Tools to Become a Writer

The first thing you will want to do after you've decided to become a writer is clear a space somewhere to use as a desk and fill it with everything that novel writers need - pens, paper, the latest computer, reference books, the works.

Deciding to be a writer is a big decision, so why not treat yourself?

But before you rush off to the stationery store and turn the house upside down, take some time to consider what you really do need...

Filling your desk with that shiny new iMac and some expensive novel writing software might be great fun if you have plenty of cash to splash around, but is really going to help you write a better novel - or write it more quickly?

If the answer is "yes" - great, go for it! Just remember that surrounding yourself with shiny new toys isn't so much a fast route to becoming a successful novelist as a fast route to becoming hopelessly distracted.

Unlike most things in life, it is remarkably cheap to write fiction for a hobby (and a hobby is exactly what being a writer is until you get paid for it). A stubby pencil and the backs of some envelopes will get you started. But as a bare minimum, I would recommend the following...

Somewhere to Work

Okay, so a chair and desk of some description, and a place to put that chair and desk, isn't exactly a "tool of the trade," but it is probably one of the most important things you need.

Distractions are the enemy of the creative process. You simply won't be able to write your novel in the living room with the dog whining to be walked and the kids fighting over the TV zapper. You need a room of your own with a good solid door, and preferably no telephone.

Try facing your chair away from the window, too - you'd be amazed how counting leaves blowing off an oak tree is more demanding of your attention than a blank computer screen.

If you find that writing is impossible in the hustle and bustle of the home, you will have to work in the library, or park the car along a deserted road, or find anywhere that is comfortable and noise free.

Another solution is to stay at home but work early in the morning before anyone else is up. Your mind will be at its sharpest then, too.

Pens and Paper

"For years I have looked for the perfect pencil. I have found very good ones but never the perfect one. And all the time it was not the pencils but me. A pencil that is all right some days is no good another day."
- John Steinbeck

Yes, I know we're living in the twenty-first century, but I think more writers than not find it easier to write in longhand in the first instance. I'm not sure why this is...

  • Maybe it's that writing a first draft of a novel can be a messy affair, with lots of crossings-out, and it's easier to do this in the old-fashioned way.
  • Maybe it's that staring at a sheet of paper is far less trying on the eyes than staring at a screen.
  • Or maybe it's simply that novel writers are romantics at heart, and to work with a pencil or a fountain pen is a far more romantic way to write fiction than to use a keyboard and a mouse.

Personally, when I decided to become a writer, I bought exercise books and 2B pencils and a good armchair to write in (discomfort is another enemy of the creative process). And that is the way I still write.

You might think that drafting in longhand is a wasted process, given that you then have to type it up, but I find that typing is an opportunity to tidy up the initial draft and make it a little less clunky.

But as with all the suggestions here, whatever works for you is what is best.


Yes, I'm talking paperwork here. I know it isn't very romantic to say, but you should run your writing activities with the same care and precision you would give to a business.

Having said that, I totally appreciate that tidiness and organization come more naturally to some people than others.

  • Are you a tidy and organized person, or do you prefer to take a more laid-back approach to these things?
  • Are your personal papers all in labeled folders and neatly filed away, or does everything just get shoved in a drawer along with whatever else happens to be in there?

Me, I'm from the neat-and-tidy school. I'm the kind of person who can't walk into a room without straightening a picture and rearranging the DVDs.

(I guess one of the reasons I got so interested in the theory of how to write fiction is that I have quite an analytical mind that needed to discover the rules of how novels are constructed.)

Now, it isn't my job to tell you how to live the rest of your life, but if you are serious about becoming a published writer, I would recommend that you be as organized as you can when it comes to writing your novel.

"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork."
- Peter de Vries

Specifically, I recommend that you have two files...

  • The first file is for your planning notes: plot outline, character biographies, notes on theme, notes on setting, research notes. It won't be terribly full to start with. But as your novel grows in complexity, you will need to employ a good system of dividers.
  • File number two is for the actual writing, with one division for each drafted chapter. Don't be tempted to scrap the planning notes as you write each chapter, because it is much easier to refer to those to jog your memory than wade through pages and pages of written prose.

So that is a snapshot of how I stay organized when writing a novel. And by the way, each file can be a real file from the stationery store or a virtual one on your computer - or both.

If you are already the efficient type, you will no doubt cope perfectly well - and quite possibly by using a totally different method of organization to mine. If efficiency isn't your long suit, I recommend you try to adopt a system similar to mine.

Having easily-accessible material is one way of helping you stay on top of your fiction as you set out on your journey to become a writer. Bad organization leads to your fiction getting on top of you.

Computers and Software

Computers, of course, are pretty much essential to write fiction nowadays.

I dare say it is possible to bang out your manuscript on an old manual typewriter, but then it's also possible to row across the Atlantic in a bathtub instead of taking the plane. It begs the question: Why would you want to?

Also, of course, without a computer you won't have access to the Internet, and this will be your most valuable writing research tool. (How did we cope before we could "Google" things?)

You don't need a fancy word processor. Microsoft Word is great for adding special effects to your documents, but I don't know of many novel manuscripts that need graphics or pie charts or three-column layouts. Whatever basic word processor comes with your computer for free is probably fine, though I should point out that it is possible to buy word processors specifically designed for writers (Scrivener being the most famous).

The next level of novel writing software is called "story development" software. Like the name implies, this helps you with the technical aspects of storytelling, particularly writing a plot. Although don't expect it to eliminate the need to use your brain (where would be the fun if it did?)

Some folks swear by writing software, others remain singularly unimpressed. People wrote fiction long before such things were invented, and it is perfectly possible to become a novel writer today without software. But if you think you might be interested, you can find out more in the Novel Writing Software section.

Reference Books

If you are serious about becoming a writer, a good dictionary is a must. The spell checker in your word processor has its uses, but it is fatal to rely on it. (According too a computer, their is nothing wrong with these sentence.)

A thesaurus is an option, but to be honest you can become a writer without one. If you are looking for a better word, ones you can't readily bring to mind will probably be too long-winded, too "literary", too pretentious for the purposes of good novel writing.

Or to put it another way: if you find a word in a thesaurus and then have to check its exact meaning in a dictionary, your writing is in trouble.

A guide to grammar and punctuation isn't a bad idea. I mean, we all have blind spots. Me, I can never remember when to use which and when to use that. I've given up trying now and just use the one which (that?) comes naturally.

By the way, if spell checkers have their limitations, don't even get me started on grammar checkers. I've disabled mine. Permanently. But if grammar really isn't your strongest suit, you can subscribe to software solutions (such as Grammarly or AutoCrit) that do the checking for you.

Advice on How to Write Fiction

Easy this one...

We all need help to master the art and craft of novel writing. If you think of writing a novel like building a boat, you basically need a good thick manual sitting in your workshop. Relying on your instincts alone just isn't going to cut it.

When I was learning to become a writer, I was addicted to these books on how to write novels and devoured them by the dozen. (I still do, come to think of it.)

But the good news for you is that you won't have to read dozens of writing guides (in fact, I recommend that you don't) because you will find everything I have learned over the years on this website. Problem solved!