I don’t really have a toolbox, however I do have certain things that are either must have’s for my creativity, or they’re tools that make my creative output quicker, slicker, and better than without.
There are two sets of toolboxes, since poetry and writing do require different things for me. There are also categories within toolbox, from books, to stationary, to software.
I’m going to look at some of the things in my toolboxes, things that are special to me, or are especially useful to me.
First and foremost, as a writer I have a dictionary. Actually I have a few, but the one I use the most, and is my long term favourite is my Collins English Gem Dictionary. Now I inherited this from a clear out at a place I worked, and my immediate thought was ooh old book. I love old books, and make a point of checking charity shops for anything of particular interest, usually over fifty years old, and especially if they have some sort of message in them. This dictionary is from 1954, which I find especially useful. Modern dictionaries have far more words and definitions, but they also have far more modern words, and Americanisms, and other things that slip into the language. It takes time to distill some of these, and get out what you want. This dictionary lacks that, the definitions are usually brief, but to the point, the words are always clear, and you can usually find the word you’re looking for very quickly. It’s also old, battered, and has what appears to be a faded dedication to someone called “Peggy Sue”, which I love – it’s a love message. Even though it is old and battered, and will eventually be unable to do much without falling apart, I do love this book – and though I could have any number of fancy modern dictionaries – this will always be used before them.
Next up, is the trusty thesaurus. Important if you’re a writer, there’s nothing worse than repeating the same word over and over, your reader will get bored and wonder off – repetition is powerful, but only when used correctly. A good thesaurus saves you from this. It’s vital, in my opinion, if you’re a poet who wants to rhyme, and avoid repetition. I don’t have anything fancy for a thesaurus, I have the internet most of the time, so mine is just a cheap one that came as a boxset of books that enrich my writing (they are reference books on business, medical, grammar, spelling, computing, quotations, and science), it does it’s job, and it does it well. The advantage of it being cheap, and cheerful, is they use crap paper – which means it’s lighter, so travels better, and strangely lasts longer, the spine is still intact after years of attack.
Next of course is the trusty encyclopedia – where would I be without my encyclopedia? My knowledge would be poorer, my sponge of a brain would be soaking up football scores, and team statistics, rather than the depth of the pacific ocean (11,033 metres at it’s deepeset point, for the record). Now mine isn’t particular big or clever, it’s effectively a book of notes, it’s the DK Concise Encyclopedia, it gives me enough to enrich detail in my writing, so when a character mentions he’s going to Honalulu, he can give some piece of information to validate this. If I need to talk about the history of cars, I’ve got bits and pieces of the history of cars to through in, to make my fictional account of the history of cars that bit more believable. I’m actually on the market for a new encyclopedia, but it’s for staying at home (my concise one again travels well, though thicker quality paper is heavier). I do use digital encyclopedia’s, but they are of less interest, and mentioned later.
The last book I want to cover is my Usborne Illustrated Dictionary of Science, I write a lot of science fiction, and this is invaluable, it’s more specific than my encyclopedia and has much more detail. Now, this book I got in primary school, it was published in 1988, so it’s not what you would describe as up to date – but it has enough detail, and theory to fill out my pages and give them credibility. I’ve learnt an awful lot since then, but the basics haven’t changed much, how atoms react, the law of physics, how a crystal forms and grows, and such still are relevant. It’s an immensely powerful tool, even at twenty years old. If something isn’t up to date, I know enough to find out more recent information, but this book feeds my search queries. It’s not just science fiction it’s good for, there are thrillers, and fantasy that I have worked on, to which I am indebted to this books writers. Science is everywhere, and is in everything – from the pathology of a murder scene, to the manouveres of a fighter pilot, to the beginning and end of pregnancy, and aging. Miss out on those details, and your stories credibility just falls flat on it’s face.
Those are the books I wanted to mention, there are others, many others from study guides, to biographies (which often contain rich how to’s in their nostalgic memories of writing this or that), pamphlets, educational supplements, and general English guides. I don’t think you can ever have too much reference for writing, and to that end I would encourage any aspiring writer or poet to set aside shelf space for them. Then double that shelf space because you’ll want a whole shelf of product, other people’s writings, anthologies, magazines etc…
Now here’s one that’s hard to cover – I’m a bit of a pen fiend*, so I have lots of pens. I can barely walk by a store like the sadly departed Woolworths, without buying a multi-pack.
Multi-packs are important for the range they give you, and their disposability, though unless it’s an upmarket set, they’re not known for their reliability. That’s fine for the travelling writer though, trust me, if you lose a £20 fountain pen (unless you’ve got more money than sense), you will be gutted. I always have some cheap pens on me, if someone needs a pen, that is what I lend them. If I’m writing in a really crowded spot, such as on a busy train or bus, then it’s cheap pens – you don’t want to feel obliged to crawl among people’s legs, getting knocked, stood on, insulted, and laughed at for dropping a pen. Not nice.
My most valued pen, at the moment, is my titanium Parker Jotter, clearly I needed something that would survive more G forces than your average stainless steel Parker Jotter. Anyway, it’s really just a nice, comfortable, good weighted ball point pen. It’s brushed titanium, but very smooth all the same, yet I’m always amazed it doesn’t sleep around alot, which other metal pens tend to do.
If I want to write something a bit more fanciful, I tend to turn to my fountain pen, this is a Parker Contact Purple fountain pen. I bought it because it’s quite cheap, quite different looking, but most of all very comfortable to handle. I do this because the Parker Jotter is a very practical kind of pen, and is conducive to sensible writing, and scribblings – however I find fountain pens produce, in me, more artist writing. I firmly believe there is psychology in the choice of pen.
After that, I have an array of pens that have been gifts, or I’ve just fancied (actually lots of those), most of which have purposes too specific to go into**
Then I’ve got must have’s of pencils (various grades), rules, erasers, tippex, a hobby knife, Pritt Stick, sticky tape, post it and post it tabs, these are all part of my kit. They help me create characters and stories that are real outside of my head, so I can draw a character, or cut pieces out of a magazine to bring them to life. Also so I can repair pages when I’ve accidentally torn them.
Lastly in this section are my variety of notepads, from large lined pads, to plain paper pads, to small note books. The one I use most currently is my little black moleskin book, which I jot notes and ideas in. Some are for stories I may never write, others are ideas for a poem, or a story I do plan on writing. Some are for stories I am writing, so I’ve got a record of the idea, and don’t just forget it and move on to the next idea when opportunity arises.
Now in this category, I’ve also included my digital hardware, because it’s simpler.
Microsoft Word – you could replace this with OpenOffice’s version, or any number of similar products, I prefer Word because it suits me best, runs nicely, and has lots of the features I like. It’s where I do 99% of my word processing (though of late that’s dropped since I tend to write straight into my blog).
Paint Shop Pro 9 – never 10, I don’t like the environment in 10, and it tends to knock ten shades of hell out of my processing power. Paint Shop Pro 9 is nice and comfortable, has all the features I want, with a nice clean interface. Vista isn’t thrilled with it, because of the odd colour count Paint Shop Pro insists on, but otherwise it always runs fine. This is where I bring my drawings to life, I have a whole array of characters drawn from various stories, I scan them in, add colour, edit, redraw – I’ve learnt a variety of techniques over the years to refine my characters drawings to be more realistic. Yes, these characters exist in my head, but sometimes when it comes to describing something, having a physical manifestation in front of you is a tremendous boon. Plus you can make book covers, and pretend your story is good enough to be published.
Next up is FreeMind, a mind mapping utility which allows you to export in PDF, and SVG formats. I find mind mapping (or brainstorming if we distill it back to my school years), to be a very powerful tool. Though I may have a story in my head, using mind mapping, I can distill it down to all the best bits, then rebuild it into something better, more readable. It also keeps me organised when I’m slipping in focus.
In January I bought myself a Nokia E71, after having a touchscreen PDA for years that lacked a physical keyboard, it was a revelation. I can probably hit about 25 words a minute on my E71, though it does involve a lot of typo’s going that fast, having big thumbs and all. I got the update for QuickOffice, so it’s fully featured, and can handle my documents from my computer, allowing me to stick in an extra page or two on the bus. It also has notes, voice recorder, and camera (which can be used with ActiveNotes, so I can write why I thought to take a picture of something). Of course the calendar, contacts, and to do list come in very handy too for writing. A few of my characters now have entries in my phone contacts, and by syncing in calendar.
There’s also my trust little laptop, it’s a 10″ Advent Netbook, which I use for typing, and light internet use. I have two bigger laptops (a 13″ and a 17″), but this is the one I travel with, and do my writing on, because I can use it just about anywhere. I also have a 3g modem for it, which allows me the privilege of research anywhere as well, which is handy – it means you don’t neccessarily have to leave a break because you need to wait to get home to fill in some detail, or research something.
Well that rounds up my writing tool box for now – I will do future posts in regards to software specifically, and there will definately be Pen Porn – because Pen Porn is cool is amazing, and I can show off my pen collection some more.
To finish this article, I’d like to ask what’s in your writers toolbox?
* I’d say I have a fetish – but that has certain connotations these days, though my dictionary insists: An inanimate object worshipped by savages; object of irrational reverence
** get your head out of the gutter, it’s things like one pen is for correcting, another for notation, another is for essays, and so on