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Tools of the Trade -- My software system is a hardware system

Updated: Mar 1

Often when I come across articles and posts about what writers need to get started, there is a sales pitch for some type of software or system to make the writer’s life easier. So often beginning writers will think it’s something they “need”. 

When I got serious about being a writer, I came across the information as well. So when I met another writer in person, the first thing I asked them was what kind of software they used. 

“I use Word.”

“No, I mean like did you download Scrivner, or do you have some digital note card for plotting–”

She held up her hand and said, “I am no where near that sophisticated. I have three files. One for the outline, one for random scenes as they come to me, and one for the main document. That’s it.”

That was it. 

No magical software program. No secret tool that writers use to make it happen. It’s the digital equivalent of being told “okay, class. Everyone take out a piece of paper.”

I have to remind myself that books were once hand-written. Great books, in fact. They were handwritten on parchment with dip pens. Great books were once typed on mechanical typewriters, and if there was one slip, one typo, you had to retype the whole page. Add one sentence and the whole book had to be retyped. And to me, that speaks to the amount of conviction the writers must have had when they hammered in those letters on that typewriter. 

I can and will futz with a piece of writing for a long time. Working on a piece of writing can turn into a Sisyphean hobby where no one reads what you have written because you are laboring over whether it’s living room or livingroom. Every day you rewrite the book comma by laborious comma.

I took that other writer’s advice and when I transferred my notebook scribblings into text form, I created three documents, one outline, one for random scenes, and one primary document. Whenever I go through serious edits after the draft is complete, I keep the original and retitle the copy of the primary document to draft two. In my folders, I have many drafts. 

And as I continue to write, I found supplementary items were helpful. I realized how tactile of a person I am, so I like to touch what I am working on. I drew out my outline and made it portable so I could write while in coffeeshops and libraries. I print out pages and take them with me so I can write on them with highlighters and pens. 

An iPad tablet covered in stickers

Here is my Tools of the Trade system for my upcoming novel, Pretty Girls Get Away with Murder.

  • I have a folder named after my primary character. It’s called The Gabbi Project. Inside that folder I have the following files: an outline, a timeline of events, the main draft, a random scenes draft. 

  • In a GoodNotes folder I have a few moodboards. 

  • I have a stack of legal pads on my desk. I keep one in my bag for sketching out scenes before I type them. I keep pens within arms reach at all times. 

Before I leave the house, I pack my bag for the day: my planner, my iPad with a smart keyboard, my legal pad. I can sketch scenes and then type them in one coffee shop visit.

And if you are a writer who thinks all of that sounds like too much trouble, that’s okay. You must figure out your own system. Because that’s the thing – figuring out what works for you. 

My system brings me joy because it caters to both my creativity and my productivity. I can feel the wonderful drag of the pen against the paper, and then the first typing session acts as the first edit. I can expand, revise, and tweak it.

What works for one person might not be what works for someone else. Some people need a kanban software program. Some people need physical notecards for a process wall. Some people just sit down and write it without an outline. Some people need a spreadsheet to manage the B plots and C plots. 

So try them all like dresses and fling the ones that don’t work over your head. Keep trying them on until you find the one that works the best for you. 

Read Books. Wear Boots.




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