The Writer’s Essential Toolkit

Reading & Writing


I’m often asked exactly what you need to write. The last in this list should really come first, by the way. There’s never been an easier time to write or a harder time to be a writer. The tools have simplified, but the publishing landscape has become cutthroat. Of course that won’t stop you, so let’s start look the tools.

Pen & notebook

It’s where the ideas start. I have around 10 notebooks at any one time, including one for each project and some for random ideas. Never be without it. Don’t take notes on a phone; it takes too long and sometimes quick sketches are useful too.


No longer an extravagance but an essential tool. You have to do some travelling to stay fresh. You can get by with just the laptop alone, although for long stints I switch to a desktop Mac. Why not a PC? Macs are intuitive and allow you to concentrate on the writing.


Photo-libraries are great but I often record what places sound like. You’ll be amazed when you play back what you’ve recorded – you can identify most places by the way they sound. It’s also essential for audio-interviews.

Cloud Storage

The Cloud is fast becoming essential, but it peculiarly affects writers who work on more than one device. If your devices are synced together, the latest version of your word doc will become your master across all devices. This is problematic if, like me, you keep one doc rolling on several devices and add bits and pieces along the way. It requires a change in working practice so that you number or add a name to each new section, otherwise you’ll lose work.

External hard drive or good dongle

I know we live in the future but sometimes Broadband just doesn’t cut it. A spare hard drive is great for stashing movies, research and millions of photos between devices if you don’t want to endlessly sort stuff on your laptop. Even a powerful dongle will do. Contrary to popular belief you can’t do all your research online. A huge amount is exclusively found either in libraries or in books that have not been digitised, and you’ll need to scan it. The rarer the source, the more original your prose could be, although never overload with too much research if you’re writing fiction.


Keep your reading and your work separate. Just as you should never eat at your desk or play video games in bed, don’t read on your laptop – it’s important to separate grazing from working. A Kindle is useful because you can have documents sent to it and sync research notes to your laptop along with vocabulary and highlighted sections.


The real key. Synaptic connections. The more material that goes in, the more likely you’ll be to draw your own conclusions. The internet is over-dominated by those who input material, so there’s far too much geek SF and pop culture, too much junk theorising, not enough real evidence or hard fact – it’s too exhausting to input and beyond the scope of most users.

Stick to experts and verify sources, but then dive off the beaten path and explore one single subject in the greatest depth possible – the moment you get away from broad generalisations and into specifics (audio interviews are useful here) the better material you’ll find, and it will very often debunk the accepted truth. For example, ‘the swinging sixties’, which I’m researching right now, barely affected 1% of the population. This is backed up by about 30 separate articles and interviews.

It doesn’t matter if you use none of what you’ve discovered. It will be there in the background as you write.

8 comments on “The Writer’s Essential Toolkit”

  1. Ken Liu says:

    Posts like this make my nerd support systems kick in

    If you’re relying on “the cloud” always make sure you enable 2 factor authentication. Nothing is ever secure but if John Podesta had it on, he could’ve stuck with his password for a bit longer

    You can do the same with most social media accounts. You want a system that generates randomised one time codes rather than a text message system as you can’t always guarantee you get SMS

    I think both Office and Google Docs have version control so you can have one master version and merge changes when needed

    Don’t go around plugging in random flash drives

    Tape over your webcam

  2. Brian Evans says:

    Having an imagination, good grasp of punctuation and the ability to keep to the same tense also helps. Not to mention a thesaurus. I loved writing short stories at school, but then when I tried to for real, I realised he only thing I possessed was a thesaurus. So I became an inveterate reader instead.

  3. admin says:

    Certainly, Brian. I was thinking about physical things in this post. If we’re listing writer qualities, I’d put curiosity up there with imagination. Tenses can always be fixed later. Great characters over great plots every time – nobody remembers whodunnit, but they remember who investigated!

  4. Brooke says:

    I have all the above: but I am not a writer. What I don’t have are: 1) butt-in-chair on daily basis,i.e. discipline; 2) courage; 3) all the other non-physical things Christopher and Brian pointed out.

  5. Brian Evans says:

    Thanks Admin.

    After years of detective fiction reading, I’ve only just realised how true is what you say: “nobody remembers whodunnit, but they remember who investigated!” There is, however, one exception-the dreaded “Mousetrap”

    Never mind writing, I now realise I can’t even read properly!

  6. SteveB says:

    There are a few whodunnits everyone remembers 🙂

    Everyone dunnit
    The narrator dunnit
    The detective dunnit
    The victim dunnit

  7. Charles says:

    The intuitiveness of Macs and PCs has little to do with the machines themselves, and everything to do with you and what you’re used to. If all you’ve ever used is a Mac, of course a PC is “unintuitive”. I grew up using PCs exclusively. I now use a Mac pretty much every day, and I hate the things—because they’re so unintuitive. Nothing is where I expect it to be.

    I would say if you’re going to write on your computer, don’t use a program like Word that gives you all sorts of formatting options to distract you. Or if you do, put it in full-screen mode to hide all the buttons.

  8. Vivienne says:

    No quill pen or blotting paper – or even shed at the bottom of the garden – don’t know what to say!

Comments are closed.

Posted In