A few weeks ago Freshly Pressed had a great post from odeevee about notebooks. It got me thinking about the tools that writers use. What kind of tools do you have to have to be an effective writer? I’ve taken an inventory!
First, I do NOT subscribe to the idea that all writing has to be with pen and paper. Honestly, I do most of my writing on a computer. Whether it’s a Windows or Mac doesn’t really matter; it’s just a tool. All of my daytime work is done on a three or four year old Windows XP box with an older version of Office (2000, I think?). The hospital where I work also has an arrangement with the Corel company for cheap licensing, so I also use WordPerfect (pay attention, Microsoft: we buy it because it’s cheap and Corel gives us the education pricing model!). Our technical writing at work goes back and forth between Word and WordPerfect, and since I don’t do a lot of huge documents that require lots of formatting it is easy enough to switch. At home I have a dual-boot hackintosh with Apple’s Mac Box Set of productivity software on the OS X side, and a copy of Office 2010 Home on the Win 7 side. I also use WordPress (obviously!) for my blog, and find their tools to be good for the post-sized writing I do here, with a feature set that is just right for the 500-2000 word spots. I’m a simple man; give me a spell checker and I’m golden! One other implement that is good to have: a thesaurus and dictionary website. I find I often reuse words in the same sentence or paragraph, so I surf a dictionary or thesaurus for synonyms for variety. Add in Google and Wikipedia, and I have enough tools to fact check and complete ideas unless I’m writing something that will require legal review, which is rare (ok, almost never!) for me. If I’m going mobile I carry a Dell Mini 10v netbook that has been hackintoshed (of course!), though it’s keyboard is so small I prefer to only use it for web surfing if I can help it.
How about the analog hardware? This is the fun part. I have a number of notebooks lying around, but the main one for jotting down the quick ideas is a vendor freebie I received at an IT show a few years ago from HP, back before our Compliance Department nixed the vendor giveaways. It’s a smaller black leather Castelli with white stitching that is about 7″x9.5″, and is the perfect size to put in my netbook bag. It has a regular book binding, white lined pages with enough weight to feel comfortable writing on, and a ribbon bookmark so I can mark my place. I also have a real Moleskine notebook with a black cover that is about 8.25″x11″ or so. It’s pages are offwhite and unlined, so you have to pay attention as you write or you’ll start writing up or downhill. It has a pocket in the back, where I keep a couple of sheets of blank music paper, in case a tune comes to me I want to jot down. It also has a black stretchy flat wraparound cord that can be used to bookmark pages, too. I also have a couple of smaller Moleskines that are the same sort of format, but measure 5.25″x8.25″. I love my Moleskines; they are a joy to carry and write in, once you get used to writing in a book.
Pens are another indulgence I enjoy. For day to day use I like rollerballs and gel pens, but I also have a couple of nicer pens, having been motivated to use better gear when I can afford it. I carry a good quality fancy ballpoint with a removable cap in the netbook bag that has a nice heft to it. I’m not that big of a ballpoint fan, but if it has enough weight and won’t skip they are pleasant enough, and this one exceeds that expectation. I’ve also picked up a couple of fountain pens recently. Both have medium nibs, so I’m on the lookout for another that has a fine point; I just can’t get used to the wider marks that mine make. The Yafa pen is not that great; it stops writing after a minute or so. The Levenger fountain pen, though, is wonderful, seeming to write forever without having to shake or squeeze the internal cartridge to cause the ink to reflow. My go-to pen, however, is a Levenger rollerball. The weight is perfect, it has a cool look, and the rollerball is just a joy to write with. I carry it everywhere, which is risky for me as I often lose pens, but just holding it raises my IQ by at least 20 (ok, maybe not by 20!).
The real purpose of these tools, though, is not to help me look cool (or nerdy, more likely), feel more intelligent, or more competent. Their job is to enable the writing, whether good or bad. While they may help the print look better on a page, in the end the quality and the meaning of the work is up to me. The nice part is that if practice makes perfect, the tools hopefully make for more pleasant practice, or at least don’t stand in your way. The bad news for me: I can’t blame my performance on the tools!