On Writing: The Right Tools for the Job

When it comes to writing, I think it’s like exercising: whatever is most comfortable for you to use, and stick to writing with, that’s probably what you should do. Writing takes enough concentration out of the brain as it is. You don’t need to be fighting the distraction of the wrong font size or sparkle-pink ink on top of that.

Like anyone’s personal toolkit, mine is a bit idiosyncratic. For one, I prefer Bic Crystal pens – I can grip them very hard, and yet they won’t bend or wobble. When your mind’s caught up in a thrilling action scene, this is important. I also tend to scribble down stray ideas and rough drafts on scrap paper, just to get past the mental hump of “maybe this isn’t a good idea after all”. Then I type it up in Word, where I can shuffle all the scraps around, reword bits, and do bits of a very rough first edit as I pull it together.

…Most of the time. There are times my brain is being particularly sulky. Or when even a half-sheet of scrap paper seems like too much empty space to face. In that case, what sometimes works is pulling out the notepaper I ran across some years back, the stuff that’s made from sugarcane. It’s a bright paper, with a satin-smooth feel to it, nice on the hands; skin contact can help lure the brain into writing something.

(Not the cheapest paper, but I got a multipack of the small notepads a few years back and haven’t used them up yet. Usually a sheet or two is enough to get the writing gears going. Or suffices to hold what little I can get until I have energy to write more later.)

Don’t neglect the little physical aspects when you’re typing, either. Technology may allow files to transfer from phone to internet to desktop to whatever, but your physical reactions aren’t as fluid. You’re trying to get the words down without thinking about them as you write; a different spacing on the keyboard than you’re used to, different keys to hit, will slow down what you’re doing. And if you have to think too much, you may lose the writing thread.

Writing is a craft. Like any other craft – beading, carpentry, what have you – you must pay attention to your tools. Find what works for you!

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18 thoughts on “On Writing: The Right Tools for the Job

  1. Rather annoyingly timely, my word processor has been frozen for the last half hour. >.>

    Yep, definitely don’t want to think about the act of putting stuff down when I’m trying to get stuff down.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. In my experience, the software can matter, too. I used a variety of word processors over the years, basically whatever the default was on my computer of the moment–right up until I had a computer crash, and had to borrow a shared one for awhile. I took one look at the fancy word processor it had, freaked at all the bells and whistles it had cluttering everything up, and promptly downloaded LibreOffice. Much cleaner and simpler interface, nothing fancy to distract me from the simple act of typing. Used it on every computer since. (I have to keep an old copy of it around, though; the one time I tried to update to the latest version, my computer went haywire until I uninstalled it and went back to the old version. Argh.)

    tl;dr: For me, at least, “simple” is the order of the day. Anything more than the most basic formatting options is just visual clutter that makes it harder to focus on the act of creation itself. …And boy howdy, do I know what you mean about keyboards. That shared computer had one with excessively large keys. I normally touch-type just fine (even if my “two fingers of the right hand, one of the left” style is a bit… unorthodox), but that one just felt so weird I couldn’t keep track of which key was where. Not conducive to a smooth writing output.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s a good one, or at least the version I use–circa 2015–is. No excessive frills, reads pretty much any file format–which is handy; I had my favorite brownie recipe saved in a format I couldn’t use for two or three computers straight–and its default file type is the one preferred by FF.net (the original reason I picked it when I needed a new one). And, of course, it’s free. I keep multiple backup copies of the version I know works, just to make sure I can go to it every time I switch computers.

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  3. So here’s some speculation.

    If you had a perfect speech-to-text system, would you use it to help write?

    I can have an idea, spend 5 minutes talking to myself working it out, then spend half an hour staring at my computer trying to figure out the first sentence and 2 hours actually typing the rest.

    It makes me wonder if it would be easier just to have the mass of text in a block, then go through editing the punctuation and removing “um.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Judging from David Weber’s output in recent years, I suspect the sheer amounting of editing would be more trouble than it’s worth. I gather his typos have gone through the roof since he started relying on speech-to-text. (Can’t verify myself; most of his stuff from the last ten years or so has been so slow-paced that I just lose interest, among other problems.)

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Most of my talking for hours and hours, is ranting about politics, or geeking out about other interests I have.

      And, speaking isn’t more effective than typing for me, I /need/ an audience to respond to, it seems. At least for that stuff.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Absolutely not.

      …I don’t talk much. Seriously, I don’t. The sound of my own voice would be too distracting to the writing process.

      I much prefer having peace, quiet, a whole day when I know there are no pressing emergencies, and a familiar keyboard.

      Liked by 4 people

    4. I have often thought about doing this as I talk nearly as fast as I think. Which is much, much faster than me writing. I type just about as fast as I can think though… What I can’t do is type and walk around my room at the same time which is often when I talk and think at the same time and get a lot of creative outlining done.

      I think the deciding factor is whatever way you can get information out “on paper” the fastest and with the least amount of effort. That way you can spend the most “thinking” time on what you’re actually thinking about rather than on *how* you’re getting it out. Mental snags are bad and crimp your creativity. You might as well try to decrease those as much as possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As with any craft, do what is comfortable to you! Some people need distractions (of the right kind) to have an easier time writing/concentrating, others don’t. I’m definetly in the “need the right kind of distractions” category.

    I need music, a keyboard and a *basic* word-editing program (Notepad++ works great). And white text on black background on my screen. No music = brain blanks out for what I want to write about; video-game OSTs work wonders as they’re designed to be listened too while still problem solving other things. Writing with a pencil/pen requires my brain to think *too hard* about the act of physically writing to think hard about *what* I’m writing about… while I’ve gotten so good at touch-typing that trying to think about how I’m typing correctly causes me to mess up, so words flow out a lot easier with that. Any word editing program that let me format text too much is a distraction… and most fan-fics go up on Ao3 anyways, so a program that can handle HTML formatting instead of RTF is helpful. And I hate, hate, *hate*, my screens having a white background for text. Black/dark grey backgrounds are a lot easier to work on for long periods of time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who likes to use Notepad ++ for writing. Of course ever since I’ve tone back to school I have used OpenOffice for writing papers but when I’m writing fiction I still use a combination of pen and paper and Notepad ++.

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  5. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I mostly type on the computer when I’m writing something, which is great because when I get in a real hurry, I can have issues with my handwriting (shh, don’t tell mom I said that). But the thing is, I hate setting up a new document, because I have to get the spacing and font size just right. If I don’t, it’s like that sound just at the edge of your hearing that isn’t actually bad, you just can’t figure out what it *is* so it’s driving you nuts.

    But I don’t actually do it that often, so I usually have to go to one of my other documents and find the spacing thing to see exactly how I did it for that, and it always takes a bit for me to find it. Usually easier to just type in an existing document, which means a lot of my files are a bit of a mess. Can occasionally make finding that thing I haven’t worked on in forever a bit of a trip.

    Liked by 1 person

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