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The Writer’s Well Episode 176: What are your top 3 writing tools (physical)?

Off the high of The Career Author Summit, Rachael and J. catch up and talk about favorite writing tools. Computers and software doesn’t count.

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69 thoughts on “The Writer’s Well Episode 176: What are your top 3 writing tools (physical)?”

  1. Morning guys. Great question today.
    Notebooks. I love A5 size notebooks with a hardback cover. I’m not fussed what brand although I often buy Moleskins – Hemingway apparently used them. When I travel it is my go to buy, so I have them from different cities with logos and even different languages in them. I fill them with ideas, ramblings, notes, research and of course mindmaps. For example next year I am going to write in a new genre so I have 3 notebooks opened; two for story ideas and one for marketing ideas – I am creating a new persona to write in the new genre.
    Pens, but not the Biro which I don’t like. I love fountain pens but for convenience especially when travelling I like roller-ball or gel pens of different colours, I normally have at least three, black, blue and red so I can sketch mindmaps.
    The beauty of notebooks and pens is that one can get them cheap anywhere in the world at almost any corner shop, and yet I love them; how lucky is that? Simple things like that keep me happy.
    Mentioning mindmaps brings me to my third choice, the Whiteboard. I have 3 in my study/spare bedroom, although 2 are tiny. I like the magnetic variety and I have lots of coloured magnets. I use whiteboards for; big mindmaps, which I photograph, for temporary to-do lists, maybe for a project etc., and because they are magnetic, I can stick things on them with my coloured magnets. Sometimes, I even clean one of my whiteboards to allow lovely wifey Denise to use, but not too often as I don’t want it to become a habit 🙂.
    Sounds highly organised but it isn’t. I’m not a fan of following process for process’ sake.
    Wish I’d known Rachael was a Post-it Preacher and Apostle; I would have bought shares in a Post-it note company and I could be riding out the economic gloom with a huge smile on my face.
    Loved the show last weekend, you both did good; although like everyone else I would have preferred to be there in person, so I could meet Rachael.

  2. As I try to go digital for everything. You throw this question out into the cosmos…madness.

    Coming in at number one, we have the Whiteboard. This beauty gives allows the insanity to flow out better than most digital alternatives. Many mindmaps and Pixar Pitches have come from the good old Whiteboard.

    Number two, notepads. Not only are these free, if your office supplies them, but they are great when the aha moments come at a time where you have nothing else to record down on. I keep one at the day job in case an idea comes in. Usually I lose the original note, because I lack organizational skills, but writing it down saves it better in all that grey matter.

    Number three is a tie between tarot cards and d20s. If I want a scene, or a character description, sometimes turning to these tools help to pull in a bit of randomness. It may make me reconsider character motivations, or force me into thinking of a scene in a different perspective. Either way, a tool to add in a little chaos builds a better story for me.

      1. I have been using Madam Clara’s 5 cent Tarot for most of my pulls. This deck has some words on it to jump off from and the artwork is really fun. The words make it easier to know the meaning without either diving into a book or scraping it up from memory.

        I also love and have the Steampunk tarot deck and the Earthbound Oracle deck. Both are good if I’m looking for something else.

        I may or may not have 5+ other decks as well (I do.)

  3. My Kanban board

    Notebooks, especially the one I take with me when I go to plotting sessions

    My planners. I technically have 3 that all do/show different things. 1 for the weekly events, 1 that marks what I did during the week in relation to my goals. 1 for the day. I created my own daily planner since I could not find out that had all the elements I wanted.

  4. I wish I had more fanciful answers, but my writing tools are purely practical:

    1. Laptop (with Scrivener for drafting, Google Docs for business docs, and Habitica for habit tracking and to-do lists)

    2. Montblanc pen (gift from my husband for completing my Master’s degree coursework)

    3. Whiteboard (for brainstorming and initial plotting/outlining)

    Thanks again for your hard work on the summit, J. And for your wonderfully helpful revision lesson, Rachael. I hope we can do it in person next year!

  5. You know, I really only have two (outside of electronics). They’re probably exactly what you’d guess:

    A notebook. Every time I decide to focus on a project, that project gets a notebook – it’s a nice little ritual, checking stores (online and off) to find a notebook that feels thematically right for my project. (I don’t have any strict notebook preferences beyond college ruled lines.) So for my current project, which is a fantasy novel about reincarnation, I found a notebook where the cover design is all circles and interlocking rings – and when that filled up, I found one that’s design is reminiscent of the story’s setting. I do all of my actual drafting and outlining and whatnot on my computer, but the notebook is for anything at all I want or need to do long-hand — my pre-writing for each scene, brainstorming and free writing as I’m trying to problem-solve, doodling maps, taking notes on stuff I don’t want to forget… it all ends up there in a jumble.

    So of course my second tool is a set of pens. My favorites are Pentel’s EnerGel liquid gel pens – they come in a few colors and they are sooooo smooth when you write. I’m also currently using a set of Kaco Pure Plastic Gel Ink pens – they aren’t as smooth, but they come in way more colors (basically, my sister got me a 20-pack of them for Chanukah). I love having multiple color options, not to color code, but so I can pick up whatever color speaks to me that day when I sit down to work… and also because when I’m revising, if I need to figure out how to re-order something, or what changes are needed, I like to jot down a list of what I’ve already got in one color, and then write around it on the page with what changes I’m needing in another color, so the pieces stand out from one another.

    But that’s it! I’ve tried post-its and index cards and whiteboards and whatnot… I love looking at other people’s systems, and they always look so neat and crafty that I wish they worked for me. But they don’t, every time I try it just feels extraneous, like something extra to keep track of. So I always end up falling back to just my notebook and pens (and electronics).

  6. For me it’s:
    1. Glasses – otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done!
    2. Comfy chair
    3. Just the right pen and notepad for brainstorming with. I like to use a very thin light pen so that it’s easy to grip and my fingers don’t get tired. I also use a Pukka Shorty reporters style pad. The paper is very smooth so the pen moves across quickly and there is no wire binding or seam at the edge of the page to catch my fingers on.

    I’ve a question for Rachael about post-its. Where do they go while you are still working on the book? I can tell how excited she was about the subject because her voice went very high and she was speaking twice as fast as usual! I’m going to use that for one of my characters 🙂

  7. GREAT episode! (Also, I didn’t comment on last week’s question What is Your Impossible? because I’m still losing sleep over it–thanks for that.) My top 3 writing tools:

    1) AlphaSmart keyboard emulator (the company is defunct, but the devices can still be found on eBay)

    2) Blue light filtering glasses

    3) old-fashioned kitchen timer for writing sprints

    1. I have always meant to get an AlphaSmart! Maybe one day I’ll pull the trigger. Now we have a lovely outside and I can’t see my computer screen anyway – it might be nice to close my eyes and just tap away at one of those. And a timer! I use one on my computer but it’s unsatisfying! And ignorable! You are making me want to go do a bit of shopping! 🙂

  8. All of my non-computer tools are related to my ADHD.

    1. Capturing tools, like a whiteboard and notebooks for ideas. I have lots of different colored pens to make it fun!

    2. Headphones for listening to music while I write. I need it to block out external noises.

    3. Fidget toys! I have a fidget spinner and squeeze toys. When I have to sit still to read over my writing, I need something to occupy my hands, to help me focus. If I don’t, I’ll end up wasting time on social media, getting up to do something else, or grabbing snacks.

      1. It depends on what I’m writing. I have playlists for the different moods I need to be in to write. Everything from love songs to Depeche Mode to Apocalyptica to Two Steps From Hell.

  9. Fun episode – had not thought of them but fan and whiteboard (or is it wipeboard?) probably should be on my list – I have both in every spot that I do work in – but the three that came to mind are:

    -Grid Paper – preferable in a hard cover notebook if I can find/afford it – otherwise in soft glue bound notebooks. I particularly like when I can find them with the lines in pink, purple or light blue -but classic grey or green works too. Perfect for notes, lists, mind-maps, creating a sticky note library, etc. etc. What can’t grid paper do?
    -I am a pencil girl more than pens – my favorite are the Dixon Ticonderoga Natural Wood ones because they can get really sharp. Never warmed up to mechanical pencils so the third is
    -A good electric pencil sharpener because what good is a pencil if you can’t get it really sharp 🙂

    Have a wonderful week everyone. –

    1. I forgot how much I used to love graph paper and pencils until I saw your comment. Probably nostalgic for days of D&D 😉

    2. I LOVE pencils. But I do use mechanical – I love the PaperMate Sharpwriter #2 – super simple but always sharp and dark. I have a whole drawer full of them. Makes me feel rich. 🙂

  10. Great question! Here’s my list:

    1. My 48 pack of colored Staedtler triplus fineliner .3mm pens.
    2. A personalized bullet journal with a textured cover of some kind (includes my mini-ruler and post-its).
    3. Noise-canceling AirPods. (YouTube book music includes: 8 hours of Starship engine room sounds and fireplaces).

    p.s. See you in class J.

  11. 1. Notebook/pen because when I get writer’s block I switch mediums.
    2. Candles. I’m metaphysical so I have one for money, one for creativity, and one for productivity that I burn while writing.
    3. Pandora. I play Epic/cinematic music and actually see my scenes come to life in my head like a movie.

  12. 1. Notebook/pen because when I get writer’s block I switch mediums.
    2. Candles. I’m metaphysical so I have one for money, one for creativity, and one for productivity that I burn while writing.
    3. Pandora. I play Epic/cinematic music and actually see my scenes come to life in my head like a movie.

    I feel like I’m struggling if I don’t have those things. They fuel my creativity.

  13. 1. composition books – coz i’m cheap – no wait – thrifty. Just the right size to write on my knees in bed and will fit in a handbag
    2. whiteboard – I steal magnets out of the junk mail and cover them with contact – if it’s plain you can write things ON them – like your six story grid questions, or your essential scene elements, or your Act structure or whatever – and some are covered in rainbows and unicorns coz we all need more of those.
    3. six whole punch – an adjustable one I ordered from Japan so I can file anything in my binders from pocket up to A5 size. I can pretend to be more organised – lol

  14. Great question! (I’ve listened to this podcast for quite a while but I don’t think I’ve ever commented.)

    Here are mine:

    1 – coffee – My brain works better after caffeine.

    2 – the blanket my grandmother crocheted on my lap – bonus points if one of my cats is also sitting on my lap.

    3 – high quality speakers or headphones – I have to have music to write. I usually have multiple playlists depending on what I’m writing. I’m working on a sequel to my Southern gothic vampire book right now so I’ve been listening to my Southern gothic playlist a lot.

    Btw the Career Author Summit was so inspiring! I also bought a ton of post-its today. They really should be a sponsor of this podcast or next year’s summit or maybe just Rachael in general.

    1. Hi Sara! So glad you commented – welcome!!

      Grandma blanket! I have the knitted one my gma made me when I was born – it’s still gorgeous and I use it on cold mornings. <3

  15. 1. Composition notebook, college ruled, 100 pages.
    2. Dixon Ticonderoga pencil, black (because they look classy), new enough to still be long (holding short pencils is uncomfortable) and freshly sharpened in the electric sharpener that I stole from my classroom when I left teaching.
    3. 3×5 notecards, lined, white for notes and pastel colored for sources.

    ** I yearn for a ReMarkable with a lustful passion. If it works as promised, it would combine the individual strengths of each of my favorite tools into one SUPER tool, just like Voltron.

      1. I looked those up, too. They also have some free pdf pages you can print out and try with the app if you want to see how it works. I checked it out but was worried it would not work with my handwriting. Will let you know how it goes.

          1. After a couple of days using home printed pdf pages, rather than the actual book base, I have some comments on the the rocketbook. The app is free, and nifty with the Q code and auto destination feature. You pre-program where you want things to go, email, GDocs, evernote, onenote etc, then make a mark on the bottom of the page over each symbol and voila… it will send it to one or more destination.
            It did NOT cope with my handwriting, but no ocr does; it did better with printing, but not perfect. Note: if you are worried about privacy, checking the character recognition function sends your work to their storage cloud.
            The file name option of ##heading## worked well.
            But my major issue is the frixion pen.
            *whispers* I don’t like it, and their entire product is built around it.
            So sadly, it will not work for me.
            But your mileage may vary.

  16. My 3 writing tools that aren’t my MacBook Pro or MacBook Air both 13 inch are:
    1. If I’m writing at home which is now (yay!!!), my diffuser. I’m on a peppermint oil kick before that it was frankincense.
    2. Post it notes. I have them in multiple sizes, colors and shapes. I use them on my kanban board, in my writing business notebook, plotting note book (yes, sometimes I have to write it out before I put it in my Scrivener file)
    3.My Hobonichi Cousin planner. I found planner peace here. It’s the right size for both my day job and writing and it has monthly, weekly and daily pages. I use the daily pages as notes and collection pages.

  17. I’ll start with pen and paper. Of all the methods I’ve tried for brainstorming p and p continues to work the best. Sorry, not fancy pens or notepads. The family keeps me in dollar store pens and the paper comes from the backside of draft material one of us has printed out then put aside for recycling.

    My tea cup, though it is a bit frustrating to go for another sip only to discover someone drained the cup when my attention was elsewhere.

    Good shoes for all the times I decide I need to take another think it through walk.

  18. Rachael, I thought of you today when I heard about the Post It app. It digitizes, organizes and archives your analogue Post It notes. Genius!

    My three favourite offline tools are…
    1. Spirax notebooks – cheap, spiral bound, A4 notebooks. I’ve got millions of them for research notes, outlines, and brainstorms.
    2. And I write in said cheap ass notebooks with my treasured Mont Blanc pens.
    3. Tarot. I last year bought a specific deck just for noveling prompts, selecting the art to suit the vibe of my series.

    Cool question 🙂

  19. Ergonomics tip from a former ballet dancer: kneeling chair! it forces you to keep your back straight and forces you to stand up when you need to stretch out your knees. Also, it allows a more active way of holding your weight with your leg muscles – similar to riding a horse. That sensation alone might be good inspiration for all the fiction writers out there with scenes on horseback!

    Also, an elevated external monitor is key. Your keyboard should be at bellybutton height about 1′ away, and your monitor should be at nose height about 2.5′ away. So unless you are the size of an American Girl Doll, a laptop will scrunch you up!

    1. I’m going to look into that chair! I do use a laptop, but it’s always lifted at eye height and I use external keyboard, even when I travel. The exception is in airports, but I hate that crick I get in my neck!

  20. I absolutely need my notebooks. I split them up according to the book/series I’m working on, and all my notes live in these. I’ve tried using Scrivner and other software programs, but it makes my brain go on hiatus.

    Oddly enough, even though I use notebooks, I also use paper pads, the ones you can tear a sheet off from the top. It allows me to rearrange my thoughts while keeping them bundled with each story.

    And lastly earbuds. I’d learned early on in my process that I need to have music in my ears or else the silence will drive me to distraction. The music itself doesn’t matter unless I’m writing a battle scene and then I need heavy, pounding songs. 🙂

  21. Pen and Paper. To jot notes on when I am away from my computer.
    Noise Cancelling head phones playing spotify playlists – usually Archangel from Two steps from hell…they are movie background soundtrack makers.
    Fancy Mechanical Keyboard that clicks when I type. Makes me feel like a machine gunner when I get the characters per second up.

    Rachel, I know you like the physicality of Post It notes but you should check out . They got a virtual postit note board with multiple colors. We use it to plan out software features at my work. But I am thinking I might use it for plotting out the next book if I ever go the post it notes route.

  22. 1) A pen and paper, but my writing is awful so I mainly use them for short (five or six words max) to do notes or sketching out things. Even so, there are times when I just have to have that tactile feedback and blank page to get something out of my subconcious.

    2) My dictaphone. Over the past three years or so I’ve now entirely dictated 3 novels and dozens upon dozens of short stories. With lockdown meaning the furtherst I can get from the house is long walks across the fields and footpaths with the dogs I’m doing even more.

    3) My laptop. I know technically it should be ruled out, but it is physical and without it I wouldn’t have written a tenth of what I have. I use it on the train (or did). In the library or outside a lunch (ditto on the did). At home. Everywhere. And not just to write – to do everything that’s needed for an author business when I’m not able to get at my main PC.

  23. 1. Walking Treadmill – I spent the $$ on a walking treadmill, then built a desk to sit over it… it’s been a game changer. Movement while writing adds a new dimension of fun, and I’ve found I get into flow state a lot faster when I’m walking and typing.

    2. Ergonomic desk set-up. A yoga ball chair was actually cheaper than a regular office chair, and an adjustable VESA mount for my monitor was also less expensive than I expected. Add an under-desk keyboard tray (used from an office supply company off eBay) and my desk is a much more enjoyable place to be.

    3. Separate Office. I built an office behind my house as a place to write. This gives me a separate place from my family where I can focus on work. While I can’t say no to my toddler knocking on the door, that won’t be forever. Really, just having a separate place to think and focus has been really important to my productivity.

    I spent a couple years writing on a laptop at the kitchen table and it was starting to take a toll on my body. Focusing on the proper writing tools and creating a space to write were like leveling up from Walmart tools when trying to build a table. Highly recommended.

    1. I love my office! A little room that’s just mine. I do have some of my daughter’s toys in the room but she’s pretty good at entertaining herself until she doesn’t want to be contained anymore.

  24. 3 things…
    Imagination – this is a physical thing, honest, I can feel it like a muscle.
    Quiet – physical quiet space in which to write
    Time- I have to make time, so it must be physical right?

  25. I know I’m still catching up but I love this.
    My main tool is my Happy Planner- it’s actually 4 planners in 1 and I break them up into quarters. 1 section is general planning. I include non-writing things like doctor appointments and work schedule so I know how to plan my deadlines. 1 section for budgeting/spend tracking, 1 section for social media planning, and 1 for actual task tracking- what did I actually get done as opposed to my goals planned. It’s kind of like my “time sheet.” Like, I worked on a blog for 30 minutes and then I wrote for an hour.
    I also belong to the Church of Post-It like Rachel. If there’s something I want to mark in my planner but it’s not set in stone I stick a post-it on the date or in the month layout.
    Number 3- I usually use PaperMate brand pens. They just write so nice. Their ultra fine points don’t bleed on regular paper and they come in seventy million colors, which is great for color coding in my planners.

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