Ultimately, it's the writing that makes the writer, but that doesn't mean you can't set yourself up for success!
Over the years, I've discovered that the best way to have killer productivity, astounding first drafts, and near-perfect rewrites is to set yourself up with good, reliable writing tools.
It may seem crazy to some that I use more than just a word document to get the job done, but I'm a firm believer in not settling. If there are tools out there that are going to make my writing better, easier, faster, and more inspired, then I want them.
And you should, too! Even if you are a writing purist, I dare you (nay, I triple dog dare you!) to put yourself and your writing out there and try out a few of these tools. You may be surprised by what you find.
No worries, you can thank me later. *wink*
1. Content Tech
What is it? Content tech is simply a means by which you are enabled to write. For most, this means a computer or a tablet. You could also use your Moleskine, a Lisa Frank notebook, a hipster typewriter. Whatever floats your boat.
What I use: I currently use a 2014 Macbook Pro with Retina Display, and it's awesome! A laptop computer is perfect for my writing needs for several reasons, the biggest of which is probably my terrible handwriting.
A computer is also great for easily backing-up my work, for increasing the speed at which I write, for at-hand research (hello Google!), and for storing all of my work in an easy-to-find location.
What I've used: Before my Macbook, I had an HP netbook, but I was definitely happy to jump back on the Apple bandwagon. Don't get me wrong; a PC isn't all bad. In fact, my little netbook served me quite well for two whole years. The simple fact is, I needed more processing power and I really preferred the speed and interface that the Macbook offered.
2. Writing Software
What is it? Your writing software is the program you use to actually do your story typing, assuming that you too work on some sort of computer or tablet. Popular software programs include Microsoft Word, Google Docs (not technically software, but ya know), Scrivener, Notepad, and yWriter.
What I use: I currently use Scrivener and I love it! Scrivener does come at a price ($40-$45), which may be steep if you are just starting out, but I find it to be worth every penny. Sidenote: I also run a blog mini-series called Story Writing with Scrivener. Go check it out!
Scrivener allows you to keep all of your writing neatly organized in one file, called a project. This means you no longer have to open fifty windows to view all of your documents. Huzzah!
Everything you write can be assigned to a different sidebar folder, all of which you can create, rename, rearrange, and delete at will. It also allows you to take notes on your chapter, give each scene each a synopsis, and mark them both with a label and status. And that's just the beginning!
What I've used: In the past, I have used both Microsoft Word and Google Docs, and I was never really a satisfied customer. I have a hundred different documents detailing the different aspects of my fantasy world, and I absolutely hated having to open all of those windows when I wanted to have my notes nearby. Scrivener was definitely the right match for me.
3. Story Security
What is it? Your story security is exactly what it sounds like: a place to safeguard your work. Popular options include Dropbox, Google Docs, a personal cloud, flash drives or other memory cards, a filing cabinet, and a fire-proof safe.
What I use: I currently use Dropbox for my digital files and a fire- and flood-proof safe for my physical notes. I love Dropbox because you don't have to do any extra work. Simply house your story files in the Dropbox App folder on your desktop and every time you save a file, it's automatically saved in the Dropbox cloud. Plus, Dropbox is free up to 2GB, which is plenty for me at the moment.
I do keep two notebooks of physical notes outside of Scrivener, but they are fancy notes. Being an epic fantasy writer, I keep a sketchpad full of map drawings and a leather bound journal full of genealogies. I like having these two items as physical notes because handcrafting these allows me to have full control over their appearance.
I keep these notes in my Sentrysafe, not because I am afraid of them getting stolen but because I could literally not recreate them from memory if my house burned to the ground. They are that intense!
What I've used: In the not so distant past, I was a huge proponent of flash drives. I kept two updated with my files at all times, and at least one of them was always put away in my safe. But I hated that I had to spend the time to plug in my flash drives and save the files over every time I completed a long day of writing. It was a nuisance I didn't need.
I've also used Google Drive in the past, but I wasn't a fan of having to upload my files to the internet every night either (for some reason, I didn't know there was the app *shrugs*).
4. A Place For Notes
What is it? Is it safe to call this one a "duh!"? Yes? I hope so...
What I use: To keep track of all my notes, I use Scrivener and the map sketchpad and genealogy journal I mentioned above. In Scrivener, I keep three sidebar folders, one for characters, one for lists (such as chronological events, vocabulary I've created, yada yada), and one for new unused ideas.
What I've used: A million, zillion, katrillion (yes, that's a word now) scattered notebooks with a billion, fabrillion sketchpads, Microsoft Word, and, foolishly, the reliability of my own memory.
Needless to say, none of those worked out. I could never keep track of my notebooks and sketchpads, which would cost me vital information, Microsoft Word left me frustrated at opening all those documents, and my own memory proved futile.
5. A Planner
What is it? Something to organize your life with so that you actually have time to write, even if that means penciling in the time to do it. There are a ton of amazing physical planners out there, as well as apps such as Google Calendar and aCalendar.
What I use: For 2015, I really wanted to find a planning multi-tool, something that would help me set goals, dream big, and stay thankful. I ran across Passion Planner and I've been using it for about 6 months now. I really do enjoy its beautiful, organized design. It's a high-quality planner, and I love it. Unfortunately, I don't think I really use it to its full advantage. I might not purchase this one again next year.
Update (2/16): I totally bought the Passion Planner again. It's become completely indispensable.
Update (7/15): I now use my Passion Planner for business tasks, while I organize my writing in The Novel Planner, the daily planner that I created specifically with authors in mind.
It comes with a novel project organizer, monthly and weekly calendars, a section to track your amazing accomplishments, and so much more!
Click here to learn about all of the fun features I added to help you get organized.
What I've used: Before 2014, I never scheduled out time to write. I was in school at the time and simply wrote whenever I had the chance or felt like it, but that was before writing became a career goal instead of a hobby. Now that I'm pursuing the author life, I find that planning keeps me on top of all my responsibilities with my business and my books.
6. A Functional Work Space
What is it? A place, separate and organized, where you can sit down and get amazing amounts of work done. A home office, a studio loft, a corner seat at a coffee shop...someplace where you feel at ease and inspired to write.
What I use: I just recently moved my work space from a little desk in a guest bedroom (that also served as a storage room) into the corner of my bedroom. My desk is set up in front of the window so I can look out at the woods and countryside.
Littered on my desktop are a pretty pen holder, a delicious smelling candle and a cute little owl friend who holds my extra papers. Each desk drawer has a designated purpose: one for notebooks, one for files, and one for writing books and dictionaries.
I think my favorite part of my work space is actually my bookshelf, which I have set to the right of my desk. With one glance, I can look over at the millions of words crafted by writers that have come before me and know that they dealt with the same struggles: writer's block, a lack of time and inspiration, a tired brain. It inspires me to keep moving forward.
What I've used: I wrote my 50,000 words for NaNo 2014 in the storage/guest room I mentioned above. After struggling to stay focused and often having to leave the desk to go get resources, I knew I needed a space that was truly my own.
Several years ago, I tried writing in a little tea shop but found that to be absolutely fruitless. I was constantly distracted by the desire to people-watch!
7. Inspiration Sources
What is it? At least two veritable resources that help you fight writer's block–every time. They might be a website, a favorite novel, the public library, a change of location. Anything that helps you get out of a funk and back into inspired writing.
What I use: My first and foremost source of inspiration is definitely Pinterest. In addition to boards on writing tips and author quotes, I also keep private boards for each of my main characters, locations, and themes. I spend 15 minutes a few times a week looking up pins to keep on those boards, which is hardly any time at all considering how much they have come in handy when I write.
My second favorite source of inspiration is my collection of non-fiction books. My current WIP is based on the lives of the people of old Europe. I love collecting and reading over books such as The Irish History Encyclopedia, In Search of the Dark Ages, Germania, and The History of the Medieval World. If I am at a loss for a plot point, these books provide endless options that keeping me writing.
I also enjoy re-reading novels from Kristin Cashore, Melina Marchetta, JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, and others when I feel my writing is losing its luster. Their unique writing styles always inspire me to try new techniques.
What I've used: Foolish as I was, I used to use Wikipedia as a common source of inspiration. I still read articles there when I am looking for a quick answer, but I always double check with other veritable resources before including a direct allusion to the information I found there.
I also stopped looking to novels for plot line inspiration because I found that my stories often reflected them a little too nearly. It wasn't plagiarism, but it certainly wasn't original either. I now develop any new plot ideas the old-fashioned way–by daydreaming!
8. An Arsenal of Proof
What is it? Writing books is tough, even without people telling you that there's no money in writing and that you could have been a doctor/lawyer/teacher/anything else. An impressive bookshelf full of novels that have made their authors a success always keeps my spirits up.
How to build one: As a writer, you should not only be reading books you love, but books that will broaden your horizons. Include novels from other centuries, books transcribed from other languages, and stories spread over various genres and age groups. Keep your interests varied and read weird. Know that no idea is too strange to become a novel.
What's on my shelf: Jane Austen, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Hamlet, The Red Badge of Courage, The Mists of Avalon, the Star Wars Trilogy, American Gods, the Harry Potter series, Beautiful Creatures, Iliad and Odyssey, Atonement, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Princess Bride, Ender's Game, Graceling, and so many others.
What is it? Community is your access to other writers and the relationships you build with them. Many writers build relationships through creative writing classes, NaNoWriMo, writing blogs and forums, and critique circles.
What I use: This blog is an awesome source of community for me. Talking to you in the comments or on social media is one of my favorite times of the day. I love answering your questions, celebrating your successes, encouraging you in the down times, and standing with you through the day-to-day thrum of fingers on keys. And what's even better is that you ladies do the same for me!
Update (7/16): The She's Novel community has now expanded to Facebook. Our new Facebook group, Your Write Dream, is a place for writerly advice, encouragement, and inspiration and has already grown to over 1,200 members. Hurray!
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What I've used: I've taken a creative writing course and several writing-heavy English classes that have also been good sources of community for me. I enjoyed critiquing other writers' pieces and having them do the same for me. The only trouble for me was that peer critiques made me less vulnerable in my writing.
I didn't bring my strange ideas to the table because I was worried that my peers wouldn't "get it". (Whatever that's suppose to mean right? Ha!) I think this was more a reflection of my own confidence at the time rather than the effectiveness of writing classes and critique circles. I would definitely suggest that you take the opportunity to join one if you get it.
10. Access to Research
What is it? An easy-access source of information that fuels the development of your story. Popular choices include libraries (both their books and their online databases), educational websites, webinars and college level classes, travel, museum tours, interviews with knowledgeable subjects, and a curated personal collection of non-fiction books.
What I use: I've already mentioned my admiration for my collection of history books in tool #7. I also research for my novel by scouring educational websites. Usually, I'll discover a history subject that piques my interest and run a quick Google search. I'll then click on any result associated with an .edu or .org site. I have about 95% success with these sources be reliable, informational, and inspirational.
I will also interview friends and family on certain subjects. I know several people who are involved with seasonal hunting, farming, shooting, and horsemanship, all of which are subjects I should know as much as possible about to add a level of realism to my historically-based fantasy novel.
What I've used in the past: Those are the only three sources of research I have used for my current WIP, but for past projects I have relied on other sources. For one short story for my creative writing class, I relied on my memories from a trip to New York City to set the scene.
For other stories, I used facts I had learned from high school history classes, information from our library's databases, and profiles of people I knew in real life.
That sums up my top ten tools to get you writing! What other resources can you add to this list? Are there any software programs, gadgets, books, or apps that I absolutely need to know about?
Oh, and P.S. Want an epic list of apps, software, courses, workshops, ebooks, and other resources to help you pre-write, draft, edit, publish, and market your next novel? Check out my ebook, The Essential Resource Guide for Writers, and download it for FREE today!
Kristen Kieffer is a writer of fantasy fiction and the creative writing coach behind She's Novel. She's made it her mission to help aspiring authors write sensational novels because obliterating expectations is her jam. Her other passions? Coffee and Tolkien, of course!