My Writer’s Toolbox: Writing the Manuscript

All writers need a toolbox, whether literal or metaphorical. A toolbox consists of the items, skills, and reference materials (and sometimes people) one needs to write. This toolbox may also evolve at different steps of the project.

My first draft toolbox is pretty simple: pen and paper.

OK, maybe it’s not so simple.

  1. A notebook (spiral bound or legal pad, college ruled)
  2. A pen. I’m writing the Heather Stokes universe in blue gel pens.
  3. Post-its. I always have them on me at all times, for whims, notes, and short outlines
  4. My iPod, or my laptop on YouTube. It’s difficult for me to focus, so music in the background helps.

I throw other things in as I need them:

  • Notepad, an Android app I downloaded to my phone, for those rare cases I don’t have Post-its. I have over a hundred notes
  • visual representations of my character models (pictures of Kat Dennings, anyone?)
  • Google/Wikipedia searches (latest: “gunshot wound scars healed”)
  • coffee or cider (Angry Orchard)

I revise as I type the scene up, which could be anywhere from the moment I’m finished to weeks later. I used to use my computer at work, until I suspected my managers could mirror. I bought an ASUS laptop with Windows 10 and Microsoft Office Suite. I use MS Word to type my texts and Google Drive to back them up and make them available wherever I am-including on my phone.

None of these are necessary. When I was dead broke, I used OpenOffice, which is free and has almost all the functionality of MS Office. If you are too broke for that, you can use your local library to sign up for a GMail account. GMail is free and comes with Google Docs, which saves automatically. *mind blown* If you happen to get out of being broke or get a computer, you can access it anywhere you get internet.

I also use other books extensively. Sometimes I want to capture a certain voice, or imitate the tone of a certain scene (James Patterson’s Kiss the Girls, Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic). Sometimes I need to see how other writers frame narration and dialogue (Karin Slaughter’s Triptych) or use a certain type of punctuation (the em-dash in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park-first page FTW!). I also go for advice or inspiration (Stephen King’s On Writing). I also keep a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and the “Little, Brown Book (Which Is Neither Little Nor Brown)” close at hand, so I can reference the more technical aspects of writing.

I print my manuscript out to continue revisions/editing/rewriting. Back to pen and paper! Every once in a while, I try to use color-coded highlighters to mark certain things, but I never stick to this. Plain old proofreading symbols and scribbling notes does the trick.

I try to keep a single .doc for my manuscript, so I don’t get confused. Having multiple .docs of COLOSSUS once proved catastrophic when I was fixing typos in one and uploading the other into Amazon! I keep a separate .doc of deleted content that I am reluctant to part with; I will synthesize those into another work later. For Two Guns, I actually added a great deal of the content back in my final revisions.

DO NOT DELETE CONTENT. DO NOT DELETE CONTENT. DO NOT DELETE CONTENT. I don’t care how bad you feel about it; You’ll feel even worse when you stop feeling bad. But that’s a post for another time.

Also a post for another time: MY WRITERS TOOLBOX (PUBLISHING THE MANUSCRIPT). And by “another time,” I mean tomorrow.

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colossus Flint Ranch Salvage



One thought on “My Writer’s Toolbox: Writing the Manuscript

  1. “I don’t care how bad you feel about it; You’ll feel even worse when you stop feeling bad.” – Ha, great point! I have a few scenes that I liked but didn’t fit the story, so I saved them separately. But even scenes I don’t like I should save anyway, just in case.

    My toolbox includes:
    Laptop – where I primarily write.
    Notebook – with outlines, ideas, info.
    Headphones and iTunes or Spotify – gotta have those instrumental playlists!
    Internet access – I know some people purposely turn off their internet but, like you, I like having Google for quick researching, or synonym-lookup.
    Glass of water – I always keep the water there because the last thing I need is a reason to have to get up, haha.


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