Contents


Tools of the trade

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Tools of the trade

In this chapter we’ll look at:

Old school or digital?
Software
The writer’s notebook
Getting into the routine

Old school or digital?

Some writers, particularly poets, enjoy pen and paper and some novels are still written in long-hand (the novelist Harlan Coben writes his first drafts on a pad) but most writers producing words in bulk use a computer. Today the computer is almost indispensable, not just for writing but as a research tool and a means of communication with fellow writers, agents, publishers and producers and the like. Life can be very difficult without one. Technology is particularly useful for scriptwriters who can now automatically format their work using specialist software that leaves them free to concentrate on the words.

There is of course the third way: the typewriter, a machine that still has adherents. Authors who use a typewriter include Frederick Forsyth, Cormac McCarthy and Will Self, some as matter of habit; others because it forces them to organise their thoughts before putting them on paper.

Despite the ubiquitousness of the computer you could still conceivably avoid modern technology altogether and send a hand-written manuscript to a printer with a manual letter-press. If the idea appeals check out the Briar Press (http://www.briarpress.org/).

Software

If you’re new to writing software you might be confused by the terms ‘word processor’ and ‘text editor’. Word processing software helps you compose a letter or write a manuscript, while text editors are typically used to compile computer languages such as HTML (though they can be used to write anything if you’ve a mind to).

The most successful word processor today is Microsoft Word, though its main strength is as a corporate workhorse. Although it’s widely used the creative writer is unlikely to want many of the tabulating, graphics and mailing tools that Word contains and is better off looking for something more tailored to their needs. You should be aware that some publishers accept manuscripts only in Word format (in the same way that many movie companies accept scripts only in Final Draft) but since most writing packages can export text as Word documents this is not necessarily an obstacle.

Many word processors are free, for example Bean (http://www.bean-osx.com/Bean.html) for Macintosh and Oracle’s OpenOffice productivity suite (http://www.openoffice.org/) for both Macintosh and PC, but beyond all-purpose word processors there are packages aimed specifically at the creative writer. Some are deliberately cut-down to provide a distraction-free writing environment (for example iA Writer for Macintosh and iPad) while others include outliner functions (see Getting started) and formatting options for scripts. One such is Celtx (http://celtx.com/) a free package (with a paid upgrade) for Mac and iPad that has templates for movie, theatre and audio scripts as well as novels, comics and story-boarding.

One creative writing application I would recommend is Scrivener available for Mac, PC, and (unofficially) Linux. Scrivener is an extremely versatile package that’s ideal for planning and writing large creative projects. There are a number of outlining features (including a virtual corkboard) and numerous formatting options including templates for screenplays, stageplays (US and UK formats) and radio productions. It also exports eBooks in ePub and Kindle formats.

The writer’s notebook

Idea are like fleas: they bite you, grab your attention, then ping — they vanish. To stop your ideas escaping, trap them in a notebook. It’s tempting to think that if an idea is that good you’re bound to remember it, but what about all the things you make an effort to remember (facts, dates, names) and forget anyway. If you forget the important stuff what chance does a stray thought have?

Any stationary outlet will sell attractive notebooks in endless variety, but if a traditional jotter doesn’t appeal, there are many pocket computers, net books and tablets on the market. Even the cheapest mobile phone will usually have a note-taking function and there are dozens of sophisticated note-taking apps for smart phones. The important thing is to make an effort to write the notes in the first place, then keep at it.

The more effort you put into note taking, the more useful it becomes. Anything you jot down might be handy someday; how and why you don’t know yet, but today’s scribbles might spark off a brilliant idea next week. The chapter Coming up with ideas emphasises the importance of thorough research to generate ideas and keeping a notebook turns your whole life into a research project.

Getting into the routine

Many people are keen on note-taking at first, then the novelty wears off and they lose interest. If you start by writing reams and reams about every little thing, the chances are you’ll soon get bored and give up. When you first start using your notebook limit yourself to ten words on a subject — you don’t need to write much, just enough to jump-start your memory. If you find note-taking a chore, set yourself a daily target of entries. Each day should expose you to at least one note-worthy event or discovery. Setting yourself a minimum of one entry per day at a maximum of ten words per entry should be enough to establish a routine you can build on.


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