My Writer’s Tool-Kit

July 1, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

There are many tools writers need in their writing tool kits. Admittedly, mine has taken a battering recently and is threatening open rebellion. It probably goes without saying that a basic understanding of grammar and plot structure should be swimming somewhere amongst the collection of skills a writer has gathered in their time. I say probably because there are a few people who feel that this is an optional extra and as every tool kit is unique, you never know what you may, or may not, find in one.

Below is a list of things I’ve added to my tool kit that I have found invaluable.

  • Binary Oppositions – I’m a fantasy writer. At the heart of so many fantasy stories, there is a duel between opposing elements (usually good and evil). I try to avoid this, as I have always found the world to be a far more complex place, however a basic understanding of the principle of opposing ideas is something I think every writer needs. As far as creating conflict, and giving people motivation, binary oppositions are useful in almost every genre.
  • Bookmarks – This is one I will always kick myself for not utilising earlier. I never used to bookmark websites. If I found a really good one I would manually record the site, but that was as far as it went. I probably lost a lot of really informative sites that way. Now, bookmarking is something I couldn’t work without. And using folders correctly to file my bookmarks, so I remember what the site is about and why I bookmarked it. Saves me hours in search time trying to find information I already located.
  • Trivia – Similar to bookmarks. It is amazing what some of your characters can know, if only you know it first. Besides, I find that small details add to the believability of characters and settings as a whole, so random facts can sometimes come in very handy. Unfortunately, when writing in a fantasy setting most of the trivia needs to be made up for the specific world, and you need to record it in someway so you don’t end up contradicting yourself.
  • Time Management – A definite necessity for any writer. Particularly the yet to be published writer who is probably working in a different profession and is not yet really being taken seriously by family and friends so making time to write can be tricky. (Note that I said making time to write, not finding.) Using a diary, setting out blocks of writing time, and prioritising activities are all absolute essentials for writers and need to be a skill added to the tool kit.
  • Speed/Skim Reading – Not necessarily an essential, but if I was working on a project and have since abandoned it, and then suddenly been completely inspired, returning to the project can be quite difficult. Particularly if I don’t recall all of the nitty-gritty details, and particularly if – like most of my projects – the outline I wrote at the beginning was rendered useless by my creative diversions in the plot. Reading the entire project could take days and by them whatever flash of inspiration will probably have withered with neglect and died, so skim reading to get myself up to speed within about twenty minutes is essential. Get the inspiration down, then skim through again to see if it fits.
  • Dictionaries of everything – Actual dictionaries, dictionary of first names, dictionary of place names, dictionary of popular foods, dictionary of obscure herbs, dictionary of religious terminology… On and on the list goes. Collect and store for future use. My favourite at the moment is Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, but the Claremont’s Dictionary of First Names (pocket sized) has a permanent place on the shelf under my computer desk. Dictionaries are the best, quick reference tool for any writer and the more you have, the easier life can be.
  • Friends and Family – Remember what I said before about friends and family taking time, so worth it. Even if it does eat in to writing time, friends and family are an invaluable part of the tool kit. They give you inspiration, encouragement, at times outlines for characters, dialogue, reasons to get away from the computer and into the world, editing assistance, audience assistance, sound boarding, etc, etc…

That was a peek in my tool kit. I would really love to know what is in yours.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.



  1. Brown Eyed Mystic said,

    Dictionaries touched home with me.

    Oh, and I suck at time-management. I get so lost in reading this and reading that, all in the name of research–I want every iota of all that comes in contact with me eye-balls! Uggghrrr. I can use your tips though; thanks for the awesome share Cassandra! 😉


  2. AlexJ said,

    I’m better about bookmarking now.

  3. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    Great points, Cassandra! I see a few tools I could use more effectively. I’m tweeting this one. 🙂

  4. awriterswayoflife said,

    I started using Scrivener writers software (for the Mac) which allows me to bookmark websites relevant to my novel right into my project’s file…that’s pretty helpful!

    I also use Google Reader to keep track of writing posts I like.

    Another great tool is the timeline…I’m writing a historical mystery and so have a time line of historical events which matches the characters personal events….I also have a timeline for the plot….

    I like your point about Triiva. I should collect that more as I come across it.

    Great post!

    Julie Johnson

  5. Alex Willging said,

    Bookmarks have become very important to my writing process, particularly when I’m doing research for characters, plots, and other story material. It helps that I’m addicted to Wikipedia and other encyclopedic sources, so I have whole folders containing nothing but links to Wiki pages on whatever I need to know when writing.

  6. Southpaw said,

    Bookmarking for me too has been a light bulb moment. I use to read blogs not knowing about the follow feature as well and lost some really good resources. ARGH!

  7. Agatha82 said,

    Brilliant list, I am not as organised, though I have learnt (the hard way) to become more so.

    Bookmarks: I definitely use bookmarks, separating them by folders but I need to go a step further because sometimes I click on something and think “hmmm why did I save this?”

    Trivia: Yes, absolutely, I use this and it’s really helped give the story more atmosphere.

    Time Management: A serious problem since I’ve been working a very mentally draining office job. I have quit that and decided I rather work a more simple job (rather be in a coffee shop or something like that) to earn some money and still have my brain at the end of the day so I can use it to write.

    Dictionaries: I use the ones online though I do have a few research book that come in handy.

    I will also suggest: Libraries, sometimes you can find great information in some old book you never expected.

  8. Casey Lybrand said,

    Great list! I use most of these, as well. Speed reading/skimming is a skill I’m working on developing, and my dictionary collection is still under construction. Right now, I have the dictionaries I can get to on my computer and online, plus an old Merriam-Webster dictionary, which I don’t use, and a Bartlett’s Roget’s thesaurus, which I sometimes feel is the love of my life!

    From my own tool kit: I use tags when I bookmark in Firefox. Then when I want to find something, I can type keywords into the url field and see a list of pages I’ve tagged with them. Useful. Love Scrivener and libraries as well.

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