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8 Essential Tools A Writer Must Keep On Hand


January 27, 2014 by Jen Cudmore

Learning to be a good writer is essential to a becoming a successful author. But what tools must be available when we sit down to write? I believe in being organized and prepared. Here are some items I feel are essential for every writer and must be kept on hand!

1) A good thesaurus and dictionary. There will be numerous moments where you’ll need a better explanation for what you’re trying to say. These resources will keep the story diverse and fresh.

2) A grammar book. I’m not sure there’s anyone who knows every grammar rule, but knowing the rules is a key aspect in writing a book. Many publishers prefer the Chicago Manual of Style. I use a small book called Write and Wrong by Marthwritery Johnson.

3) A reliable computer of some kind. This may go without saying, but I figured I’d throw it on my list. You need something dependable. The first thing my husband did when I decided to write was purchase a good computer. I also have a laptop I can take with me when we travel or when I have to wait around for my kids, like at a competition.

4) A good software program. From what I can tell, most professionals prefer Microsoft Word because it has many editing features, but I’ve seen authors use other programs.

5) A travel-size notebook (or small voice recorder). Inspiration can strike anywhere, and you must be ready to jot some notes. One day I was sitting in church when a thought hit and I quickly had to write it down for later! If you’re like me, you have too many ideas to keep track of, so a notebook or recording device is quite helpful.

6) Plenty of writing utensils. I keep multiple pens in my purse because somehow I manage to lose them and there’s noting more frustrating than having an idea and not being able to make a note. I also keep about ten pens and half a dozen highlighters on my desk. I like to do things in color; assigning meaning to each of them helps me stay organized.

peae and quiet7) A ready environment. Other than physical items, I need a quite place to work and I have to have music. If I’m upstairs, I keep the door shut to block out noise. If I’m downstairs, I make sure the family and the pets are all occupied to they won’t bother me. I heard of one author who lights a candle to get creativity to flow through her brain. Figure out what works for you.

8) A binder/organizer. For each series I’ve written, I have a notebook where I keep various important items for quick reference.

+  Main character profiles: A best-selling author who visited Alaska showed me a profile sheet she created which lists out several details to reference back to once you start writing. I plan to explain this in specific detail in a few weeks, so stay tuned!

+  A list of character names: Because I write multiple stories in each series, I need a list to keep track of all the characters. I type it up and print it out, updating it every few months as needed.

+  A list of possible names to choose from: I write historical novels, so I’m always looking for names that fit the time periods. For example, for the Viking series I am currently working on, I made a list of old Scandinavian names. When it comes time to add another character, I have a quick reference sheet close

+  Historical details: I keep a folder in the back of my notebook with specific historical details I may need to reference. For example, in my second Viking novel, I need to know exactly when Olaf Trygvasson was killed and when Sven Forkbeard ruled Denmark because it ties into the story. So I have an outline of real life events. I also keep an article I found with Viking food items, so I can reference that when I talk about cooking or eating meals.

+  Maps of the area: For me to keep my dimensions correct, I like to have maps nearby so I can make sure I’m calculating distances correctly. Plus, I may need to reference a specific item, such as the name of a city or river.

+  Calender: In order to keep track of where my characters have been and how much time has passed between each chapter, I keep a calender of events. I jot down each scene in pencil, so I can erase it and move it later if it doesn’t fit the timeline.

For me, all of these items are essential to a positive, productive writing experience. Is there something you just have to have nearby?

blog-hop-for-writersTo learn more about the Blog tour and get to know some other fabulous authors, click on the link to see the other blogs. Today’s theme: What writing tools do you use?


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  1. Leanne Ross says:

    I like that you keep a list of character names on hand. I have to figure out the story before I can ever find my MC’s name, but having a list ahead of time would be helpful.

    Thanks for your post.

    Leanne Ross ( )

  2. Violet N. says:

    I love your calendar and map ideas, Jen, along with lists of possible names. Thanks!

  3. Tracy Krauss says:

    Yes! Someone else who puts stuff in binders! I find having your character sheets handy like that is so important. Its hard to remember every detail and it would be the worst to change the eye color half way through. (Read a book last year where that happened… I actually went back to find the original color and felt vindicated… I KNEW IT!)

    • Jen Cudmore says:

      LOL! I’ve never actually caught eye color issues in a book, but I have seen other consistencies, and I would hate for it to happen to me. I carry my binder with laptop. But usually I leave it by my desk where I try to do all my writing.

  4. Love your ideas for name lists. Why didn’t I think of that? I certainly will do that now. Thanks!

  5. The thesaurus and dictionary are a must. Besides validating spelling it forces us to use the correct words for what we really mean to say. The change in language style has redefined some words so they are used incorrectly. Definitely need these two:)

  6. Susan says:

    That’s a great list of tools, Jen. I got some new ideas!

  7. Sara Davison says:

    Another great list. We’ll have to ask this question a year from now and see how we have all stolen each others’ ideas 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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