Two Crucial Writing Tools

Sometimes the tools I use as a writer are so integral to my work that it doesn't occur to me to write about them.

Even though writing about writing is part of what I do.

Tool Number One: The Book Journal

Case in point: On Saturday, the local writing group I co-lead hied ourselves off to a mountain cabin for a snowy (yay) day-long mini-retreat.  (Thanks, Renee, for the use of your wonderful place.)  In the course of our discussions that day, the idea of keeping a journal or some kind of notebook in which to write about your novel (not on it) came up.

And apparently, I was the only one who did this.  Which flabbergasted me, because I could not live without this tool.  I'm constantly scribbling notes about my characters, plot, setting and so on.  Thoughts I have when I wake up in the middle of the night but don't have time to put into play.  An idea for the end of the story.  And so on.

Let me repeat: I could not live without some kind of notebook to corrall ongoing ideas for my novel. But it's so much a part of my process I never think about mentioning it.  I just thought everyone did this.

If you don't do this, I recommend you start.   You'll find it a wonderful way to get your brilliance out of your mind and onto paper when you don't have time to actually work on your book.  Along the same lines, another thing I sometimes do is open a "notes file" on the computer in which to dump ideas about a project.  This might work as well or better for you.

By the way, John Steinbeck kept journals about his ongoing writing projects. You can read about one of them here on Amazon.

So that's tool number one.

Tool Number Two: The Hold File

This tool also came out in discussion on Saturday: the hold file.   I create one for each project and label it as such: Hold for Blue Sky, Hold for Emma Jean, and so on.  Then, when I delete something I copy and paste it to the hold file.  This is handy in case you want to put something you deleted back in.

Though mostly that never happens.  But what does happen is that the hold file allows you to feel okay about deleting stuff, because you know that should you mourn that fabulous sentence too much, you can always retreive it.  I'm working on revising an old short story and I've cut five pages from it–all of which are safely stored in my hold file so that I can access them when I panic.

So those are my two crucial tools that it never occurs to me to mention.  What are yours?  Tell us about them in the comments–it helps other writers so much.

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Great post, Charlotte!
I use both of those tools religously. The ‘Hold’ file is a bit intriguing for me for exactly reason you specified. A few times I’ve scanned that file and found stuff that with a little editing works again.
The ‘Cuts’ file for my current project is upwards of 45 pages long. That’s a lot of writing to just throw away willy-nilly, so I don’t. Cheers, for now. 🙂

Charlotte Dixon

Glad we're of like minds, Sandy.  Yes, 45 pages is a lot of work to cut!  It feels so much better to have a place to save it. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Hi Charlotte,
I don’t keep a notebook, but I do keep an electronic file right next to my NaNoWriMo draft with ideas and thoughts. That way I can see it all at once. I have a hard time finding things in a handwritten journal. I love the Hold file idea too. It’s what I did with all that background stuff that our group suggested I save for later.

Charlotte Dixon

Holly Marie, I think the electronic file serves exactly the same purpose as a physical notebook.  Isn't it great to have a place to keep all your notes and ideas together?

Heather Jenkins
Ohhh…I LOVE these ideas, Charlotte. There you go with your fairy dust again! I will start keeping a book journal, especially to rant and rave when my MC keeps her usually-chatty yap shut for days at a time. Something I have done in the past is keep a character journal. I create a journal for my main characters and write as them. I pick out journals the characters would like and use them as a diary of sorts for my characters to vent. It helps me “get to know” the inner-workings of my characters. Personal journaling prompts are an excellent… Read more »
Jessica Baverstock

I do both those things and can’t imagine my writing life without them.

But I can’t just use any old notebook for my ‘book journal.’ It has to be the one that fits with the story. Sometimes it takes me a while to find it, but each notebook is distinctive and you can often tell which story it’s for just by looking at the design of the cover.

It’s all part of the process.

Charlotte Dixon

A kindred spirit!  I'm glad you share my love for these tools.  And I adore the idea of you looking for just the right journal for the job.


I do keep a journal of sorts to write down thoughts about my work-in-progress. Trouble is keeping it all organized enough to be able to access it later! I often wonder how much info just gets lost in the abyss of paper chaos, as I have notes EVERYWHERE.

I like Heather Jenkins’ idea about journalling as each of your characters. I’ve thought about doing this in the past, but never thought to pick out specific books that they would like. Good reminder to get on that, so thanks!

Charlotte Dixon

That's a very good point, Sharon, it can be difficult to access the notes after you've committed them to paper.  I often find, though, that just the act of writing it down helps me to remember it.  If I don't write it down, it is gone!  And yes, I loved Heather's idea, too. Thanks for commenting.