The Writer’s Essential Toolkit
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.
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.