The thoughts and work of Sam Witt

Five Tips for Picking Your Writing Tools

As a writer, I’m always on the lookout for tools to make my job easier. Nice pens, ergonomic pencils, leather-bound journals, Moleskine notebooks, index cards, pre-printed outlining cards, workbooks, desktop computers, laptop computers, personal data assistants, smart phones, tablet computers,  specialized word processors, outlining software, to-do list software, submission tracking websites, index card apps – the list of labor-saving, task-shortening, mind-freeing inventions I’ve purchased for the sole purpose of putting words on paper is mind boggling.Some of them were even helpful. A few of them were such major game changers that they helped me revolutionize my writing life in ways that still amaze me.

But most of them were crap. Worse, they were insidious crap that convinced me they served some useful, indispensable function. As a writer, you have to be on constant alert for this kind of technofetishist thinking or you end up carting around a whole pack of tools that weigh you down.

After weeding through the tools I use, I came up with a quick list to help me determine what kind of tools are useful for me, as a writer.

  1. Ease of use. Once she gets started a writer will scribble away the whole day and night, pausing only to suck down coffee/tea/energy drinks. But anything that makes it difficult to start writing will sap her will to write and stab her momentum in the face with a pointy stick.
  2. Utility. Single-purpose tools are crap. An app that ONLY does outlining, for example, is not as good as an app that lets you outline and track the status of your writing. And that isn’t as good as an app that outlines, tracks statuses, and monitors word count. You’re a writer, you want to write, not constantly sift through your tools looking for just the right one for whatever it is you’re doing.
  3. Ubiquity. You never know when inspiration is going to crash down on you. If it happens to hit when your tools aren’t at hand, you may lose whatever bolt of genius just smote you on the crown. Whatever tools you use should keep your writing close to you, at all times.
  4. Reliability. Every word you commit to ink or electrons is holy, even if you later decide it’s complete shit. Your tools must treat those words with ultimate respect and protect them at all costs. The first time a tool eats your words should be the last time you ever use that tool.
  5. Function. This seems ridiculous to even mention, but you need to make sure that whatever weapon you have in your arsenal has a purpose. I once bought a piece of software that did nothing but evaluate manuscripts for ease of reading. I was the stupidest fucking thing I ever spent money on. Don’t be stupid.
  6. Price. You’re a writer, don’t waste money. Free is better than paid until proven otherwise. This tip is free, so it doesn’t count against the promised total of five.

If a tool meets all of these criteria, then by all means get it into your quiver. But if it doesn’t, walk on by.

If, like me, you’ve managed to acquire a trove of apps that threaten to bury you in an avalanche of collapsing productivity promises, it’s time to start pruning. Look at those apps that you use to write versus those that you use as an excuse to think about writing. If you spend more time fiddling with your outlining app than you do writing, ditch it. If your word processor encourages you to jack around with fonts and sizes and spacing when you should be creating sentences and paragraphs and novels, it’s not helping you, it’s slowing you down. Ditch it.

About Sam

I am the author of the popular Pitchfork County series of horror novels. I also write a newsletter with great reading suggestions and free fiction.