One of the greatest things about writing as a creative pursuit/career path is that it is CHEAP. You can go get yourself a $1 spiral notebook and a 99-cent pack of ballpoints and be just as ready to write as the person who drops massive dollars on a new laptop, writing software, whatever. It definitely beats paying $10 for a single tube of watercolor!
That being said, it’s really fun to find the tools you prefer most. If you’re like me, pens and paper are a borderline-unhealthy obsession. A way of life. Nothing signals the start of a new project quite like finding the perfect notebook.
Let me take you on a tour of my favorite tools!
The perfect pen is important. You need to find something that doesn’t fight you. Your hand should be able to (mostly) keep up with your thoughts, and a shitty pen that sputters and skips every other word will destroy that sweet flow. Mostly, you shouldn’t be thinking about your pen at all when you’re writing–the perfect pen all but disappears, leaving only the words and ideas.
I use a few different pens for various things when I’m writing. I got this sweet 7-year pen (pictured left) at a bookstore in San Francisco. It’s sold by Seltzer Goods and is re-fillable. Apparently it can write 1.7 meters a day for 7 years. Now…I used mine up in 6 months. But I write a LOT. It was still an amazing pen while it lasted–the ink was super smooth and it never skipped until it started dying–and I plan to get a refill soon. Actually, I plan to buy a few more, too. I used it most for planning and journaling.
For me, having a collection of super cheap pens is important for the “Shitty First Draft” phase. I need something I can use up and throw out without thinking about it. The pens I prefer for this part of writing are the Office Depot brand ballpoints (pictured center). They’re $1.59 for a pack of 10, and when they claim they’re “no skip,” they really mean it. I was skeptical at first…I’ve been burned by cheap ballpoints before. Pens that I want to snap in half and throw across the room because they just don’t want to write. So imagine my surprise when I opened up my first Office Depot ballpoint and tested it out…and it was smooth as butter. It was like an inky orgasm. It immediately became my number 1 cheap ballpoint of all time. I went back the next day and bought like 20 packs.
Lastly in the pens category, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce to you the best pen in the entire world. If you don’t agree, you’re wrong. Just kidding. We all have our own preferences. But you gotta try this baby out. It’s a Pentel Energel retractable liquid gel pen (pictured right), and if you like gel pens (I know there are some people who don’t) it is a god among pens. The ink flows nicely and dries quickly, which is important for us people who inevitably end up dragging our hands across the page and smearing everything. Most importantly, it is the smoothest pen I’ve ever used, which means that as fast as my mind works, my hand can keep up. Ballpoints, you have to kind of coax (even the good ones), but the Pentel EnerGel wants to write. It’s like two steps away from gaining sentience and taking over my hand completely. I use this one for editing and revisions. I write directly on a printed-out manuscript during those phases, and having a perfect pen such as this one helps me achieve that zen-like flow of words we all crave. Try it out and see if it will become your new god as it has become mine. If so, come on over, I have a Pentel altar in my apartment where I sacrifice the ink of lesser pens to my new master.
Notebooks are one of my favorite things in this entire world. Guys…I spend hours online just looking at notebooks. I have so many notebooks that I will probably never use all of them in my lifetime, and yet I keep buying more. When people need to de-stash, the first thing I ask is, “do you have any notebooks??” It’s…a problem. But I don’t care. I know you understand. You’re a writer.
First up are my idea notebooks:
When I realized a few years ago that the 8.5″ x 11″ (A4?) spiral-bound notebook I had been using for writing ideas was too cumbersome to throw in my bag and take everywhere, I got myself this 4″ x 6″ Piccadilly notebook from the Barnes and Noble bargain section and never looked back. I love that it has a horizontal elastic band, unlike the typical vertical elastic, because I can use it to hold my pen. There are also a LOT of pages. The orange one was my first one (look how dirty it is!), and it took me something like 2 or 3 years to fill it up. Another nice aspect is that the pages are thick enough that I can use a highlighter (I color code my ideas) without them bleeding through too much. You can kind of see a little color on the next page if I press too hard with the highlighter, but if I’m not being aggressive it’s fine. Unfortunately, these notebooks are really hard to get. Barnes and Noble has them sometimes, and you can get them from third-party sellers on Amazon, but they don’t sell directly from their website anymore. When I used up the orange one I was foaming at the mouth trying to get more and ending up buying like 10 of them from Amazon after the Piccadilly sales-person told me the minimum wholesale order was a carton of 100. And guys…I actually considered it. My husband talked me out of it, thank goodness. Anyway, this thing is pretty sturdy. The little ribbon bookmarker falls out almost immediately, but aside from that it withstands the abuse of living in my massive bookbag pretty well.
Next up, project-specific notebooks:
Above are the notebooks I used for my current project. The top two are research notebooks, and the bottom two contain the Shitty First Draft. I am downright CRAZY when it comes to project notebooks. Seriously. For example, one of my main characters is called The Bruise, so I chose a black notebook with blue-edged paper for volume one of the SFD, and another main character is white with pink hair/eyes, so I chose a white notebook with pink-edged paper for volume two. Those are from Franklin Mill and are called the Miro. They’re a little pricey (they remind me a lot–in price and construction–of Moleskine, but I love the differently-colored edges of the Miro) but are really nice. You can get lined and unlined. They might be available on Amazon as well.
My two research notebooks are just as obsessively-chosen:
One group of people in the book are nomads, so I chose this red notebook with a horse motif on the left for my research on the Mongols and other nomadic cultures. Another group of people are superstitious when it comes to gods and the celestial, so I chose this golden zodiac-themed notebook on the right for my world-building of their country, and my research on Ancient China and Japan. Both notebooks came from Barnes and Noble, and I think they are both by Peter Pauper Press (I love that company, oh man). Both are lined.
I use a lot of other tools as well. I mentioned highlighters: I color code everything, from my ideas to my research, but I honestly don’t use anything special in that department. I like to have a good range of colors (blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, pink), but that’s about it. Some are from Berol (which I love) and some are cheap-ies from Target (which are pretty good, actually).
I use a lot of binder clips: small ones to keep my printed research material (like from Wikipedia and other sites) organized, and giant ones for the actual manuscript. Giant rubber bands are good for manuscripts too, and big file folders.
My one other serious obsession is Post-Its and other various “sticky notes.” Mostly I use the garden-variety colored squares, but I happen to have a wonderful sister-in-law who truly gets me, and I have her to thank for these:
My manuscript was COVERED in mustachios, and it made me happier than it should have.
So! That about does it for my go-to writing tools. What do you use and love? What can’t you live without? Leave a comment and share with the rest of the class, if you’d like! I’m always looking for new favorites!