Great tools for writers

Scrivener, Moleskine, Word, & other tools of the novelist's trade

Cofession: my notebooks aren't quite pristine. There are coffee spills, crumpled pages, and peeling labels. That's okay. Great ideas aren't always neat and tidy.

Eugen Ruge has this to say about notebooks in his wonderful novella, Cabo de Gata:

"...there was a time when even prosperous people didn't have laptops, there was even a time before the laptop and before the cell phone, and although I write exclusively on a laptop now...that time was my time, and I am afraid I shall belong to it all my life, the way others identify themselves with a nation or a family."

I use hardcover notebooks, arranged by year, to write down scraps of stories and new novel and story ideas. I have long used Moleskine notebooks, because I like the idea of respecting my ideas, showing them a little love, giving them a nice place to live. Moleskine notebooks also lay flat, which means the cover doesn't flop over and crowd your hand while you're trying to write. Since moving to Paris, I've been buying notebooks of different brands at the stationery store near my house. My favorite are Rhodia notebooks, because they look cool (orange!) and the paper feels great under the pen.


I have a file on my computer desktop called "Writing Projects 2019" (or whatever year it happens to be). This is where I keep stories and essays I'm writing for a particular publication, or just writing because an idea strikes me. When I start a new novel, I keep a folder on my computer desktop with the novel's title.


Once I'm committed to a novel, I start writing on the computer. I write the first few pages in Word, just to get into the flow and make sure it's something worth writing. Eventually, I migrate to Scrivener. Scrivener does require a bit of a learning curve, but it's worthwhile if you do a lot of research. The program has rich features for organizing and saving text and visual research, as well as multi-media files. I was an early adopter, switching from PCs to Mac back in 2009 just so I could get Scrivener, which at the time was only available for Mac (now it's also available for Windows.)

Scrivener is also a useful tool for those of you writing your novel with The Paperclip Method, because Scrivener allows you to move your scenes and chapters around on a visual cor board. Since The Paperclip Method rewards non-linear, intuitive writing and favors fragments, scenes, and sketches that you later weave into the novel, Scrivener is a great organizing tool.

Although I try to carry a small notebook in my purse, it doesn't always work out that way, and it can be awkward to pull out a notebook in the middle of the street and writing something down. That's why your phone is a great tool for saving notes on the go. I just use the built-in notes app to jot down ideas (everyone else is staring at their phones anyway, so they'll have no idea you're secretly squirreling away details about them for your novel), and I snap photos of anything I want to remember later.

I also take pictures. While this creates a great visual diary, it's not searchable like the Notes app, so it's not quite as practical.

However you choose to organize your writing--digitally or on paper, with special software or with the most basic word processing tool--the important thing is to get your ideas down before they leave you. I find that the more ideas I write down, the more I have. The more I have, the more I write. Be generous with your ideas, give them a place to live, and they will reward you.

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