My 5 Writing Must-Haves

Lately, I've read a lot of Twitter posts, blogs, and opinions on what writers "must have" or "must do" --from how often you have to write to be "serious" to how your work should be critiqued and by whom. All this advice got me thinking a lot about my writing process, and what's worked for me (and what hasn't) since I donned the official Writing Cap, grabbed my feathered pen, and unfurled my first piece of parchment...or rather, pulled my hair back into a messy bun, set my laptop on my knees, and decided to make plot happen.

A lot has changed since I decided to write my first novel, and I've found that with each new project, I modify my process to fit the needs of my story. I don't draft a contemporary rom-com the same way I do a semi-gothic Regency romance, and that's fine. I do what works for me to reach The End. But I have found that no matter the project, there are a few key things that help me get the words in my head onto the page.

1. An Idea Journal

I know there are plenty of people who think keeping an manuscript idea journal is a bad idea--if a story is worth holding on to, you shouldn't have to write it down, right? I'm not sold. Having now experienced what it's like to have Mom-brain, I can barely remember if I've eaten breakfast or showered most days. With the chaos of everyday life, if I don't write something important down, it's as lost as that Taylor Swift CD I haven't seen since we moved 3 years ago.

As far as I'm concerned, that idea I've come up with during a 5 a.m. diaper change is worth holding on to if I can remember it by the time the diaper's in the pail. I might never write the story. The idea might never make it past that single journal entry, but it's a visual representation of potential, especially when I'm knee-deep in writer's funk. Plus, it's amazing how many new ideas crop up just by paging through the old ones.

2. A Beverage in a Mug

Hemingway had his Mojitos. Fitzgerald has his Gin Rickey's. Me? I'll take a hot cup of tea, please.

When I'm drafting contemporary, I favor chai with a splash of French vanilla creamer. If I'm writing something historical, I opt for a London Fog (Earl Grey Latte). If I'm critiquing for someone else, I prefer black tea with milk. I think part of it, for me, is the ritual of preparing the tea. It takes time to brew, which gives me time to get into the author mindset.

I've also found that the mug makes all the difference. I have a mug that is magical when it comes to brainstorming. Another giant one that I use when I'm drafting. Yet another when I'm in the revision trenches, prepared to hack and slash my way through a draft.

A cup of hot tea is a must for me!

A cup of hot tea is a must for me!

3. A Word Receptacle

I prefer to draft my manuscripts in Scrivener (though I am far from a power-user, so I'm sure I only use 1/10th of the software's capabilities). I like how I can keep research, key notes, images, and other bits and pieces essential for my story all in the same place. I also LOVE the word tracking feature, which helps me to set goals and see how how the story's progressing.

Once I've completed the first drafts and it's been through my alpha readers, I like to export the manuscript to Word. This is a great way to catch problematic sentences, typos, and other issues that I've gone "eye-blind" to as I've been reading over the draft. I'll also change the font during my final pass to mix things up.

4. Books

I'm always inspired to write when I'm surrounded by books. Writing tends to be a very individual pursuit, but it's nice to have a reminder that there are others who have had a story to tell and made it happen. My to-be-read shelves (and the leaning tower on the floor) are daunting, but are a great resource to study when it comes to plotting, dialogue, voice, and style. There's nothing better than stumbling on a fantastic book, but there's a lot to be said for the books that make you go, "meh," too. I've learned a lot about what I don't like--or what I want to avoid in my own projects--by reading books that I'm not in love with. I also try to read books outside the genres I write, which I hope helps broaden my horizon as an author.

On the corner of my desk, I keep a stack of reference books: style manuals, dictionaries, thesauruses, and craft books. If I'm writing a historical manuscript, I also tend to have some non-fiction books for accuracy and ideas.

Some of my cluttered, crowded shelves.

Some of my cluttered, crowded shelves.

5. Writing Group

I'm really blessed to have an amazing group of writers and readers who are willing to support me on this journey. I have found amazing alpha and beta readers who provide keen insight on what's working and what isn't, and I have incredible critique partners who offer constructive criticism, bolstering when I need it, and a place to vent when the going gets tough. They push me to be a better writer and to hone my skills, and I know my manuscripts are better--I'm better--for it. I know that I would never have been able to weather the highs and the lows without them.