Sunday, 22 October 2017

Top Ten Tools For Us Writery Types, by Dan Metcalf

I like making a list or two so I thought for my ABBA offering this month I'd lay out the top ten things I need to write. This list is entirely subjective of course and I'd love to hear what you consider an absolutely essential item for your writing life.

  1. Laptop – I'd love to say that I can get away with a pad of A4 paper and a pen, but the reality of life is that work has to be typed on a computer, laid out in a certain way and increasing, submitted to publishers electronically too. I'm also a tad reliant on websites and databases for research (though nothing beats a library for real research!). Mine is an 11.5” ASUS netbook, which does all I ask of it. The memory is running out now, to which I have bodged a solution by whacking in a cheap SD card in the side and occasioanlly importing stuff over to it. I have two cloud backup services too; ASUS Webstorage (came with the computer) and google drive. I'm also sticking stuff on a USB memory stick because I know from bitter experience that YOU CAN NEVER BACK UP ENOUGH.

  2. Notebooks – I covet these little things. Even though I have more than enough at home, waiting to be filled, I still find myself wondering into Waterstones or Paperchase and stroking the spines of the lovely blank tomes available. In a perfect world I would have a subscription to moleskine or field notes to deliver a parcel to my house every few months full of the bleeders, but unless I suddenly hit Pullman-esque standards of success, I'll make do with whatever comes to hand. And in all truth, paper is paper. A 50p jotter from the post office works just as well as an ornate faux-leather ideaspad. 

  3. Mechanic pencils – Okay, I'm going to say this here and now – mechanical/propelling pencils are better. Just BETTER. Better than a pen (ballpoint or fountain) and better than your regular dead-tree pencil. For one, pencils provide a transience that I like – anything I write with them can be deleted or edited immediately. For two, the propelling pencil has a clarity that I love. Because they have small graphite sticks, you get a fixed width line instead of a thin and pointy line which then devolves into a stubby grey mess further down the page. Also: clickable. None of that pencil sharpener/whittling with a craft knife nonsense. (Only downside I find is that the plastic variety are disposable and bad for the environment – if this bothers you, kindly have a whipround and buy me one of these, because I get through heaps of the plastic Bic jobbies.

  4. Tea – You may think I'm being flippant here, but I do drink tonnes of the stuff. I have had to switch to decaffinated which is frankly just as nice and means you can drink more of it without having to jog off the excess energy every few hours. Brands don't matter, no matter what that woollen monkey off the telly tells you. I also have a back-up of Green Tea with Lemon which provides the taste without the need for milk. I'm drinking it now. Slurp. Yum yum.

  5. A flask – hows this for a productivity hack? My 1000ml stainless steel thermos flask from Asda has served me well. I fill it with hot water in the morning and then bring it to my desk so I can work. This is absolute genius in two ways – One, I don't have to leave my desk and interrupt the flow when I'm writing and two, it saves on your electricity bill by not popping up to boil the kettle every 30 minutes. (But what about milk? I hear you cry; that's where the aforementioned green tea with lemon comes in to play) Try it and thank me later.
  6. Mini wireless mouse – Not essential, but I'm one of these fogies that gets in a tizz when trying to use the touchpad on my laptop. This little beauty has a small USB plugin neatly hidden in the battery compartment which can take out and stick in your laptop. The AAA battery powered mouse then connects automatically. Soooo much easier (and dirt cheap).

  7. A mug – okay I realise that now three of these 'writing' tips are beverage based, but if you think about it, doesn't the quality of the mug affect the quality of the drink? And therefore the quality of your mood? And therefore the quality of your writing? Of course it does. You know it makes sense... My favourite writing mug is this fella from the Literary Gift Company.
  8. Sounds – In an ideal world I would sit in silence and type away to my heart's content but as we all know, we do not live in an ideal world (for proof, check out who leads the world nowadays.). We live in a world where phones, radios and washing machines bleep at you throughout the day. We live in a world where my delightful sons shoot Nerf guns at each other outside my office window. This world needs white noise and I choose You can set the ambient sounds however you wish and block out the rest of reality. I recommend a blend of a crackling fire and thunderstorms.
  9. Bullet Journal – Time management is very much a work in progress for me, and has been ever since I left school. I've still not cracked it but the closest I ever come is when I keep up my bullet journal. Everything goes into this; story ideas, first drafts, appointments, etc. The buttet journal system helps to keep them all in check. I have tried using evernote and my phone's diary, but somehow it doesn't work for me (but am always open to better time management solutions – leave 'em in the comments) (oh, you don't need to buy an official journal either – I prefer a thick blank A4 pad but loads of people work out of moleskines)
  10. My brain – I'd be lost without it. No one else's will do, either. It's my own or nothing. In fact, out of all of these items on the list, this is probably the most important, because all you need to create a story is your brain and a wee bit of motivation.

What did I miss? Leave your suggestions below.

Dan :¬)
Dan Metcalf's most recent book is Codebusters from Bloomsbury. He is also experimenting with Wattpad stories for a YA audience, so take a look HERE.


Joan Lennon said...

11. A cat. (Or a dog. Or a creature of some sort.)

Sue Bursztynski said...

I like to work at the library when I can. I don't get distracted there and they usually have free wifi. I used to work in a nearby cafe, where I could order tea(with lemon, thanks, NOT milk!) or lunch or both. Someone else would cook for me(perhaps this will make a number 11 - no getting up to cook or wash dishes). But the cafe, where I wrote a book and many articles and short stories has been replaced by a wine bar! No food except a couple of evenings a week when they offer a set dinner, which I assume is cooked elsewhere and delivered. Probably because they welcome dogs and you can't mix food and animals, due to health laws. I love dogs, but I'd rather be able to buy a meal. No longer a place for writing, alas!

Technology In The World Of Harry Potter

Susan Price said...

On-line timers (or kitchen timers, but they keep breaking.) Set it for an hour and then work. And then go and do washing up/load washing machine or whatever. These breaks give important thinking/unconscious mulling time, I find.

A garden. Suddenly leaving writing to rush out and turn compost heap, plant seedlings, water or whatever you find needs doing. Provides some fresh air and more time to think.

Penny Dolan said...

Inspiring post, Dan. Just reading it through made me feel far better organised and in control!

I'd add good sleep at night, if you can get it, so the brain's less muggy during the day.

Jane S/W said...

A comfy chair. You may laugh, but my back could double for Richard III's and has a steel rod holding it together - besides, comfort is essential for everyone :-)

Emma Perry said...

Great list!

You can NEVER have too many notebooks - they are essential.

11. Turn the internet OFF. Or, maybe, that's just me who gets very easily distracted?! Oops!

Sue Bursztynski said...

No, because I use the Internet for research. And my distraction is in researching and finding something else fascinating I can maybe use another time.

Ann Turnbull said...

I LOVE those propelling pencils, and use them all the time. Aren't they recyclable?

I'm a collector of notebooks too, but the ones I use most for writing are the tiny brown Moleskine ones (they come in packs of 3) for handbag when travelling, and ordinary shorthand notebooks when at home. The prettier notebooks are, the harder I find it to use them.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Lovely post. Odd but I can't bear propelling pencils... their marks have no character. When my pencil gets blunt, I pause to sharpen it and that gives me time to think. I only use black pencils that I buy at the V&A. The wood is black too so I enjoy the curls of the sharpening process and the pencils have a little jewel on the end. Oh we all slightly mad... in any case, whatever we do...

Dan Metcalf said...

Ooh excellent Susan. I think the timer thing is known as the Pomodorro technique, after the fella who started it, and wrote a book about it, had a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato (or pomodorro in italian!)

Dan Metcalf said...


Dan Metcalf said...

Yep good one. Or i sometimes use a standing desk!

Dan Metcalf said...

Definitely not just you Emma!