A Writer’s Toolbox, Part One.

Every skilled worker has a toolbox, be they electrician, car mechanic or programmer. You’ve undoubtedly seen a tradesman lug a grubby, heavy box with them to a job. Inside will be a mystifying array of items, many clearly well-used, some you might even recognise, like screwdrivers of various sizes.

But did you know there is a huge array available of even common tools?

A car mechanic who works on European cars will have metric screwdrivers and socket sets. This is because European cars are generally metric. I know this because I have an old European car. When faced with a screw or bolt to remove that hasn’t been removed before, I know it will almost certainly be metric. And I’m almost always right. But a mechanic on an American car will need imperial sockets. The metric ones might sometimes fit, but oft-times won’t.

There will also be specialised tools. My car has a special little doodad for pulling the fuel injectors out of the intake manifold. That’s a picture of it up there. I’ve used it once. But it is of no use to an electrician. He needs a wand for showing when a cable has mains power in it and a small saw for cutting a small hole in the wall for a new outlet.

A writer has tools, too. Some of them are for writing, others are for Writing and yet others are for writing. (Oh I love falling in love with a cute sentence.)

For centuries, the act of physically writing was almost exclusively a hand tool and a surface to scratch on. Chisel and stone, reed pens and papyrus, charcoal, parchment, ink, paper… the list is extensive.  I find the history of actual writing as interesting as the history of words. There would be few adults in the western world who would not remember learning to read and write in school. I certainly do. And always struggling to make it neat and consistent. I even took up calligraphy in high school as a hobby partly to try and improve my handwriting. It was not a success.

I took up typing school assignments pretty quickly. Programming helped. So did the rise of the word processor and the plethora of options for personal computing. The first NaNoWriMo write-in I went to I was mildly amused at all the laptop computers, my own included.

The computing tools now available for writers (aspring or not) are almost breath-taking. Many stay with Microsoft Word or equivalents – I prefer LibreOffice neé OpenOffice myself. Scrivener is popular, too.

I’ve never quite gotten into Scrivener though. Part of the problem is that I use a Linux desktop and the Linux port of Scrivener doesn’t like my laptop and also doesn’t come with the tutorials. This is a problem. Then I got an Android tablet and there isn’t a Scrivener port for Android (yet). This is also a problem.

Word processors for Android tablets are still maturing, too. There are several apps that can read and write Word files with varying levels of fidelity. But I haven’t yet found one that honours the instant-on mentality of a tablet: instead, you have to explictly save or risk Android closing the app and losing your changes. I have also been using Evernote for ideas and story notes. It is good at that and also integrates with my phone if I have an idea and am without my tablet. But it’s a busy interface for writing in. And it doesn’t have a mechanism for linking notes together in a specific order. I’m currently using My Writing Spot which is actually less featureful than Evernote, but I like the minimalistic interface better for fiction writing. However, it also doesn’t let me link notes together, though I can order them better than in Evernote.

I’m wondering if I am going to have write my own Android app that does what I want.

So what tools do you use to move the words from your thoughts to the page? You may find a new convert for your  favourite tool…



Filed under writing

6 responses to “A Writer’s Toolbox, Part One.

  1. To be honest, I’ve never considered using programmes like this as “tools”. I grew up on a PC and have used Microsoft Word since I was 8 years old, writing my first short stories. Perhaps long familiarity has engrained the programme as a staple in my writing regimen, but I’m wary of switching to anything else. I’m working on a novel and have perhaps a dozen documents worth of “notes” that I reference when writing. I simply open up each of these in turn and flip over when I need a specific note topic. My screen is quite large and so I can have several documents open at once.

    I’ve never tried writing on a tablet, I think I’d feel naked without the comforting reply of the keyboard’s ticka-ticka and the keys beneath my fingers.

    When I’m done with this novel I might give Scriviner or one of those others a peak. It’d be interesting to try a new approach to getting this novel out, but it’d have to be a significant improvement for me to change. Do you use a keyboard for your tablet?

    • When I came to writing, my main PC was a laptop (actually a netbook). I just never developed the habit of using my desktop PC for writing fiction; it was always on a laptop. The tablet I use is an Asus Transformer which comes with a keyboard dock. It spends most of its time docked and I use the keyboard far more than I use the on-screen keyboard. This was, in fact, the reason I chose it. That and the instant-on regime that my netbook has never supported all that well.

      I did my first NaNoWriMo work in OpenOffice. 35,000 words of solid text. And no planning! Which is why it stopped at about halfway. I’m learning how to plan and do structure. I just need a writing environment that more closely matches the way I’m trying to work than what I have at the moment.

      • where do you do most of your writing?

        • Most of my typing up happens away from home, actually. On the train, or at lunch at work, or in a nearby cafe on a Saturday morning. A lot used to happen in my bedroom at night, but then I moved and got a different bed and never re-acquired the habit.

          Most of my turning-ideas-into-narrative happens when out walking, often to and from work.

  2. I’ve never really gotten into using writing-specific software having used Microsoft Word for so many years that I find it suits my purpose of putting words on a page. I like the options available in Scrivener though being on a PC I only ever used it in Beta form – I’m not sure I love it enough to get into using it all the time. I haven’t really explored a lot of alternatives beyond adding them to my list for “one day I’ll look into this further”.

    My favourite tool, though, is my recently re-acquired writing journal habit. It is already making a difference to how I approach my writing!

  3. I love handwriting, so I have an Asus Eee Windows tablet, but the handwriting recognition on that leaves enough to be desired that I tend to use it as a desktop PC Instead. However, now having a Samsung Note 2 phone, I’m loving the Samsung handwriting recognition & wishing I could afford the full tablet. When that happens, I’ll be seriously seeking something like Scrivener, as I enjoy the ability to manage scene individually and combined in chapters, as well as managing notes & research all in one place.
    Totally keen to check out competition, so I’d toy get round to it, blast it loud!

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