, Agents, and Publishers
If you want to give traditional publishing a go, you will have a whole new set of skills to master. Finding the right editor, agent, or publisher isn't something you do overnight. It takes a lot of work, and you have to know where to start.
- Preditors & Editors
A guide to publishers and writing services for serious writers! Hosted by:Preditors & Editors can be found at both Anotherealm and in Virtuo. Agents & Attorneys * Art * Awards * Book Publishers * Book Stores * Chats & ForumsContests * C
- Writer's Market
If you're serious about selling your writing, meet your new personal assistant: WritersMarket.com. With your subscription to WritersMarket.com, you will receive up-to-date listings on specific markets to publish your work, tons of news and advice fro
There are a lot of reputable places out there that will help you self-publish your book, but there are a lot of scams as well. I've only listed the ones that have been recommended to me through other writers, but I haven't used these myself.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Be careful!
- Self Publishing - Lulu.com
Lulu.com lets you publish and sell print-on-demand books, e-books, online music, images, and custom calendars and books. Free self-publishing.
iUniverse enables writers to become published authors. With leadership that brings expertise in publishing, sales, marketing and technology, iUniverse offers a variety of affordable self-publishing, editorial, and marketing services.
Places to Share
For most, the whole point of writing is the opportunity to have your work read. If you just need a place to showcase your work and get feedback, below you will find some of the best places on the net.
A safe place to post your work and get valuable and honest feedback. The people here are friendly and are wonderful about going through your story with a fine-toothed comb, helping you get it just perfect for publication. You can also invite other
- Authonomy from Harper Collins
Harper Collins has finally made the jump into the digital arena. This is a site that allows you to post your work, and possibly be chosen for a book contract. They have a large team of talent scouts that read the submitted works and suggest them f