Top 13: My Favorite Writing Things

If you think ballplayers and crazed sports fans, with their amulets and gestures and habits all meant to bring about a win, are the only superstitious people in the world, think again. Writers can be just as quirky when engaging in their sport. And so I present a baker’s dozen of my favorite writing things, in no particular order.

 1. Men’s cashmere sweater

This is my go-to, get-in-the-mood wear when it’s time to write and the season is autumn, winter, or early spring. It was love at first sight when I found this baby in a pigeon-poop-covered sealed box at the back of a warehouse. Yes, I know, disgusting. But inside were dozens of men’s cashmere sweaters individually packaged in plastic. No avian bird flu for me. This was my favorite, and definitely not because of the thick horizontal band falling at exactly hip level. Egads! No, the reason I love this sweater is because it is 100% cashmere, made in Scotland, and thick and comfy, unlike those cashmere sweaters in the department store that feel like you’re wearing expensive tissue paper. When I slip into its luxurious softness, I let out a contented Kashmir bleat and my Muse instantly appears for some cuddle time.

 2. Bic 4-color pens

With a click of one of the colored levers, I’m instantly transported back to fourth grade. Sophisticated? No. But it’s surprisingly smooth and long-lasting for a simple ball-point pen and does a great job for first drafts. Up until recently, I did all novel writing by hand. There’s definitely a creativity channel that runs from brain to fingers. Typing directly into a computer was how I wrote user manuals in my day job, but when it was time for novels, I needed the creative flow of handwriting. I use only the black and blue inks for my first drafts. The red and green inks are reserved for editing, but that’s the subject of a future Top List.

 3. College-ruled spiral notebook

When you’re writing first drafts by hand, you need a cooperative writing surface. That’s why a bound notebook or journal is never going to work for me. I need to flip pages quickly and not fight with a book that wants to constantly close on me. A spiral notebook lets me get the job done. But it has to be college-ruled. Wide-ruled spirals throw off my equilibrium and make me tense. I’m weird that way. Perforated pages are preferred. Yes, sometimes they rip out of the notebook when I don’t want them to, but when I do intentionally rip them out, there are neither messy edges nor bits of paper to get stuck to my nice cashmere sweater.

 4. Post-it flags

When I’m in the flow, in that sweet spot of writing momentum, I don’t want to risk stopping to look something up. So, I write through the missing information with just a quick bracketed note to self [get info] and stick a colored flag on the page as a reminder to do research later when the Muse has left me for the day.

 

 5. Baby name book

There are no more babies in my future, but I keep my baby name book close by. It’s a great tool for coming up with character names. Yeah, yeah, I know, you can look this stuff up on the internet. But I still enjoy the feel of a book in my hands. And I just don’t like to be plugged in all the time.

 

 

 

 

 6. AlphaSmart Neo

The day finally arrived when I got fed up writing novels by hand and typing them into my computer in long, tedious sessions, unable to always read my chicken scratch. But there was no way I wanted to sit under a hot laptop for hours at a time, distracted by email and other internet activities. It doesn’t take much to get my hamsters overexcited and headed in all the wrong directions. Imagine my joy when I discovered the AlphaSmart Neo. Originally created for schoolchildren and teachers, it is smaller than a laptop, less than 2 pounds, has a full-size keyboard, does not emit heat, and works for 700 hours on 3 AA batteries. My laptop gives me about 2. The screen is visible in bright sunlight, though it is primitive. There are no fonts to choose from, and it displays only three to six lines of text at a time (I set it to four). But this is actually a good thing. It makes it virtually impossible to edit as you write. And we all know that editing while writing leads to writer constipation. It keeps you in the forward flow of writing, and no matter how much your internal critic (read: AntiChrist, fallen Muse, etc.) shouts at you, you can’t give in to him.

 7. Manuscript template & List of Scenes table

After a day of writing on the AlphaSmart Neo, I plug into the PC and upload my work directly into my manuscript template, which is set up with all the formatting that agents and editors require for submissions. It allows me to gauge where I’m at, calculate word counts, and determine if my plot pacing is in line with the intended length of the book. I also couldn’t exist without my list of scenes. This is an ever-changing table, which numbers the scenes, outlines each in a few sentences, and lists its purpose. It keeps me on track, points out inconsistencies, and ensures all scenes move the plot along. It also allows me to jump to a future scene when writing the current one just isn’t doing it for me.

 

8. Beautiful journals

When I’m feeling introspective and need to get thoughts down on paper, a spiral notebook will just not do. It’s time to break out the quality journal. The cover needs to call out to me. One of my favorites was a journal I found in Florence with its colorful swirls and gold details. I prefer ecru-colored paper, no shine, with a bit of texture. I’d show you the insides of my journals, but I’ve already written in them and I’d have to kill you. If you don’t keep a journal, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Writing down a problem or idea instantly releases some of the pressure and allows your mind to simmer in the background. I have solved many a problem this way. Similarly, when insomnia strikes because the neon To Do list in my brain won’t stop flashing, I grab my bedside journal and transfer that mental list to paper. My mind no longer needs to exert itself to remember. Within minutes, I am relaxed and ready to doze off. That same bedside journal also records dreams and inspiration that comes in the middle of the night. (A battery operated book light helps in the recording of these nocturnal notes.)

9. Fountain pens

A fountain pen is much too messy for writing first drafts of novels and a bit too precious. But nothing is better for that moment of journaling you give yourself. It sets the tone. “This is important. This is me time.” They come in so many gorgeous designs. You can have several to match your moods. There are different nibs for just the right flow of ink. I prefer medium. There are numerous ink colors to choose from. You can use ink cartridges, or for an authentic touch, fill your pen from an ink pot. It’s all part of the ritual of getting ready to write your soul on paper. Check out the selection at Levenger.

 

10. Tray of tea and cookies

For morning writing, a huge cup of coffee from the local store is all I need. I’ll sip on it for hours until it has turned lukewarm. But for afternoons, a bracing cup of tea served up in style with some cookies keeps the energy flowing. Harney and Sons offers some of my favorite teas and accessories. My pal, Richard Lamb, laughs and says I’m more English than he is when it comes to making tea. He calls it “playing with my chemistry set.” Listen up, people, a tea bag in a mug of tepid water is not tea. You should be ashamed of yourself, Rich. You’re an embarrassment to your country. 😛

 

11. A walk

There is nothing more inspiring, creativity producing, and calming than a walk out in nature. I typically walk the same route every day. I’ve mapped out the mileage and I know the route like the back of my hand. So I don’t have to think about any of that. Instead, I notice how that same route changes day by day because Mother Nature is a prolific creator. That inspires me to create as well. Since I don’t have to concentrate on where I’m walking, I can simmer on the direction my novel is taking. I am ALWAYS in a better place mentally after a walk or run, and my body is better off, too.

 

12. The right chair

Unlike tech writing, during which I need to be sitting upright in a chair with lumbar support, creative writing requires a more relaxed, slightly reclined posture. I am unable to write at my desktop PC. It sucks the creativity out of me. In the late spring, summer, and early autumn, I sit in a lounge chair out front so I can stare into the sky and dream in between bursts of writing. When the weather gets too cold for comfort, I sit on the sofa in my living room. It has a Duncan Phyfe, early Empire look to it (and I’m not talking about Star Wars 😐 ) with rolled arms that give just enough back support. No overly mushy cushions to drown in, and that’s a good thing for me. My front window and skylights let nature in when the weather prevents me from writing outside. I’m sitting here now. See me through the window? [waving]

 

13. Lap desk

These hands are registered with the…no, only kidding. But I’d like to steer clear of carpal tunnel syndrome. My handy dandy lap desk is the perfect base for my Alphasmart Neo. It allows me to comfortably type and supports my wrists with a bean-bag roll. You can’t be creative if you’re uncomfortable. Though this isn’t an exciting edition to my list, it is a very necessary one. And what do you expect, the 13th in a baker’s dozen is free.

There you have it. Please feel free to share your favorite things whether you’re a writer or not.

The Beginnings of a Blog

My first blog entry and it seems there is nothing more appropriate than a few paragraphs on finding the time to write. I can find so many reasons for not starting now, whenever now may be. Bills to pay, desks to clear, books to read. You know how it goes. But whenever I take the time to write and throw away the phone and any other distractions, I’m always amazed by what I end up with. Today was one of those days. I printed out what I had on my novel-in-progress to refresh my memory, applied sunscreen, and headed outside with a cup of coffee and my Neo (more on the Neo later—for now, just imagine a portable word processor that is smaller than a laptop).

There is nothing more inspiring to me than being in nature, and today was certainly the day. Even the tree cutters and landscapers couldn’t get me down. I was in my own little world, doing my thing, typing away out front on the driveway. My neighbors still look at me strangely when I do this. I’m originally from Ozone Park, New York where everyone sat out on their front stoops. On Long Island, people don’t do that. (In fact, you rarely see your neighbors except when you ring their doorbell to politely ask them to refrain from feeding the half dozen feral cats that have decided your front yard should be their litter box. Geometric progression nightmares keep me awake at night, but I digress) I figure when I get published, the neighbors will no longer look at me strangely, but will nod knowingly, aware that they had been witnesses to a minor miracle in progress.

Needless to say, I got tons done in my novel. And the creative energy generated by just taking the time inspired me to complete the tasks I left behind in order to write. Writing must always be the priority. I’ll never create anything good if I first sit down to write after a day of mind-numbing chores.

So, more on the Neo. But first let me say that many years ago I invested in a popular laptop, one of the first models that had a full-size screen. The thing weighed a gazillion pounds and put off heat like a sauna. I thought I would cozy up with my laptop and write the great American novel in my bed at night. How many times do you think I attempted that? How about not once. The thing was just too clunky. So, I continued with my notebooks and pens. I am a sucker for supplies. My husband tells me I get an eerie gleam in my eye whenever we drive by a Staples store. I buy college-ruled spiral notebooks with colored covers and perforated pages. In the past, I used to write with a fountain pen, but lately I’m into those blue and white barreled Bics with the four colors of ink. I use the blue and black ink for writing my drafts and the red and green ink for editing my drafts.

I always feel much more creative when I am writing longhand than when I am typing. Typing is too mechanical and detracts from my creative flow. I have written entire novels longhand with no problem. My issue is when it’s time to type them into my computer. I HATE that part. It is the most tedious thing I have ever done. And I can’t pay someone to do it because they wouldn’t be able to read my handwriting. I tried bypassing the longhand stage and just typing into my desktop computer, but the distractions were a hindrance: email, stock quotes, Webkinz, Amazon, you name it. And then, I found something called a Neo by Alphasmart. I don’t quite know how I stumbled upon it. Probably in a frenzy of web surfing to avoid typing my manuscript. But there it was, a tiny little device, smaller than a laptop and under 2 pounds that offers a full-size keyboard and a screen that displays three to six lines of text at a time (I prefer four). That’s it. No email, no games, no Amazon, no stock quotes, no instant messaging, no distractions. It’s so small I can sit anywhere and type away and when I’m done I plug it into my computer and all my info gets put into a Word file. What more could I ask for? And with only four lines of text displayed at a time, I’m not tempted to constantly edit my work as I am writing (the worst form of writer’s constipation). With three batteries, I get something like 700 hours of juice. It automatically saves my words and shuts down when inactive. When I press the on button again it takes me right back to where I left off. There is room for 8 different files. Some of the techies out there will complain that it isn’t enough. But that’s the point, it’s simple. All you do on it is type your words.

Oh, and it offers a typing tutorial for those who are still using hunt and peck. In fact, at $200, I bought one for my eight-year-old son who is a budding writer and he has been learning how to type with the proper fingers. He also uses it to record the play-by-play of the Islanders games. It comes in a lightweight carrying case, with the cord to connect to your PC when you’re ready to upload, and a user manual that is very clear. Originally it was marketed to schools for students. But I have to say, it is one of the best gadgets I have ever seen for writers who want to get back to the basics and just write. In closing, let me say that I was not paid any money to say any of the above. I really do love it. In fact, I am writing this first entry on my Neo.

It’s got to be after 7 PM and I’m still sitting outside, although I’m wearing a sweatshirt now because the wind has whipped up a bit. It’s time to go in. But the creative energy is still high. I’m zapping some to all of you writers out there who are looking for a bit of inspiration. Just get outside or wherever you’re most creative and start writing whatever pops into your head. Before too long, the juices will be flowing. If anybody out there has any good tips on getting down to the task of writing, I’d love to hear them.

Nitey nite.