The Tools of my Trade

blog-hop-for-writersAs part of Ruth Snyder’s Blog Hop, today’s post is about the things we use for writing. It’s a post I was going to write anyway, so I just saved it a week or so. It was all part of the plan, not me failing to procrastinate in a useful way from my novel writing, you see.

So I had better stop not procrastinating and start… not procrastinating. The tools I use have been gathered through rigorous testing over many years, and occasionally just because they’re brightly coloured or simply pink. Here, from start of process to finish, is my list.

1. PearlTrees is another terrible, wonderful timesuck like Pinterest, but better laid out for me. Rather than boards of subjects, which can be frustrating if you have 500 different types of cupcake (I don’t have that, honest), PearlTrees allows you to attach ‘pearls’ to ‘trees’. I can’t think where they got the name.

It’s basically a mind-mapping site for everything. Websites, photos, scraps of notes, video clips, anything you can find on the internet you can attach to PearlTrees, and I’m told it doesn’t have the ban on explicit content that Pinterest does. Create a tree for a story with a sub-tree for characters and a sub-tree for each character, and fill that one with backstory notes, houses for sale that they might live in, photos of the perfect actors to play them and anything else you like. It’s perfect, and a terrible, terrible timesuck.

2. The file of coloursThe writing file and brightly coloured pens in their Doctor Who pencil case. In exhibit A, you can see the full gamut of my analogue writing implements. Sometimes colourful notes work for me, sometimes black and white is the only way to go. At the moment I’m in magpie mode, which involved working in black and white but grabbing every shiny pen I see, so my pencil case barely zips shut.

On the far left is the One Hundred Most Important Things To Know About Your Character list, which I’m taking Greg through at the moment. It’s really helpful in turning up things you never thought were there to think about, but I’m on about number 54 and I’ve filled 6 sides of A4. It is really, really detailed, as a 100 question interview would have to be.

In the top left is my tablet, which is the anti-tool. It is a terrible distraction and I should leave it in my bedroom, as I did today, otherwise I will spend all day playing CandyCrush and Hay Day. It does have some useful tools for writing on the go, but they double up.

3. When I’ve got enough of an idea to call it a story, I then plug everything I have into Storybook. This free bit of software is just a planning tool. It has no word processor, so you can’t write, but it has some really useful layouts for getting a proper look at your timelines and characters. Gantt charts, mind mapping, side by side timelines and storyboarding all have their place, depending on the story you’re writing. I found it especially useful when I wrote a fanfic that jumped around in time. All I had to do was work out the timeline of events and then drag the scenes within that timeline into the order I wanted to tell them in. Bish bosh, job done.

4. From there it’s on to WriteWay. This is not a free product, but at $35 (I paid less as a student) it’s one of the best bits of kit I’ve ever bought. Scrivener wasn’t available on Windows when I got this, and I’ve never been tempted to jump ship now it is. It allows you to break your story down into acts, chapters and scenes and work on each one individually, you can drag them around, build files of research notes and character information, colour code scenes and move them around on a storyboard, write in full screen mode, track your wordcount per day and how well you’re doing at reaching your goals, and it even reformats documents from your preferred writing style into standard manuscript or publishing formatting, even allowing you to save as PDF.

5. WriteWay is my main writing tool, but I only really use it on my desktop at the moment. When I’m on my laptop or tablet, I use Evernote. This handy notebook tool is installed on my desktop, my laptop, my tablet and my phone. If I get an idea in the middle of the night I open a voice recording, slur out my idea, and go back to sleep. If I’m out in town and see something interesting I can snap a photo of it and save it in the right notebook. At the moment I’m using it on my laptop, where a note becomes a full page, distraction free writing space that’s saved for me to plug into WriteWay later. It’s a very, very useful bit of kit, and if my drawing skills weren’t so awful I might consider getting one of the Moleskine notebooks that work with it.

6. And when it’s time for Butt In Seat, IMG_20140127_213548Fingers On Keyboard, I bring out this little thing. Yes, it’s a cupcake kitchen timer. It’s not perfectly accurate and it’s a bit distracting, and makes me jump out of my skin when it goes off right next to me, but there’s something very satisfying about winding it up and watching me go. I love the Pomodoro method for writing. If you’re not familiar with it, you set yourself a time for solidly working at something (anything, could be tidying, ironing, writing or watching the paint dry) and you work solidly for that time, and then you have a break. Then you work again and have another break. Apparently my best time for working is 15 minute bursts with five minutes between each. Every 15 minutes I get to check my email or play CandyCrush, which is perfect, and in between I’ve got some writing out of the way. Sorted.


If anyone’s still reading, I hope there’s something useful in there.

14 thoughts on “The Tools of my Trade

  1. Seems like it’ll be very useful to check out Storybook and that 100 things to know about your character list. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ack! When will I find time to check out Storybook and Pearl Trees? Thank you, I think, for some great new tips. Or maybe I should just pull out some more of my hair over not having time to actually write?

    • That is the problem with these services. I console myself that by giving a bit of time to getting to grips with things, I might be able to speed up another part of the process or at least cut down the time I spend losing my notes.

    • Janis, that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. I use a timer to track what I do and to largely keep on task, but one that tells me when to stop would be a great help.

  3. Evil creature, making me feel the absolute need to have these myself! You could sell anything! 🙂

    • It was a Christmas present, and I’d asked for one shaped like a tomato before I saw this one and begged for it. It’s so much nicer to be able to break the day down into cupcakes.

  4. Alexandra, thanks for sharing your writing tools with us. Pearl Tree sounds interesting. I appreciated the way you not only told us about your writing tools, but also explained how they are useful to you. Happy writing 🙂

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