Guest post by Manuela Boyle
I never thought I’d say this, but I envy plumbers.
They have a set of tools they need to do their job well, all shiny and useful, and they often wear them on their person, as if to say ‘I’m a plumber, I’m kitted out, and ready for work’.
If I could buy a writer’s tool belt, I would. It would probably be utilitarian in look and feel, made from thick red canvas, and have my initials embroidered on it in gold thread. In it, I’d keep the tools of my trade. Which, of course, will vary from writer to writer, but I’m sure you’ll see some tools on the list that I’m about to share with you that you recognise.
Whatever floats your boat
A word of warning before we go any further: sometimes our tool belt contains essential items which propel our writing forward, help us when we get a bit stuck, and are fundamental to the act of writing.
Lurking in there also are crutches… tools we don’t want to throw away because they make us feel comfy and safe, but can be bad for us and actually get in the way of writing.
My list contains both, ‘cos I’m only human. See if you can tell which is which…
Sylvia Plath knew the power of the thesaurus. How else do you think she found out about all those bonkers words she routinely sprinkled into her poetry, like arsenic on a freshly-baked cake? A thesaurus is a writer’s friend, and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. Sometimes you’ll find a new word in there you never heard before, or exactly the word you needed to make a line of poetry scan. I’m never without mine and I don’t think it’s cheating either. I prefer the alphabetical listing variety, dictionary-stylee. Roget and me just don’t see eye to eye.
- Idiom websites/reference book
Similar to thesaurus. I’ve got my copywriting hat on now, and I must say, I spend a lot of time on English language idiom sites, looking for inspiration for a job that requires a particular copy theme. The client wants food-inspired headlines for an employee engagement initiative… so off I trundle to a food sayings or food idioms website which, granted, normally look horrible, are full of adverts and smilies, but, they give me the material I need to do the job in hand. ‘Peas in a pod’? Perfect. I intend to buy an idiom reference book very soon so my design sensibilities are no longer offended by bad websites, and of course, so I can pop it in my tool belt.
Opinions are split on this one. I am a serious caffeine fiend, and firmly believe that I need my coffee crutch next to me to do my best work. However, there are plenty of writers out there who subscribe to the Glengarry Glenross school of thinking that ‘Coffee’s for closers’. Hot drink making can be a distraction from your work, a way out of a difficult sentence or section, a procrastination, or a reward that comes too early. The next time you think ‘this is really hard, I’ll put the kettle on’, think again – are you putting off the inevitable? Alternatively, ask someone else to make that cuppa for you.
I can hear the boos from the back of the hall. Less intrusive than coffee, but clearly, a whole bunch of wrongs in the long run, fags are my best and worst writing crutch. I smoke when nothing’s happening on the page, smoke when something is… even writing about it is making me want one now. Yes, sadly, I’m a paid-up follower of the Hunter S Thompson smoke-while-you-work philosophy. There’s no doubt, cigarettes can affect your focus, distract you from your writing, and yet, give you the space for that little by-yourself meeting you sometimes need to turn a corner. I realise I’ve not reached a conclusion on this one, *coughs*. Let’s move on.
- Word count tool
Again, a writing tool that’s good for some and bad for others. I once had the good fortune to ask Will Self for his top writing tips, and he was very down on the word count tool. Likening it to the devil’s spawn for writers, he told me to never check word count of what I was writing until the end of my writing session. It’s a false reassurance, something else to check that gets in the way of the act itself. And yet there have been times checking word count has been my personal cheerleader, waved a pom-pom at me, and said ‘you’ve done far more than you thought you had, keep going!’ But Self knows his onions, doesn’t he? I still word count though – it gives me the encouragement I need as I sit there, my computer and me, writing, lonely as a cloud.
What’s in your writer’s toolbelt?
So, that’s my writer’s tool belt. What’s in yours? Is there something that you just can’t do without when you’re writing? Do you have certain handy helping devices, healthy or otherwise? Let us know by sharing your thoughts in the comment section below.