I’ve heard it said that a craftsman is only as good as his tools. I was recently reminded of this while attempting to make a series of exacting cuts with my new circular saw. There was no room for error, and I was deathly afraid of making a piece of expensive scrap. True, I had carefully selected the saw for just this type of thing, but still, this was me using it. After fifteen minutes of careful cutting, the product emerged near perfect. Needless to say, I patted myself on the back and took a victory lap around the yard. (My neighbors are used to it.)
This made me think of the tools I use in my writing and how I’ve chosen them just as carefully. So with Assassin of Curses nearly completed, I thought it might be of interest to talk a little about the tools I use in my everyday writing.
For this post, I will only talk about the tools used in my creative process—planning, writing, and editing. I use several others for different purposes, but I will try to talk about those at another time.
Since this is the twenty-first century, almost everything I write is digital. My workhorse machine is an HP desktop running Windows 10 and connected to two monitors (32” and 27”). Why two monitors? I frequently need to reference several documents at once. It’s not uncommon for me to have up my outline, my working draft, my world’s encyclopedia, my browser windows, plus various spreadsheets. It can get crowded with even two monitors.
The Right Word
My primary creation tool is Microsoft Word. For many years, I used Office 2003 and was pretty happy with it. Then last year, I realized my old version wasn’t cutting it anymore and upgraded to Office 365. After using it for a bit, I wondered why I waited so long. Several of its newer features greatly improved my productivity.
I use Word for composing my drafts, document layout, and all my general writing. I’ve found it to be quite versatile, and I’m even using it to write this article. Unfortunately, some of its more advanced features have a steep learning curve. I frequently have to consult Google on how to do something.
Many people hate Microsoft products, and I perfectly understand why. Microsoft does have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot with their ‘upgrades.’ But since I have been a Microsoft user from way back, I frankly didn’t want to invest in learning a new tool (or operating system).
Modeling the World
I also use Excel extensively. What, you say? You’re a writer. Why in the world do you need a spreadsheet when writing? Actually, for a lot of reasons.
In my world-building, I strive to make some semblance of following the laws of physics (unless magic is involved). And math is sometimes the best way to figure out what the constraints are. For instance, I’ve used a spreadsheet to calculate distances between locations, how much air time someone would have falling from a great height, or comparing how fast a horse-drawn carriage travels versus a person running.
For the Coren Hart series, I also built a fairly complex model of the ages of all the characters and world events going back for four generations. Using that model, I can tell you when any character was born, their age when major events occurred, and their age when they pass away. Some might argue that this is too much detail. But I find it helps me be more consistent. (Did you know that Zofie is eight months older than Coren?)
The Worth of a Picture
Even though I am a writer, I tend to be a visual person. So to eliminate logic errors, I will make diagrams and grab reference pictures.
The tool I use for simple diagrams is Powerpoint. And no, I don’t make presentations using it. I use it to make block diagrams of things I describe, such as character placements in rooms (Coren was sitting next to who?), the position of a room’s important features (what do you mean there’s no stairs?), or simple maps (what’s the name of that river going past the castle?) Powerpoint’s organization chart tool is also perfect for simple genealogy diagrams.
For more complex drawings, I use Adobe Photoshop Elements. (Not the full-blown Cloud version.) I use this for more complex maps and simple image manipulation. And no, I do not draw my own published art. Circles and squares are about my limit.
Punctuation and Spelling Are Demons
I will be the first to admit that commas are my downfall. I’ve gotten better, but misplaced commas still get by me. Another common problem I have is selecting the right word from closely spelled alternatives. (Like shudder versus shutter.) I’ve had more than one alpha reader fall over laughing at my mistakes. (He did what to that window?)
To help me with this, I use Grammarly Premium. While the built-in Microsoft Word tools are pretty good, Grammarly is just a tad better at finding and recommending corrections. I don’t always agree with it, but it does make me take a second look.
All Together Now
As you can see, I don’t use just one tool for my overall writing process, but several with each one carefully selected for my needs. I’ve found that having the correct toolset has not only improved my writing speed but also the quality.
Now, if only I could figure out how to accurately read a tape measure, I wouldn’t produce any scrap at all.
How about you? Do you have a favorite writing or drawing tool you like to use? I’ve love to hear about it and why you like it. Just send me a message through the contact me page.