Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Writer's Toolbox

Writer's Toolbox
Online Presence
Blog
During the past week I've come across a fair few responses to the question: "Should Writers Blog?" and most of them suggest that we shouldn't, for a variety of highly valid reasons. The most pertinent are perhaps that:

Keeping a blog uses precious time that could better be spent writing
There is an assumption here that writing for a blog is somehow not really writing at all, although the professional bloggers of the world might disagree. However, writers come in a variety of shapes and sizes: if a novelist, for instance, is regularly taking time out from 'novelling' to post on their blog, then the process may well be counter-productive. On the other hand, in other jobs, one might share a coffee break with colleagues and chat about the morning's work - a privilege that does not extend to the voluntary solitary confinement of the writer. Thus, keeping a blog can be a way of sharing what we're working on and how we feel about it, which can be cathartic, but also leads to the second reason given for why writers shouldn't blog.

Writers' blogs tend to be about writing
Yes, yes, I know that I'm doing exactly this (which is intentional, because in a moment I will surmise that blogging is an essential tool in my toolbox). The problem with blogs about writing is that there is a very real risk of recursing into a black hole: "In a recent blog post I wrote about writing blogs about writing...". This kind of meta-writing isn't helpful to anyone, but you can circumnavigate the event horizon by ensuring that every post is unique and fresh: let readers know what you're working on, provide links to your work and other useful information. This way you get to write about your writing AND your regulars will consider it a special insight or a sneak preview of what is to come, rather than the lunatic ramblings of their favourite author gone mad.

A blog is an essential tool
A writer's blog is essential to self-marketing, but it's also a busman's holiday, which isn't a problem when you love your job; however, it should be treated as such, meaning no unscheduled stops. We are only partly defined by where we choose to take our vacation, the rest comes from what we do for the other 50 weeks of the year. Likewise, a blog is just one small, yet crucial, element of our work as writers - a g-clamp, if you will, that holds the timber in place so we can set to it with another tool.

Twitter
If blogging is too time-consuming, then micro-blogging is a very good alternative, although it is useful to have both. Tie these in with the rest of your online presence, by tweeting about your latest blog post, connecting your Facebook and Twitter accounts, retweeting useful or interesting things from other people, links to sites you like, where your work can be purchased and, of course, the occasional comment on what you're up to.

Facebook
As an educator, I've been heavily involved in the debate over whether teachers should 'friend' their students on Facebook. Many of the points raised relate to invasion of privacy, so I'll start by getting one thing clear: Facebook is NOT private. It is as public as your local high street, where you will come across people you know well, those you have met once or twice and maybe some you don't know at all. You choose who to talk to and who to avoid; you decide what information to divulge, depending on the audience at any given time. However, there is always the possibility that you will be overheard and every likelihood you will be seen by others, regardless of whether you are aware of the fact.

The suggested alternative is to create both a personal and a professional profile, which is a good idea, as it separates your friends and family from your fans and colleagues. However, calling it 'personal' doesn't detract from the profile being on a public social network, so you still need to act responsibly. This point also applies to your actions anywhere else online.

If you remember that Facebook is a public place and act accordingly, then it can be utilised very effectively as part of your writer's toolbox. Create pages for your work so that others can 'like' it. You can also 'add' other writers (and fans), post links to your favourite music, comment on how you're feeling, what you're doing or whatever. Anything goes, so long as that's 'anything' you'd do in your local high street.

Google+
There are currently two lists of authors on Google+ (see below) and so far, adding them to my Writers Circle has proved to be the most useful aspect of Google+. Otherwise, joining is another step towards internet omnipresence, so is a good idea, but also means you'll need to post occasionally, otherwise no-one will notice you're there.

Lists of Writers on Google+

Online Tools
Thesaurus
More often than not, I use Microsoft Word's thesaurus, for the sake of convenience, or a hardback Roget's Thesaurus for intellectual abandonment, but there are plenty of online versions that go well beyond these in terms of depth and / or convenience.

The Big Huge Labs page links to a substantial thesaurus, but also has some great ideas for blog posts and plot lines.

Alternatives to Said
Enough said!

Name Generators

Go Analogue
Notepad
Maybe it's just me, but I need to have a real paper, ring-bound notepad next to my computer. It's especially useful for jotting down any ideas that spring to mind when writing, noting mistakes when proof-reading, making a flowchart of my plot or just plain doodling. I find it's far easier to glance at my notepad than it would be to switch documents or applications and because I also spend a lot of time working on websites, I've found that the squared rather than lined variety works better for me. The best thing about this is that these types of notepads are usually available in discount shops (mine come from Lidl supermarket), so they're cheap enough to avoid becoming precious items.

Plastic Eraser
I attended about four technical drawing lessons at high school and was deeply disappointed to find I couldn't continue with them after I chose to study Latin. However, in those four lessons I learned one thing (well, two in fact - see below) and it's that plastic erasers are wonderful. They don't crumble or discolour to the same extent as the non-plastic varieties (rubber, for instance), they rarely smudge or tear the paper, making them superior in removing pencil marks cleanly.

Pencils
Lovely Staedtler pencils: yellow and black striped, easy to sharpen, difficult to break, long-lasting - they may be painted to look like stretched wasps and somewhat more expensive than other brands, but they are worth every penny. I'm not on commission here and don't usually bestow the virtues of particular named brands, but when our technical drawing teacher said these were the best, I get the feeling he knew what he was talking about.

And It's All Mine!
As the title of this post suggests, this is MY writer's toolbox; contents may vary. I could also add to this the necessity of a comfortable working environment, good keyboard, decent chair etc. The key here is that the tools of your trade are YOUR tools, selected and fashioned for you specifically. And remember: a good workman doesn't blame his tools [sic], but he doesn't share them either.


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