Essential tools for writers



If you want to write fiction, you’ve got to read fiction. A whole freaking lot of it.

Start by reading any and every short story and novel you can get your hands on. Don’t worry about taking notes or thinking too much into the stories. Just read. Chances are, you’ve already done a lot of it. All writers come to writing through reading first.

Spend as much time as you can spare browsing new book stores, used book stores, and ebook stores. Free ebooks are a great resource that cost very little and they’re all over the place. There are a lot of great free titles out there, especially some of the classics that are in the public domain.

2. Notebooks

Carry notebooks with you as often as you can. I like the solid dependability of a large Moleskine Classic, but buy whatever kind of notebook pleases you the most. This is your happy place.

Immediately make a habit out of journaling. Write every day, even if it’s just about the weather or what you had for breakfast.

This is a judgement free zone, so don’t worry if what you write sucks or doesn’t make sense. Just fill the pages, and when you get to the end of that notebook buy another one, and then another, and then another.

When it becomes harder not to write than it is to write, you’ve accomplished your goal. You’ve made writing into a habit.

3. Software

Journaling is all well and good, but it’s not very productive.

Once you start writing stories you’ll want to use a word processor. We’re beyond typewriters, so I don’t mean those. I mean word processing software.

With the rise in ebooks, doing things digitally first makes a lot of sense and saves you extra work anyways. Don’t commit yourself to the pain of writing longhand in the 21st century. Though writing longhand has its own therapeutic benefits, typing on a keyboard is much faster.

There’s a number of word processing software options out there, so I’m going to go through the common ones first:

Microsoft Word — I think they killed that chummy paperclip guy, but Microsoft Word is still the most popular word processor. It gets the job done.

Pages — This is the word processor that comes with Mac OS X. Like Word, it gets the job done, but it’s not great.

Open Office — Just as good as Word or Pages, but free. I can condone that.

And now the king of word processing software for fiction writers:

Scrivener — Scrivener changed my life as a writer. It’s easy to use, easy to keep organized, infinitely flexible, and for those long-term thinkers, you can compile straight to any format, including ebook formats that are ready to publish on Kindle and various other ebook platforms. It has character and setting sketch templates (we’ll go into more detail about character and setting sketches in the next two articles), it autosaves your work, and it rarely ever crashes (unlike the options above). I could go on for days about Scrivener.

4. Grammar and Style Guides

Every writer needs a firm schooling in grammar do’s and don’ts as early as possible.

English grammar can take a lifetime to master, which is why there are these handy style guides you can keep around and reference while you’re doing your work.

These guides, plus a dictionary and a thesaurus (I like for those), are a must have for every writer’s toolbox.

I’ve written in detail about these three essential style guides for writers. But for easy linking, here they are again:

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
The Star Copy Style by The Kansas City Star
The Tools of the Writer by Roy Peter Clark

5. Study of Craft

Now that you’ve studied grammar, read the kind of fiction you want to write, kept a journal, and found the right software, you should take a step back and study the craft of writing fiction by reading some nonfiction books on the subject.

6. Writing Groups

Writing groups are my favorite tool of all. They’re a great way to meet other writers and put your skills to the test. Being a part of a writing group and workshopping your stories is, in my opinion, the absolute fastest and most surefire way to learn how to write fiction.

Writing groups provide:

Moral support. Other writers understand when you complain that writing is hard.

Like-minded people. Share your hopes and dreams with like-minded people.

Feedback. The invaluable critique that comes with workshopping manuscripts. They will give you honest feedback even when you don’t want to hear it.

Healthy competition. Seeing other people produce work is the best motivation for a writer who is not writing.


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49 thoughts on “Essential tools for writers”

  1. Love it. Sometimes I have this “lapsus mentalus” (brain f__ts) that I can’t write but at all. It might be also to do with my mood, but having certain tools, like the notebook that you mentioned above, could be such a great thing-to-do.
    Because even if it’s not something with a lot of sense, it will make perfect sense for mi.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post, I definitely agree with you on typing instead of longhand. It’s so much quicker and a lot easier to delete words and sections without leaving an illegible mess. There are three non fiction books that really helped with my writing. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’ and Brenda Ueland’s ‘If You Want to Write’ all well worth reading.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for the thoughtful set of tools to gain understanding & skills n the. craft of writing. I’ve grown by using all of them. 😃😃 Like you I love writers groups. Only after a 10 year study of drafting my first novel plus revising it in a fiction critique group, did I discover a local growing club. Listening to guest speakers, chatting in workshops and on break in monthly meetings, I feel at home. Now I facilitate our Redwood Writers Author Support Group, where members ask questions & receive personal wisdom and experience of a dozen or more other writers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I appreciate this. The number one thing I should do is work on my grammar.

    However, Charles Bukowski didn’t give a fuck about grammar, he did have style though and that made up for his lack of grammar.

    Thank you for sharing and being helpful. You are appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you there, Linguistics is difficult at times, but I suppose every subject is to someone 🙂 I almost did English Literature! I definitely miss it at times, sometimes Linguistics can be a bit too scientific for me. How long have you been studying English Lit?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. nice post. however, i have to add that i do not believe that grammar counts anywhere near as much as content. conversely, i think perhaps you’ll agree that impeccable grammar can’t save boring, banal content. when i was writing pop songs for money a very wise publisher i had told me something i have never forgotten. he said; “remember, thought before rhyme.” transposing this to prose writing i say; content before grammar…always. yes, it’s nice to possess good grammar but if the content is interesting bad grammar will not lessen its impact – and, in fact, may even heighten it. see: Austin, Joyce, Wilde and too many more to list. writing what you know – or what you’ve thoroughly researched – is to me the single most important rule any author should remember – and breaking all the other writing “rules” often leads to a reader to.something compelling. .

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks! I have so many grammar and style books and periodically take them out to review them. This summer, I am into reading Rob March, a writer from South Africa. I read about him in our local paper and his books sound very interesting. Ironically, I couldn’t find him at the local library and had to order his books from Amazon. I am so glad to have a partner in crime with writing! Thanks. I do many of the same things and share the same habits.

    Liked by 1 person

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