Being neurotic, obsessive creatures, we writers tend to develop attachments to certain tools of the trade. These days, those tools often take the form of iWillWriteYourNovel software programs, tablet computers that cost two years’ salary (as if you received such a thing) but allow you to work on your book in the bathtub, or whatever invention comes closest to providing an uninterrupted, socially acceptable caffeine IV drip.
I won’t deny that I love my electronic toys and my caffeine, too. But my three “must-have” writing tools don’t consume a byte among them, can all be had on the cheap and don’t keep me awake when I ought to be recharging my writing brain. The common factor in all of these non-digital tools is that they allow me to capture bits of conversation with characters or snippets of scenes whenever and wherever they occur to me, before my porous brain has the chance to let my thoughts escape while I search for something on which to write them down. And one of these tools even lets me work on my book in the bathtub.
My Favorite Tool: The Dive Slate
Divers take notes under water.
Think about that fact. You know what that means, don’t you? Divers have to have something to write on. A paper notebook won’t get the job done.
Solution: the dive slate.
I keep an 8” x 10”, two-sided dive slate in my shower with a special pencil attached, purchased together for $10 at Scuba.com. I’ve drafted blog posts, essay outlines and scenes for my novel on that slate. So often, ideas that eluded me at the keyboard suddenly burst into my mind once I’ve stepped into the shower to forget about the day’s frustrations. The dive slate enables me to preserve my thoughts before the process of shampooing, rinsing, toweling off and getting dressed washes those epiphanies away. When the slate gets so crowded with barely legible script I can’t possibly fit anything else on it, it’s time to transcribe my notes. I only keep about thirty or forty percent of what I’ve jotted down, but that filtering process serves an important function of its own. Once I’ve sorted through all the notes, I wipe the slate clean and begin again.
The Marriage-Saver: Pen with a Built-in Light
How many of us keep notebooks on our nightstands for those middle-of-the-night inspirations?
I thought so. Now how many of us annoy our partners when we turn on the light to jot down those inspirations?
Solution: the low-tech ballpoint pen with a light in it. This tool focuses a beam of light on the words you’re writing, and that’s it. You won’t wake up your partner or anyone else. It’s useful at home, and–writing parents especially will appreciate this–worth the weight of a dozen binkies when traveling and stuck in a hotel room with a sleeping toddler.
For some reason, these pens are very popular in the pharmaceutical industry, which means if you have friends or family in the medical profession and you are nice to them, you can generally keep yourself well supplied for free so long as you don’t mind carrying around advertisements for drugs to treat various venereal diseases and the like. I tend to lose these things faster than I acquire them, however, and eventually I was forced to buy some at about $5 per pen. If you Google “pen with light,” you’ll find several options.
No-name contraption that is not a phone & doesn’t require a pocket
This tool is so basic and no-tech it’s almost ridiculous. For the, ahem, older writers reading this, think back to college when you wore your dorm key and student ID on an accordion keychain so that you wouldn’t have to hold anything in your hands, which, you know, needed to remain free for cups of beer–I mean books. (Maybe college students still do this? Or are they using retinal scans now?)
Like many writers, I frequently take walks because a) I need exercise after sitting on my butt all day in front of the computer and b) I’m hoping that getting away from the computer and into the world will offer some inspiration and fresh ideas.
I could use my iPhone to record my thoughts, but here’s the problem: often, I don’t want to bring my phone with me. I’m trying to block out the rings, buzzes, dings and vibrations; I don’t in any way want to know that anyone else is trying to reach me. This is my time alone with only my characters for company.
Solution: I bought a cheap accordion keychain and a tiny 1 3/4” x 3” notebook on a another keychain and hooked them together. I attached a ballpoint pen with a clip that formed a closed loop, and I made a copy of my house key and slipped that on, too. Now, when I walk, I slide the whole thing around my wrist, and all I need to do to record a thought is remove the pen from the cap and open the miniature notebook.
One note of caution, however: normal people–i.e., non-writers–seem to find it odd to come across someone sitting by the side of a quiet road or perched atop a guard rail, writing. I can’t count how many times well meaning people have stopped to ask me, “Hey, are you okay?” as I’ve attempted to scribble a bit of dialogue. For some reason, replying, “Oh, yes, I’m just writing,” never seems to reassure them. It just causes them to back away, slowly. But it’s nice to know people care.
Have you got any writing tools of your own you’d like to share? If so, please let us know in the comments below.
Top photo courtesy DeviantArt’s BattleDaughter.