Anyone who has seen me in my kitchen knows that my love for my Kitchen Aid mixer (and my silicone spatulas, and peculiarly shaped baking pans, and my new vegetable peeler and my MicroPlane grater) knows no bounds. I have a thing for tools. My father and I used to bond over a catalogue from a kitchen supply store: kitchen porn! Shiny and utilitarian, for the win!
My love for tools extends, of course, to writing. The first thing I bought with the delivery money from my first book was an IBM Selectric (which should tell you how long ago that was!) the Cadillac of electric typewriters. I would plump the big thing on my bed and sit crosslegged, writing until my room-mate complained about the din.
Every book I’ve ever written has required a slightly different toolkit. Some of this is just technology–I haven’t written a book on a typewriter since the 1980s. But a lot of it is the requirements of the book itself. For instance: if I’m blocked, I revert to the 3-pages-longhand-every-day program from The Artists’ Way, in part because it’s easier to remember the “it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done” rule when I’m writing longhand. I write in a spiral bound notebook, with a pen; even there I get fussy: I loathe ball point pens. They hurt my wrist because I tend to press too hard; my handwriting always looks lousy in ballpoint–yes, it’s vanity, but it’s my vanity, dammit!. I prefer a rollerball pen, something with nice flowy inky that doesn’t require me to press too hard.
When I started writing on computer I used Xywrite, a word processor descended from typesetting software. When I went from IBM to Mac, I started working on Word, which (despite the fact that it loads on bells and whistles I don’t want and will never use) is a pretty good workhorse of a program. For a long time I used the “Stickies” program on my Mac to keep notes of things I wanted to check, character’s appearances, etc., because I didn’t have to keep opening files to find the scrap of data I wanted. But recently I started using something called Scrivener, a writing program that allows you to outline, keep notes and URLs in the same file as the chapter I’m working on. For the history-and-research-intensive WIP, I’m really getting to like it a lot.
But I don’t know if I’ll want to use it for the next book. The next book, which is just a sparking synapse in the back of my head right now, hasn’t gotten so far as to mention tools to me.
At my Clarion in 1981, Damon Knight said that he had to write rough draft on blue paper; white paper was for final drafts. Every writer has her or his own set of rules, tools, and workarounds; one of the things about a lot of How-To books on writing that drives me nuts is that they promulgate the notion that there’s a right way to write, with the right tools. The right tools for you are the tools that let you put the words down on paper, regardless of whether they’re someone else’s right tools. And if those tools stop working for you, there’s nothing in the world wrong with trying out something new. There really is a kind of psychic “ahhh–that’s better” when you find the right tool for the job at hand.
So: what are your right tools?
Madeleine Robins blogs here on the 7th and 21st of the month, and more frequently at Running Air.