My Writing Toolbox

Back when I was seventeen years old and first considering the possibility of becoming a writer, the tools available to me were rather low-tech. I had a pad and a pen. Reference materials consisted of a battered paperback dictionary and a thesaurus in even worse condition.

When I had the money for ribbon, I’d cart my mother’s typewriter off to my room. I took that thing over by the time I was eighteen. I’d grown up playing with it so despite it technically belonging to her, I always felt that it was mine. I’m pretty sure that I took it with me when I moved out of the house too.

In 1998 when I became interested once again in writing as a hobby, things were a little different. I didn’t own a typewriter for one thing, but I did have a computer with an internet connection. Other than that, I floundered along in an attempt to find what worked. Was all that flailing about a help or a hindrance during those early years? Sometimes it seems like both.

I’ve written novels solely on the computer using Microsoft Word. I’ve written full novels in long-hand–from concept and outline to finished product–only transcribing the material to my website when it was ready to be posted. I’ve started novels in long-hand and finished them in a word processor. There never seemed to be a rhyme or reason why I’d prefer long-hand to typewriting in the beginning. Some stories seemed to call for a more archaic approach.

It’s been eighteen years since I began writing again (good gods! Has it been that long?) and I think I’ve finally narrowed down my process. I’ve got five tools in my tool box that I’ve consistently used for every novel in the last eight or nine years.

Computer

My all-time favorite computer is my MacBook Pro. I’ve been an Apple convert since the early 2000’s and haven’t looked back.

The MacBook Pro gives me tons of storage, decent speed, a stable operating system and the freedom to pick up and go anywhere. At least once a week I’m writing at a coffee shop. (In some cases, I’ve written entire manuscripts at various coffee shops around town.)

At home I have an iMac, but I seldom use it for writing. It sits in the living room in front of my favorite chair and is my research station/website design unit/goof-off machine.

Scrivener

The one major difference in my writing has been my productivity. And I can safely say that Scrivener is the cause!

I cannot stress how useful this program has become for me. I’ve even written a couple of blog entries on the subject at my website explaining how I use it. This program is everything I’ve ever wanted in a word processing program…before I knew I wanted it!

Yes, it’s that good!

Scrivener was originally a Mac only program, but it now runs on Windows too. If you get nothing else from this blog entry, go get this!

Visual Thesaurus

Several years ago this was a downloadable program. Unfortunately, operating system upgrades have made it impossible for me to use the program itself, but the Visual Thesaurus website has an annual subscription fee for access.

If you just need to use it occasionally, you can access a word or two without having to pay money. I have the Visual Thesaurus up and running constantly when I’m writing, however, so I pay the $20 per year. It’s been a godsend when I’m struggling to find just the right word as I’m blazing through my current work in progress!

Random Generators

Last month I wrote a post here about random name generators. (You can go read it now if you want. I’ll wait!)

I think that post says everything about my love for those cool gadgets! A couple that I listed have a lot more than names attached to them, allowing the user to pick up any number of inspirations on any number of subjects. I’ve used NPC generators to bestow odd quirks upon my supporting characters, planetary generators for the Freya’s Tears novel and the ship generators for same.

As fiction writers we’re already using our brains and imaginations to tell a story. The generators help with those minor details that add depth to your novel without forcing you to lose focus on the important plot points.

Books

Due to the excess of online resources, I don’t use my research books as often as I did in the beginning. I still have them though. The monster-sized Roget’s Thesaurus is much better than the online one. Sometimes I need a word with a little more “oomph” to it. I also have a phrase thesaurus to combat those oft used cliches that show up in any novel.

I have a book on my Amazon wishlist too–The Emotion Thesaurus! Looking forward to getting that one, lemme tell ya!

Plus there are all the gaming resource books I have on hand. I’m using the Traveller gaming system quite a bit for my current work in progress, Ginnungagap.

I’m a writer! Reference books will never go out of style!

What’s in Your Toolbox?

I’ve shown you mine. Will you show me yours? What sorts of tools to you use in your writing? Any books that you can’t live without? A computer program that’s da bomb? Click below and share the wealth! Your treasure might be just the thing that someone else needs to make that breakthrough in their manuscript!

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20 thoughts on “My Writing Toolbox

  1. Good to hear from another Apple user! I have an iMac only and it’s dying a slow death I think. Less and less works on it every week. Scary when I think about all the writing starts/short stories/novels-in-progress stored on it. Writing tools–I use a printed thesaurus as well as thesaurus.com but sometimes even the two combined don’t seem to give me the right word, you know? I have become a ‘story bible’ convert over the past year, so I find I never have enough 3-ring binders or lined paper or pens…love pens. I’ll have to look into the phrase thesaurus, didn’t know about that one! I’ve heard so many good things about Scrivener, if I can ever afford it, I’ll have to get that one too.

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    1. Carol, sorry to hear about your iMac. Though they’re expensive as all get out, they certainly run to the end, don’t they?

      How do you organize your story bibles?

      The book I refer to is — Roget’s Thesaurus of Phrases by Karen Ann Kipfer — though it’s over a decade old and it looks like it’s out of print. (Only one cent at Amazon.com right now…plus shipping!)

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  2. My go to resources:

    1. Search engine. I use Bing because I like the layout. Yes, I like pictures.

    2. http://www.dictionary.com and I use both that and the thesaurus. I learned the hard way that having the same word multiple times in a paragraph, can be really bad.

    3. Autocrit. There is a paid version and a free version for this. The free version works fine for me because it at least gives me a close enough look the first time I go through my piece. After that, I send it to my critter.

    4. Which brings me to my last go to resource. Writing groups work great for me because I get multiple viewpoints on a piece I’m trying to clean up before I send it out. There are a lot out there, both online and in person. I use online groups. There are good ones, and not so great ones, I have been to find a few that are great.

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    1. Hmmm… I’ll have to look into Autocrat. I’ve never heard of it before.

      As for writing groups, there’s one struggling to be born in my area but it hasn’t quite come to fruition. I’ve never been involved with one before so it’ll be an education, right?

      Thanks for the suggestion, Calliopenjo!

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  3. I still love Moby Thesaurus because it prompts me to think of other ways to say what I’m trying to say. Often I use one of their listed words, but something about the lists inspires solutions I wouldn’t otherwise come up with. This is a great blog, Jove. A nice handout for a GCLS panel?

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    1. Checking Moby Thesaurus and…Holy…! This is awesome!! Thanks for the suggestion, Lee!

      As for GCLS, I’m not attending this year. It’s a great suggestion though.

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  4. I like using Scrivener too. I started using it about 6 months ago and love it. I subscribed to Learn Scrivener fast, it’s an online course to help you get up and going with Scrivener. It really helped. Scrivener has just about everything a writer needs- thesaurus, dictionary ( define tab) ect. I like it for non fiction because it make keeping track of footnotes.

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  5. I adore Scrivener too and enthusiastically recommend it. I’ve been on it since my first NaNo in 2009. It has served me well through a number of projects through the years.

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  6. I love Scrivener. I honestly don’t know how I lived without it! Scapple is useful too, a mind-mapping tool by the same people. And yes, the Emotion Thesaurus, as well as the other books in the series, are incredibly useful. I also love Aeon Timeline. It does what it says on the tin, allows you to create a timelines for your novel, or series of novels, or anything really, a character’s life… other than that, a good dictionary and thesaurus is a definite must. 🙂

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    1. I’ve never really used the Aeon Timeline, though I did pick up the download at one point. Maybe I’ll put it to work with the Freya’s Tears series — it’ll help me keep all the characters and plots from becoming jumbled.

      Thanks for the reminder, phoenixgray85!

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  7. Great blog! I think I’ll bookmark your Scrivener post. I have the free trial for now, but have not been writing, so I’ve pretty much forgotten how to use it.

    I started with pencil (Woodbine #2), moved to a manual typewriter (which I still have for when the apocalypse hits; but where will I get ribbons?), then an electric typewriter, which I thought would magically make me a better writer. Now I’m on a PC laptop (I’ll skip my Apple Plus phase). Sometimes I like pen and paper, and I keep notebooks with me at all times.

    Thing is, all the fancy tools and gadgets aren’t magic. It still takes BIC (butt in chair).

    Daydreaming is probably my best tool. Haven’t been doing enough of that lately.

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    1. Alas, Elaine, there are no easy tools of the trade that do things half as well as BIC. That little issue is the most important tool and the easiest to ignore, isn’t it?

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  8. I haven’t played with Scrivener yet as I find I can do most things with Word on my Apple Mac book – love that machine! Wouldn’t go back to Windows computers now. I have the free scrivener trial so I need to allocate some time and see if I can get into it. I love writing with Flair pens in a sketch pad when I’m working out my characters and plot issues and then I can also mind map the story – I need blank paper … The lined kind is too constricting. Also agree gotta have a good dictionary and thesaurus… Will check out the book of phrases too although might not work for UK English, eh?

    Thanks for a great blog Jordan

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    1. You’re welcome, Anne. It sounds like you’re an artistic type of writer, what with the sketch pads and mind maps. That sounds pretty cool! I’ve tried to go that route but haven’t been able to let myself go like that.

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