Writers Ask Writers: What Tools Do You Need to Help You Write?

MWF Ang_portraitSpecial pens? Music? Magic spells? What are the tools that help you get your book written? This is the question our Writers Ask Writers group has asked this month, and we are delighted to have author Angela Savage joining us. Angela is the author of the Jayne Keeney series of crime novels, the most recent instalment being The Dying Beach. She also runs a great blog where, amongst other things, she reviews and discusses her passion for crime fiction.

So, onto my tools. Alas, I have no magic spells and I don’t listen to music when I write. My writing time is the only quiet time of my day and I like to keep it that way. But many of you will be aware that my most loved tool is the amazing writing software program, Scrivener. I have blogged several times about the wonder that is Scrivener so I won’t bore you by repeating myself. I will just say that the three words I’ve used here, “writing software program” do no justice to Scrivener. It is a note-taker, a word-processor, a scene organiser, a research collector, an idea-gatherer, a motivator; in short, it’s a miracle.

Image courtesy of Literature and Latte

Image courtesy of Literature and Latte

I’ve recently started a trial of Literature and Latte’s (the makers of Scrivener) new program, Scapple. Scapple is a brainstorming program that allows you to gather and organise and connect ideas, and then you can import the mind-map and the ideas into Scrivener. I quite like the sound of that, so I’ve just started, in a very preliminary way, jotting down some ideas for my next book. When I get a bit further into it, and especially when I import it into Scrivener, I’ll let you know what I think of it and how it all works.

A notebook is the essential tool of any writer. I have a plain black Moleskine in my handbag to jot down ideas when I’m out and about as I never remember them later. I have also been known to use parking tickets, receipts, envelopes and business cards as notepaper if an idea has struck when the notebook is not to hand. If I’m driving, I tend to record my idea on the voice recorder on my phone (when I’ve stopped the car, of course!) and I need to find a waterproof notebook as I always have ideas in the shower. I think that’s because it’s the one place where I have peace from the 3 kids.

IMG_1178All of my books have required research. With What is Left Over, After, it was research into photography and goats cheese. For If I Should Lose You, it was heart transplantation and organ donation. For my most recently finished manuscript, A Beautiful Catastrophe, it was obstetrics and New York in the 1920s. So for each book, I have a shelf of related research books that have helped me make my writing authentic. You can see in the picture on the right my latest collection of research material.

I also couldn’t live without my MacBook Pro and my super-sized screen—now that I’m old and blind it’s the only way my eyes will survive a few hours at the computer.

My last tool is herbal tea. Cups of it. Lemongrass and ginger, camomile, rose, lapsang souchong, peppermint, liquorice, you name it, I have it beside me as I write.

PWFC author collageOver to my writer friends, starting with Angela Savage who gets creative with alternatives to pens when there are none available. I will never look at a lip-liner in the same way again after reading her post!

Amanda Curtin’s cat, Daisy, obviously couldn’t wait to read her manuscript so it solved the problem in an ingenious and indigestible way. I have made a mental note never to have a cat as a writing aid!

Dawn Barker is a fellow Scrivener lover and she also lists a few great books that would be invaluable tools for any writer.

Annabel Smith won’t be able to look up the word “selfie” with her research tools, but as she suggests, she’s probably all the better for it.

Emma Chapman confesses to a secret love of stationery, and needs a trip to the stationer’s at the start of every year to keep her toolbox fully stocked.

And Sara Foster was one of the many who admitted to the power of Lindt chocolate to keep her writing.

How about you? What do you need to get you in the mood for writing, and to keep you writing?


  1. Pingback: Writers ask writers: tools of the trade | looking up/looking down

  2. annabelsmith

    Scapple sounds interesting – I may have to check that out – I’ve got scrappy notes everywhere for book 5, so that could be just what I need

    • Yes, it’s pretty good, although I’ve really only started using it and I know I’ve only just scratched the surface. The temptation is, of course, to make the mind map look beautiful, which I have to try to overcome because what I need to do is spend more time on the ides than on the way the ideas look! But I will definitely blog about it after I’ve used it just a bit more.

  3. I love that you sing the praises of Scrivener and also pine for waterproof notebooks for the shower, Natasha. I suspect you are a well rounded individual.

    Can you provide a link to a Scrivener tutorial that would give me an idea of how it works? I’m attempting a complex plot at present and it might be just the ticket…

    • Yes, I love my technology but I love my essentials as well. Apparently you can get bath crayons that allow you to write on the side of the bath and the words then wash off later. I might have to try those on the shower walls and have a whole wall for my notebook!

      And here is a link to a few video tutorials from the makers of Scrivener that show off many of its features. The first 2 are probably the best for an overview. Hope that helps! http://www.literatureandlatte.com/video.php

      • That’s great – thanks Natasha.

        And I love the sound of those bath crayons. There’s a cafe near us that provides whiteboard markers so the young and young at heart can write on the white tiled walls of the corridors and toilets. Urge to graffiti sated and no clean up costs. Brilliant!

  4. Pingback: Writers Ask Writers: Tools of the trade | Angela Savage

  5. Moleskines are just perfect, and I love that little pocket in the back for collecting bits and pieces 🙂

  6. Louise Allan

    Yes, I love all of these tools of the trade, too. Love Scrivener — it makes it so easy to keep a long story organised. Bath crayons — I hadn’t thought of that idea before. I remember the difficulty with scrubbing them off after my kids had been using them, but I quite like the idea of the walls of the shower being filled with story ideas!

    • Yes, I quite like that idea too – although not if they’re hard to wash off the walls! My husband might also think I’m even more strange if he has access to all the weird and wonderful ideas I have too!

  7. Pingback: EMMA CHAPMAN » WRITERS ASK WRITERS: Tools of the Trade

  8. Pingback: Why You Should Use Scapple for Brainstorming Your Book | While the kids are sleeping

  9. Clive

    I used to use a black Moleskine notebook. But I got so many comments about ‘Clive’s Little Black Book’ that I’ve now changed to brown ones.

  10. Pingback: Writers Ask Writers: Tools of the Trade |

  11. Pingback: Writers Ask Writers: Tools of the Trade | How To Be A Good Wife

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