Ten Essential Writing Tools

Writing a story, poem, or a novel is a major undertaking. It would be lovely to just sit down at my laptop or in a cozy chair with a pen, a notebook, and a cup of coffee as words easily flowed from my fingers to the page.

Unfortunately, writing has rarely happened that way, except for maybe once or twice for a short story or scene that I’d been “writing” in my head for a few weeks. Instead, I rely on my favorite creative writing tools to get every piece out of my head and onto paper.

So…what are these tools? I have ten of them.

First, the basic low-tech tools:

1) An Idea Notebook

This notebook holds every random newspaper article, post-it note, and odd character sketch that I wrote on the back of a random piece of paper when I thought of the character. It’s a big 12×12 hardcover notebook that has all kinds of ideas in it. I go to it when I get stuck, and I add to it whenever I get an idea that I’m not ready to use now, but I might use someday.

2) A Project Notebook

For every novel I start, I have a dedicated notebook. I couldn’t write a longer piece without a notebook for it. Some are plain spiral-bound notebooks while others have some sort of inspirational quote on the cover. I’m a big fan of discount stores, so I buy them when they’re marked way down on the clearance aisle.

I like to do most of my brainstorming and character sketches by hand, so this is full of all kinds of scribbles. By the end of the process, it’s a jumbled mess of plot lines, scenes, character sketches, and outlines. Post-its and tabs protrude from the edges with labels so I can find stuff in there.

3) A Daily Pages/Soul Writing Journal

The Artists Way is one of my favorite books on creativity and writing. In it, Julia Cameron talks about writing Daily Pages. These are at least three pages a day in a journal to just get everything out – all the junk in your life. Put it on the page, and then you can move onto the more important work of creating.

Another of my favorite writers, Janet Conner, wrote Writing Down Your Soul. This book is about a deeper level of journaling that she refers to as soul writing and getting to know that voice within that we all have.

Every morning (well, almost every morning), I write my morning soul pages. It’s a ritual that also feeds my creativity. Sometimes I go deeper and consider these pages my morning meditation and do deep soul writing.

Other days, I write about whatever comes up and work through it. It might just be about what I did yesterday, but I write.

While you don’t need to add the spiritual aspect of it that I do with deep soul writing, taking time to write in a journal or meditate every day can be one of the most helpful tools when it comes to writing creatively.

4) Paper – either lined paper on a clipboard or my project notebook

This is for when I get stuck. Research shows that writing by hand activates areas of your brain associated with memory and imagery that aren’t activated when you type.

This is important information if you ever get stuck or are having a difficult time working out a scene. Instead of walking away from the keyboard in frustration, grab your paper and start writing out the scene by hand. This is my number one favorite strategy for breaking through those difficult parts and shattering writer’s block.

I also find I write much better dialogue when I write it out by hand first. I have no idea if there’s research that supports why that is, but I do know that my paper is a key piece of my writing tool chest.

5) A great pen

This one might seem obvious, but have you ever tried writing by hand and the pen you’re using globs ups or seems to slow you down? It’s so frustrating, so my favorite pens definitely make the list of important tools.

My favorite pen is a fine point black TUL, but any pen that tracks quickly over the page works. My second choice are Sarasa .7 pens in bright colors. Sometimes I’ll write in pink or purple if black is too plain.

Try a few different colors and styles of ink and pens to find what works for you to access the most creative regions of your brain.

I will also brainstorm, mind-map, and plot with my colorful pens for no other reason than I like the colors. It makes my scribbles look more creative or something.

6) A Thesaurus

I LOVE my Roget’s Thesaurus that I got as a high school graduation present. I actually prefer the paper version over the one on my computer because I can see so many words which gives me ideas for other words.

If you love words and have never flipped through a paper thesaurus, I highly recommend it. I’ll find words and then figure out a way to use them because they have a great sound or feel to them.

You could write amazing creative stories just using the above tools, but here in the 21st century, this list wouldn’t be complete without the necessary high-tech tools as well.

7) Laptop/computer

This is a tool I couldn’t write without. I actually had a student turn in a paper last week that he had typed. He was visiting his Grandma who didn’t have a computer, so she kindly dug out her old typewriter for him.

I shuddered as he laughed about trying to type his paper with no delete key. I’m dating myself, but I too remember those days.

Laptops also have the benefit of mobility. I can write wherever and whenever. I have a small laptop because I wanted a super portable one, but a good writing friend has one with a giant screen so that she can keep multiple documents opened and see them all.

8) Microsoft Word

Word is an absolutely necessary tool. I’ve written two complete novels on it though I am writing my latest novel using different software (more on that later).

Delete, cut, paste, and save are ESSENTIAL, and without those keys, I’m not sure how much writing I would get done.

I’ve had students try to write on Notepad or other free word processing software, and it’s a challenge. If you can, get Word. It will make your writing life so much easier.

9) Evernote

How to describe the wonderfulness that is Evernote? It’s like an online version of my Idea Notebook or my desk covered with post-it notes and scribbled random ideas, but it’s all organized.

I have Evernote installed on my laptop, my work computer, and my phone. There’s also an online version that you can log into. The great thing is, they all sync together. When you get an idea, find an image, come across a great piece of research, you can clip it and save it in an Evernote note.

The notes are organized into Notebooks. You cannot set up stacks of notebooks like you can with documents on your computer, but you can apply tags to every note which makes finding and sorting information in a variety of ways super easy.

Within Evernote, I have a “Writing” Notebook, and then within that Notebook, I have a notebook for each of my novels. The notes run from research to character sketches to plot ideas. It’s kind of an online idea repository for me.

10) Scrivener

This the most advanced tool on this list. I’ve started writing my last two novels on it and so far, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. And yes, it requires all caps. It’s that great.

Unlike Evernote, Scrivener isn’t a free program. It’s $40. But it is a program designed specifically for writers. It also has a fairly steep learning curve because it has so many features that you can use. But, there are quite a few tutorials on YouTube, and if you want to write for the long haul, it’s worth it.

You can also try it out for free for thirty days which is a nice bonus.

What are your favorite creative writing tools? We’d love for you to share in the comments below.


  1. […] example, in my idea notebook, I have an article that describes a pair of lightning strikes in Colorado that killed two people […]

  2. Erica on January 25, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    Great list!

    One of my favorites for fighting writer’s block is https://www.jumpwriter.com

    It’s totally free and super simple. It gives you a random prompt, and then you have a few minutes to write, but it prevents you from deleting or backspacing, so you have to keep moving forward. It’s great for those of us who can get paralyzed by the need to make every word perfect, and end up not writing at all because of it!

    • Amy on January 25, 2017 at 6:22 pm

      Thanks! I’ve never heard of jumpwriter.com but I’ll definitely check it out. It sounds great for getting words out.

  3. Jo on April 25, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    I have been using this website: http://www.wordcradle.com for some time. It’s a great website to help me setting my goals of creating a new book.

    • Amy on May 10, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      I haven’t heard of that one, but thanks for sharing. There are so many great tools out there now.

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