Tools and skills every budding writer and author needs – Part 1: The Idea

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Burgundian author and scribe Jean Miélot, from his Miracles de Notre Dame, 15th century via Wikipedia

Burgundian author and scribe Jean Miélot, from his Miracles de Notre Dame, 15th century via Wikipedia

Probably the number one question I’m asked (actually probably the number two right after “where do you get your ideas from?”) is “so what do you use to write?  What are the tools of the trade?”   This question is always asked in a tone which suggests that  there are secret and arcane devices which every writer uses.  There aren’t I’m afraid, but over the years I’ve spoken to many writers about the tools of the trade, what they use to capture the ideas and get them onto the page.

In the end, it all comes down to personal choice.  I know some writers who swear by pencil and paper, others who are exclusively digital.  Most use a combination of both.  But in the end, use what works for you.

Every book is essentially broken down into three separate processes: the idea, the research and the execution. You will need different tools for each part.

This is a long post, so I’ve broken it down into three parts. In this part I will look at capturing the Idea, tomorrow in part 2, I will talk about managing the research and then the following day, in part 3, show you how to put it all together and begin writing.

The Idea

Ideas are sneaky – they have a nasty habit of popping up when you least expect them.  The middle of the night is their favorite time.  Many writers sleep with a notebook beside the bed or a small digital recorder (a cell phone is great for this) to capture the midnight idea.

If you have a hard time deciphering the mumble you recorded at 3.00am, then it probably wasn’t a great idea anyway.  Far more disconcerting are the single word ideas which, at the time, obviously made perfect sense, but in the cold light of day are utterly meaningless.  I have a note to myself which says “ice-cream.”  Was it a character trait for one of the Flamel characters (I know Sophie likes chunky monkey ice cream),  was it a shopping list, a fabulous idea about the magical properties of ice cream? I’ve no idea.  Maybe I just wanted ice cream in the middle of the night.

No matter what you use, a notebook – either paper or digital – by your beside is essential.

And, when you’re out and about, keep the notebook handy for capturing the elusive idea.   There are any number of apps for whatever flavor of cellphone you use.  Check out the latest in speech recognition software, which allows you to translate spoken notes into text.  For capturing notes on the move, either by voice or with your phone’s camera, then look to the online applications like Evernote or Springpad. I’ve used both, but of late, I find myself using Springpad more and more.

Look out tomorrow for part two, The Research, followed by part three, The Execution.

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