A Writer’s Toolbox

Every job I’ve ever had, or ever heard of, has a specific set of tools to be used within that job.  It’s easy to name the gadgets a plumber or carpenter uses, but what about a writer?

There are a multitude of tools to choose from, which is great because what works for some doesn’t always work for others.  Just as there are a plethora of stories – and ideas for stories – out there, there are also many ways to help those tales reach large audiences.

The most obvious tool for writers is some way to get their ideas out of their head.  When I first started writing, pen and paper were it for me.  As I went on, I bypassed working with a typewriter, and went straight to the computer when they became available.  And now I can take my stories with me and work on them anywhere by carrying them around on a flash drive.

The next tools for many authors are classes.  These range anywhere from how to write, to character/plot development, to how to market yourself.  If you can’t afford classes, writer’s groups are another great way to learn what’s needed for this craft.  I belong to four groups, and I glean so much info from them that it’s definitely worth the yearly membership fees!

Some authors use Excel to outline relentlessly.  I actually know of one person who creates massive spreadsheets with every single plot point, scene, character, etc, before putting pen to paper, as it were.  I expect that the words pour out of him because he spends so much time fleshing out the story in his head.  But mention outlining to another writer, and they swear they can feel their creative juices dry up.  Those authors prefer to sit down, start writing, and let the creative muse (and characters) direct the story’s twists and turns.

I’ve learned that I need a balance between the two.  I think I would become bored with my story if I plotted it all out on paper, but I seem to have a hard time finishing a project if I don’t have some idea of where I want it to go.  So, I use a spreadsheet to create a time-line for my stories.  I also use Excel to keep a fact sheet on each character in the book.  In those descriptions, I include a photo of what I think that character looks like.  This helps me describe him/her properly.

Some other tools I use are a camera and voice recorder, which I use to describe places and things that appear in my story.  Since my YA series is based in the town I call home, walking around and taking photos – or speaking my observations into the recorder – help me better convey what my protagonist is seeing or feeling.

In my first manuscript, that exercise yielded these gems:

…I walked along the pieced together asphalt that served as the road out there.

…breeze was gentle and carried on it the ripe smell of the bay.

…sitting beneath a sky full of cotton-ball clouds.

…untended grass, where patches of dirt spread like a cancer, eating away at what was once a lush lawn.

…surrounded by the shimmering diamonds of the reflecting afternoon sun.

If I hadn’t recorded my thoughts while walking, I doubt I would’ve been able to come up with these in my head.

Another tool for writers that I’ve just recently taken advantage of is critique groups.  Having family and friends read your work is definitely helpful, but it’s also a good idea to get feedback from others in your craft.  Through trial and error I’ve acquired a group of about four people with whom I exchange parts of my work for parts of theirs.  These women have been invaluable in helping me polish my manuscript.

While I currently have a good number of devices already in use, I’m sure there are others I haven’t covered, so I’d be interested to hear what works for you.  The more tools in my toolbox, the better I can be!


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. E. B. Davis
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 11:21:56

    The two tools I use constantly are dictionary.com and several print grammar texts including Bill Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers-which is an unusual dictionary, but then for Bill, nothing is typical. I’ve used cameras as well. Funny thing though, after I wrote a setting based on pictures, a friend who accompanied me while taking the pictures said my descriptions were acurate, but she would have pictured another place from my words. Either, my writing was lacking or people imagine whatever they want to when there is no visual reference. Great topic Alyx.


    • Alyx Morgan
      Jan 07, 2011 @ 11:38:18

      I LOVE Dictionary.com too! I also use Thesaurus.com a lot.

      As a reader, I know I imagine my own settings, even if given a description. I think that’s because everything’s subjective to us. Where one person might read “95 degrees” & think “Ahhh! Wonderfully warm!”, the same words make me think of uncomfortable heat & sweating. But, I’ve written other scenes without having first taken photos, only to have to go back & rewrite the scene, filling in more details.

      Thanks for stopping by, EB!


  2. Dana
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 12:24:15

    I love my Descriptionary and the Writer’s Thesaurus. Both wonderful additions to a writer’s collection. I wish i would remember to write things down or record when I walk ’cause I get my best descriptive phrases then too…


  3. Mysti Berry
    Jan 08, 2011 @ 12:11:11

    The best tool? Writing. Writing when you don’t want to. Writing when you feel dead inside, uninspired, unable, exhausted, incapable. Writing when you owe your husband a date, your child a hug, and your cat some food. Writing when your family starts smirking whenever you bring it up, because you aren’t published yet and it’s been a while…

    All the other tools help, esp. great critiques. But writing is the one that counts 😉


  4. Mysti Berry
    Jan 08, 2011 @ 12:12:24

    Oh, and wordnik.com is fun!


    • Alyx Morgan
      Jan 08, 2011 @ 13:40:24

      Very well said, Mysti! & sometimes, it’s too easy to put it aside when all those other things pop up. Just last night, it was 11:40, I was exhausted, & I still hadn’t written my one page. I debated it for a nanosecond before deciding to just do it. It might not be the best I’ve ever written, but I did it.

      Thanks for Wordnik.com too. I’ll have to check it out!


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