In today’s writing tip I will discuss several tools of the trade. From contemporary to traditional, even to old-fashioned, there are many good tools you can use for writing. Remember, just because it is not the most up-to-date tool does not mean that it is not effective. It all depends on your budget, your style, and even your philosophy on writing. There are also practical considerations which I will touch on throughout the post.
I’d like to begin with pen or pencil on paper. That’s actually how this post is starting out. I’m on a treadmill and have these very portable, adaptable tools before me as I scrawl letters I can only hope to read later.
One benefit of pen and paper is that you have a physical copy in your hands. You can take it with you nearly anywhere: on the bus, in the bathroom, to the park. You don’t need batteries or electricity. The main difference between pen and pencil is the ability to erase a mistake made with a pencil. I prefer pen though, as it feels more solid to me.
But there are drawbacks to pen and paper. You may need to pay shipping costs to get it to your audience (a publisher, perhaps?). Also, they are consumable. You will always need to buy more. Also, you may do twice the work if you need to transcribe it onto the computer.
Let’s move on to the next tool: the typewriter. Yes it’s archaic, but there are many who would still swear by them. Something about feeding a piece of paper into the machine, typing it out, and watching the carriage race from left to right, only to drift back at the end of each line is simply magical and can make you feel like an accomplished writer. Again, you have shipping costs, consumable materials, and maintenance on an older machine. Depending on where you live, it may be difficult finding someone with typewriter maintenance skills.
Another available tool is the tape recorder. Actually, let’s call this tool “dictation” and include tape recorders and phones voice recording and dictation software. Tape recorders are useful but a bit outdated, or at least replaced with more advanced technology. The upside is that you can think of an idea in the middle of the day, pull it out, and dictate your idea. The downside is you still have to transcribe it at a later time. You will also need to provide mini cassette tapes now and then. You could reuse a tape but may want to keep it for archival purposes.
A better option may be a smartphone; even one that has no phone number, wifi, or other features. You can still use the apps, so dictation is still an option. You can look on the App Store (for iPhones) or Play Store (for Android devices) to find voice recording software. Apps such as Fast Notepad (by bbxxapp) will allow you to speak into your phone and it will record it as text.
The last tool I’d like to talk about is the computer. With as cheap as they have become over the years, most people can afford to invest in one. A full set-up from Walmart, either Laptop or Desktop with a monitor, can be purchased for just under $200. That won’t provide you with ample storage space for pictures, nor will it give you a powerful gaming processor, but you will be able to install writing software and internet to make it an indispensable tool.
There are a lot of different writing programs that you can use. Windows comes with Wordpad and Notepad pre-installed. They do not have a lot of features like other programs do, but can be effective for copy and paste. When I write my blog posts, I usually use Notepad, then copy it into WordPress. I make any formatting changes in WordPress, but Notepad is simple and easy to use. Wordpad is like Notepad with some extra formatting. It doesn’t have a full amount of formatting features though, so I personally don’t bother with it.
Quite possibly the best software you could use for writing is Microsoft Word. If you have access to it, it can perform just about any formatting that you need. It’s easy to use, powerful, but isn’t cheap. The current price tag on it is around $70. You can usually find a computer bundle that includes Microsoft Office (which contains Word, Excel, etc.) for an extra charge. If you’re not super limited on your computer budget, I’d suggest getting a copy of Word.
An alternative to Word is OpenOffice. It is a free software package that does most of the things Microsoft Office can do. It’s not as user-friendly, nor does it have quite as many features as Word, but it’s free and it can open Word documents.
Finally, I’d like to talk about my favorite piece of software for writing my novels: Scrivener. I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of all that Scrivener can do. But even the meager things that I use it for make my novel writing process so much easier. Within your “manuscript” (which is like a preset folder) you can create any number of “text” items. I create one for each chapter in my novel. I have my outline as a separate text item, but it is in another folder, not in my manuscript. Before I start writing the content for my novel, I’ve created a text item for each chapter I have outlined. I am able to split the screen and keep my outline open on the right, and whatever chapter I am working on open to the left. Once I’ve completed a chapter, I move it from “manuscript” to a “finished” folder that I have created.
Scrivener gives you a word and character count, allows you to set a target word count for any text item, has an indexing feature where you can mark different characters or places in their own colors, making it easy to follow each individual plotline, or find all instances of a specific item or word. It is easy to move sections around in case they need to be rearranged. And it can be exported into many different formats, including .doc, .docx, .rtf, .txt, .pdf, .mobi, .epub, .odt (OpenOffice Document), and more. I usually export it as a Word document so I can use Word to format it as a novel. I’m sure I can do this with Scrivener as well, but I’ve not done much with formatting in this piece of software.
These are many of the tools that I use for writing my novels, poetry, blogs, and other tools that are quite common among writers. It certainly is not comprehensive. So what are your thoughts? If you have other tools that you use, feel free to comment below and share with your fellow writers why you use it.