writing tools

A love letter about having, and deserving, good tools (A love letter)

Recently, I got a new computer, the one I’m writing this newsletter on.  It’s a Macbook Air, and I love it. Working on this computer makes everything easier and smoother and faster.  Working on this computer makes me happy.

My previous computer was two years old; a very inexpensive PC. I liked it well enough. I thought it was just fine. But it wasn’t until my cat threw up on its keyboard that I pondered getting a new one.  (Only the keyboard was damaged, the rest worked fine. So, for a while I carried an external keyboard and mouse around with me.) I went kicking and screaming to a Mac, buying one only because I want to run Vellum, the book formatting software on it, and it is available only for Macs.

And now I’m in love.

The other day I had to check on something on my old computer.  I was stunned at how slow it was, how long it took to connect to the internet, how clunky it felt. (And let me be clear, this is not a rant against PCs, I like them. It was more about my poor, overworked computer.) But as I worked on it, I remembered: this was previously what I struggled with every day.

So why didn’t I get a new computer earlier? Because new computers are expensive. Because I told myself I didn’t need one. Never mind that I use it all day every day. I told myself the one I had was just fine. Never mind that it was slower than trying to get a toddler to do something he doesn’t want to do. Just never mind.

I guess I should thank my cat for vomiting on the keyboard because now I realize how much I was putting up with. Settling for.  And pondering all this has made me think that maybe there’s still a bit of that old residual feeling of, but I’m just a writer. I don’t need anything fancy. For some of us it may even be a reluctance to admit that we are writers.

So many of us have self-doubt about our role as writers. And even though I’ve been a professional writer for years, I still sometimes struggle with this, too. When I read a story about a humanitarian building schools in Africa or a teacher changing the lives of children or an activist accomplishing great things I get deflated.  And start to think that all I’m attempting to do with my so-called life purpose is entertain people.

And then I remember one of my favorite quotes of all time, from Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey:

But take heart, because writing is magic. Even the simplest act of writing is almost supernatural, on the borderline with telepathy. Just think: we can make a few abstract marks on a piece of paper in a certain order and someone a world away and a thousand years from now can know our deepest thoughts. The boundaries of space and time and even the limitations of death can be transcended.

And when I remember it is magic, I feel better about my role as a writer. I hope that you will, too. And also remember that because you are a magician, you deserve the best tools, be they a computer or the special pen you love or that expensive paper that feels so good to write on.

Indulge yourself. You deserve it. You’re creating magic!

Don’t forget to join the Facebook group!

This is a reprint of my weekly love letter, which you can receive directly into your inbox by filling out the form to the right.  No spam, promise! Just weekly letters and announcements about classes and books.







Guest Post: 5 Apps for Writers

I would like to thank Charlotte Rains Dixon for having this guest post on wordstrumpet.com. I find her to be a phenomenal writer with a lot of wisdom to impart on her readers. In addition, the website is fantastic and I would recommend this article on basic writer mistakes, because it is important to review the fundamentals every once in a while. (Editor's note: I did not pay her to say this, I swear!)

Depending on your niche, freelance writing can be a very competitive career path or an extremely competitive career path. Either way, you need every edge you have that is coming out and that means to be a successful freelance writer these days you need to be in the know when it comes to apps and technology.

One of the benefits of having the smartphone you almost certainly need for your career is its customizability and versatility. Has your smartphone replaced your notebook and pen? Has your smartphone even replaced your laptop in certain instances?

Phone in hand

Here are 5 apps you should be using to make sure that you have the technological advantage in your freelancing career:


One of the best calendar and to-do list applications out there, TeuxDeux is great for freelance writers that have a lot of trouble organizing their busy lives and managing their deadlines. This app is probably the closest to pen and paper out there, and editing tasks is easy and moving them around is even easier.

This app is useful for the freelance writers who merely want to get other aspects of their lives under control as well, as the recurring tasks feature allows you to set up weekly tasks for yourself (for example taking out the trash or doing laundry). Great for carving out a balance between work and other things in your life, or for managing time and making personal business decisions.

Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus

Not too much needs to be said about the Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus app, as the value of a good dictionary is self-evident. While you can always look online for words, with this application you won’t have to worry if you can’t get a connection. Another bonus is that you won’t have to deal with ads, and this app goes a great deal deeper than most thesauruses out there. This is great to have by your side when writing on paper.


Evernote is probably the best note-taking app out there in general, considering the great range of ways you can put notes into your device. In addition, writers will like that the account can sync up from anywhere you input information. This way, you won’t have to fish around for information you wrote on your phone late at night in a moment of inspiration when using your laptop. It even allows for alarms and different file types other than text.

While there are subscription options out there which allow for greater data usage within the app, a lot of users won’t need to bother with them and just stick to the basic application. Even if the limit is met for some users, the premium options are not all that expensive.


If you are a freelance writer you will at some point deal with client data that is sensitive and should not be released to the public. If this data were compromised it would cost you the client and a good deal of your reputation, not to mention the time you already spent on the project. In addition to this, your own personal data is just as important to maintain your brand and your financial stability.

To protect this sensitive data, you are going to want to get a Virtual Private Network application on your smartphone. It will connect your smartphone to a secure server via an encrypted connection and guard you when you use public networks (where your important data is most vulnerable). In addition to this, it will mask your location data and your browsing to anyone who wants to take a look at what you are doing or any website with regional restrictions. This can be extremely beneficial to a journalist or a travel writer of any sort.


WordPress has a mobile app, and of course you should be using it if you have a blog. You should most certainly have a blog. It is a way that you as a writer can connect with an audience all your own and a hub that people who are interested in your work can travel to in order to find your other work.

While no app is perfect compared to the website that it is based on due to the limitations of a smartphone, you can expect a great deal of options from the WordPress application. In fact, you won’t really be slowed down much at all other than having to deal with a smaller screen than you are normally used to and your typing speed on a smartphone. This is an absolute recommendation for any serious freelance writer.


Thank you for reading, and keep on writing!

CassieCassie Phillips is a technology enthusiast and blogger. She enjoys writing about all kinds of technology and gadgets but has a special interest in internet security.

Do you use any of these apps?  Have any other favorites?

The Writer’s Notebook(s)

Storage-44155-mI am a total nerd for office supplies, and my most favorite kind are notebooks–spirals, perfect-bound journals, and binders, big, medium and little.  You name it, if you can write on it and its bound together in some form, I love it.

Part of this love, I'm certain, is because notebooks are tangible.  They exist.  They are real.  You can point to them as an object in this world–which is far different from the place I usually live, which is in my head, in worlds that don't exist until I put them on the page.

(Brief aside: I'm in LA staying with my friend Suzanne who bakes gluten-free goodies for a living. Helping her do even the most tedious of tasks, like washing dishes or boxing crackers, is actually fun for me because it is working with the tangible.)

I've always got a gazillion notebooks of various kinds going, and the thought occurred to me to write about them.   I've always loved the idea of the main character in Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, who keeps many notebooks as a symbol of her fractured mind. By the end of the novel, she's healed herself and keeps only one notebook–the golden notebook. Or so I hear.  I've never actually made it all the way through the damn lovely book.   I will never, ever be able to consolidate all my notebooks (I have three of them here with me on this trip) into one.  To wit:

Types of Writer's Notebooks I Have Been Known to Keep.

1.  The journal.  Duh.  That place where you put everything and anything, where you explore private thoughts and ideas related to your writing. (Unless, like me, you reach a point where you're writing so much about your writing project that you create a dedicated notebook for it.  See below.)I have 5, maybe even more like 10, huge tubs of journals that I've filled over the years.  I'm actually planning to dispose of them all soon–but that's a topic for another post.

2. The novel notes notebook.  (Or memoir notebook, or whatever you are working on.)  This is the place where I jot notes about ideas that occur to me, where I line out scenes, write snippets of dialogue, etc.  I cannot live without a notebook dedicated to my novel.  I'm five chapters into a new novel, and I've already almost filled up one steno pad notebook full of notes.  I find myself flipping through it often to remind myself of ideas about themes, characters, settings, and scenes.

3. The novel free writing notebook.  (I know, this is getting ridiculous.  Please bear in mind I'm very right-brained, which should already be obvious.)  This is a bigger spiral notebook in which I have more room to do free writes related to the novel.  I find if I keep the free writes and the notes all together in the same notebook, they tend to get lost.

4.  The daily log.  When I'm working on a big project, I like to keep a daily log.  This is a simple word count tally, along with a note about which chapter I'm working on.  It's great for when you think you haven't been accomplishing much, because you can look back over it and see what you have gotten done.  At the moment, since I'm getting a lot of notebooks going (ya think?) I keep this in the back of #2.

5.  A three-ring binder.  This is handy for printed out chapters, if you like to do that, or I put the critiqued manuscripts from my writing group in there.  It can also be used for research, images of the characters (if you've not done a vision board) whatever you find useful.  It's a place to corral things that have gone beyond the note stage.

6.  The carry-around notebook.  Holy crap, I nearly forgot this one. I always carry around a mini-spiral, or something that's easy to stash in my purse.  (In a pinch, I make notes on my phone.)  This is handy for ideas, brilliant thoughts, recipes, overheard dialogue, notes in church or meetings or lectures.  

Okay, that's it, I swear.  What kind of writer's notebooks do you keep?

Some other posts on this topic:

8 Essential Tools for Book Writing

The Writer's Notebook: Loving Moleskines

Writing Notebooks

Image by ppdigital.

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.

Writerly Gifts, Week Two

Last week, I gave away a journal in which to write your brilliant ideas, plots, character arcs and stories.  Now you need something with which to write those wonderful bits.  And so, behold: a set of disposable fountain pens.

51f+OBb5nmL._SL500_AA300_I love these pens.  They have the feel of a fine fountain pen, yet you don't have to keep stopping to refill them.  They don't blot as regular fountain pens sometimes do.  They make a grand subtle scratching noise as you write, reminding you that you are, indeed, writing.  Since they are disposable, you don't have to worry about misplacing them, as I always do when using one of my good fountain pens. And, perhaps best of all, they come in colors.  There's nothing I love better in the world than pens in different colors (except maybe my new grandson.)

What I write with is as important as what I write on.  No garden variety ball point pens for me.  My pens have to feel right when I hold them, with a good heft in the hand (but not be too bulky, which makes them awkward to hold).  And the ink has to flow smoothly and well.  Which is why I tend to favor gel ink or fountain pens.

Eons ago, I read Natalie Goldberg's seminal book, Writing Down the Bones, and, at least in my memory, she mentioned disposable fountain pens.  Back in those days, you could buy them individually at the grocery store.  And I did, by the dozens.  But then my source disappeared and I was  bereft.  Suffering withdrawal symptoms, I was forced to put up with less elegant everyday pens. So I was  thrilled when I found this set of disposable fountain pens a couple of years ago at the University of Oregon bookstore, when visiting friends in Eugene.  (Another reason the memory of finding those pens is so dear to me is that the friend I visited took her own life a year later.  Such is the power of emotion in our lives.)

And so now I offer a set to you.  Well, to one of you.  All you have to do is answer one of these questions in the comments section: is what you write with important to you?  If so, what is your favorite pen? (I'm always in the market for more selections.)

PS:  Last week's winner was Nicole Wolverton.  Nicole, email me so I can get your address.

PPS: I announce good things like this contest as well as classes and so forth on my newsletter.  To sign up for it, just fill out the form on the right.  You'll also get a copy of my super-duper Ebook about creating a vision board for your book or writing project.

Oh, and a final note:  I'm not in any way affiliated with the Pilot Pen company, I just like their products.  Except if they wanted to sponsor me so I could give away tons of their pens, I would not complain at all.