The Internet is full of lists, especially when it comes to writing. Unfortunately, they’re all about the same. Of course you need the Elements of Style, the Writer’s Market, a dictionary, a thesaurus, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, a word processing program, talent and a vocabulary at least better than a 13-year-old’s. But writer’s are quirky animals, and each surely has his stable of must-haves that go beyond the germane.
So here is my list, starting with the obvious:
1. A fountain pen. No writer should exclusively type. Even if it’s just to scrawl ideas, or to outline your next story, a writer should hit the pen and paper. You should see what your handwriting looks like, and not expect to be bailed out on the words you have no idea how to spell. Fountain pens are the most vulnerable of pens, the neediest, the most finicky, just like writers. Setting up the ink takes time, but when it starts flowing there’s no stopping. You can’t press too hard or you’ll get an indecipherable blot. And if you go too long without using it, the ink dries up and you have to prime the pen all over again. All of this, just like writers. Also, there is no greater satisfaction than walking away with the ink stains on your fingers to remind you of the good work. My pen now is a black Lamy Safari. It’s plastic and very light.
2. A Journal, but not a Moleskin: Let’s unite against our common enemy, an $11 notebook that we’re supposed to fall for because Hemingway and Matisse used it. Bullshit. We’ve been had by Moleskin and it’s time we boycott the company for robbing us. That said, we do need notebooks. Here are my pics: A marble composition book (if you can find unruled, great), any of those hard-cover, plain sketch books you see in most bookstores and art supply stores, or notebooks from Piccadilly Journals. They look like Moleskins, nice and portable, but nice and cheap too. Boycott Moleskin!
3. The Mac setup: You do need a computer, and Macs are just unbeatable when it comes to fostering us creative people. We like music, photos, movies. We like to make things, and Microsoft would rather have us run Spy Sweeper all day. Also, ever since the talking paper clip, Microsoft Word has been more of a hassle than a nice word processor. Apple’s iWork is great, and the new feature in Pages that blacks out the screen on everything but the page you are writing on is wonderful.
Now, the not so obvious:
4: An anthem: You need a song that calls you to your craft, like a lunch bell, or a fire alarm. Once you choose the song I recommend playing it right as you sit down to write for a while, and play it again when your session is over. After a while, whenever you hear that song out in the world you will stop and think about writing. You’ll think about the last paragraph you left off with, or the sentence that took you an hour to get right. Mine is the opening to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion.
5: A totem: You should have some symbol of your project, reminding you of the work to be done and sparking your imagination to dream up new stories, details or plot lines. For a while had a small rusty candelabra, then it was a little statue of a clown playing saxophone. Right now it’s an amethyst crystal.
6: A anthology of unwritten stories in your head: Maybe it’s the tale of Bill Meady, running for president, or Sparks 2000, an android that must save the world from an alien invasion. Either way, dreaming these stories when you can, even if they never make it to paper, keeps your imagination sharp. Right now I’m creating a story about a ancient ninja whose mummy was used to clone him and now he’s trying to adapt to modern life. I’ll never write it.
7: A beverage: Writers pause a lot to sort out what we want to say, or to read back what we’ve just written. While we do that, a little liquid refreshment can warm our souls, and at the same time,keep us from getting out of our chairs. I’ve loved a little Scotch, a glass of wine or some hot coffee in the past. Right now I’m enjoying some Jasmine Green Tea, not the stale bagged kind, but loose leaves straight from an Oriental grocery store.
8: A day job: Why suffer in poverty, there’s nothing romantic about rice and beans? You need a job. Yes, it will take away writing time, but let that be the way you suffer. If not, you’ll always be complaining about being broke, eventually turning into a sad sack. Wallace Stevens sold insurance. What’s your excuse?
9. A publishing plan. If you don’t think you are going to land an agent and a book deal, then go ahead and self-publish something. There are a lot of great sites out there you can use, like LuLu.com. There’s something to be said for turning your work into some kind of finished product, something that takes presentation into account. Print it and put it on your bookshelf for your own feeling of accomplishment.
10. A sense of reality: We tend to fall in love with our work, and sometimes that blinds us to the things that need fixing. It’s hard to do, but really scrutinze your work, don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself for ever thinking “the science of the senses” was a good phrase. We don’t all have editors to expose the holes. That leaves the dirty work to us.
If I left anything out, let me know.