Must-Haves for the Writer! Part One
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
A PERSONAL BOOK LIBRARY
A writer is and must be a voracious reader. The best way to aspire to achieving great writing is to learn the difference between good and bad writing. You can’t learn that if you don’t read.
A WELL-INKED PEN OR SHARP PENCIL
The writer is a scribe. Be responsible and ensure you always have a well-inked pen or sharp pencil on your person. You never know when the words will gush out of you, needing it to be scratched in an etch; a piece of it recorded for prosperity—or at least until you can get home and type it out onto your computer or latest word device. The pen or pencil behind the ear is also a key fashion statement for the writer.
PAPER, NOTEBOOKS, NAPKINS
To be a writer, something needs to be written. So write—and make sure you have some form of papyrus handy for your words to land on. My favourite form is the clean blue lines of foolscap. When at a restaurant or in your kitchen, don’t be shy with paper napkins. They’re more useful than merely wiping down the last bits of eggplant and mozzarella off your lips or providing your blog address to that sexy single and bookish person across the room.
Contrary to belief, this piece of equipment is rarely seen on laps, but extraordinary in keeping you connected to your manuscript, your agent, your publisher, and your fan club when you’re on the go. (Or for the rest of us–Twitter.)
As scribes, it’s important to expand your vocabulary. And to know how to spell. Best to save face and keep your editors happy by ensuring you sprinkle your document with words more worthy than the generic word, nice.
AN EDITING HANDBOOK (or even better, an editor)
Trust me. There’s a big difference between public and pubic. Help the publication process by ensuring your typos are less frequent than your punctuation. It’s also great to know how to properly use the em dash versus the en dash (or prepare for your manuscript to receive full surgery without the kindness of an anaesthetic!).
A PAIR OF EYEGLASSES
Writers read. And they read a lot. This usually begins at a very young age, which, for most of us leads to an appointment with the optometrist. I wore my first pair of glasses at the age of nine. Yes, genetics are involved, but so is reading late into the night with only a flashlight under the covers.
Famous eyeglasses enthroned into the Writer’s Hall of Fame include those that belong to:
AN EXTENSIVE WARDROBE IN BLACK
I’m not sure who started this trend, but I suspect it was started for a few possible reasons:
1. Writers, especially poets, tend to have melancholy dispositions that are beneficiary to their work.
2. Black matches with everything and writers who are harried with deadlines and the work of their manuscripts don’t necessarily have the time to coordinate clothes in varying schemes of colour. Writers aren’t fashion models, they’re writers.
3. Black is the opposite of white, the colour of the anxiously avoided blank page.
4. Black can conceal coffee spills magnificently.
5. Black represents the abyss in which manuscripts land when chucked into the slush pile at the publishing house that has rejected the writer on numerous occasions.
6. Or perhaps writers believe they’re fat?…
A LEATHER-BOUND BRIEFCASE OR TOTE MESSENGER BAG
The revered manuscript is formatted with care, which also explains that it deserves an aesthetically pleasing and special carrying case: the leather-bound briefcase or tote-messenger bag. After all, writers usually do have a special message to share with the world. (Insert LAUGH here.) I have yet to see a manuscript carried around in a brown paper bag!
Here’s my tote of choice (with pockets available for pens!):
A BACK-UP OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT
Hours of tireless typing and your computer CRASHES from the weight of your already heightened anxiety and flash keystroke. Holy guacamole, Batman! Why, oh why, did you not save your manuscript five seconds ago? Why, oh why, did you not make multiple copies saved in multiple places: one on your external hard drive; one on your Darth Vader USB; one on your husband’s computer; one hardcopy locked away in a fireproof box; one saved on Evernote in the cloud of online existence; and one under your mattress?—OOPS.
A PROGRAMMABLE COFFEE MAKER
Coffee is to a writer as a pen is to paper; as sun is to the moon; as a swimmer is to water; as Tweetledee is to Tweetledum. You get my simile.
Why waste valuable time remembering to make coffee at key points in your working schedule when you already know you’ll be requiring another dose of caffeine, oh, let’s say, at your usual 3:00 p.m. frenzy?
Beeeeeeeep! Time to refill.
LIVING QUARTERS RELATIVELY CLOSE TO A CAFÉ
Yes, we writers tend to live on the edge of artistic glory…and well…a cafe. It’s Kismet. We do it for three reasons:
1. To fulfill the trend that has marked us as serious or seriously aspiring writers.
2. Staying at a cafe prevents us from being anywhere close to our beds, which beckon us into sleep and dreams of the Giller Prize.
3. Our programmable coffee makers are on the fritz.
4. Sitting in a cafe ensures we need not stay in our pyjamas all day long.
A LIBRARY CARD IN GOOD STANDING
A writer’s budget consists of a fund that covers: paper, pens, coffee, tickets to book events, and a subscription to a favourite literary magazine. Plus a little extra for favourite books. But the writer’s budget is usually frugal and thus a library card in good standing is key to accessing great literature. Don’t return those books late! Those pennies could amply be put towards a new, engraved Cross pen! Plus, you wouldn’t want to see a librarian’s late-fee-death-stare!
A SUBSCRIPTION TO A LITERARY JOURNAL OR MAGAZINE
Writers don’t like to fess up, but a lot of literary gods began their humble journey through a publication in a literary journal or magazine. Aside from that, it’s a wonderful way for the writer to keep in touch with the pulse of the literary world. (And check out the competition!) Support your local zine and subscribe to read short stories, poems, and essays by the next literary greats!
AN EXTREMELY SUPPORTIVE PARTNER
So, you’re the writer in your blissful union. To keep the peace in your relationship, your mortgage payments on time, and your career from flailing into the vacuum of failure; it’s best to make sure your partner is patient, empathetic, and fully supportive of your writing ambitions. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a divorce, a cardboard box as a house, and an epitaph that reads: “The writer who never published because of an acute depression due to a divorce and a cardboard box of a house…”
A QUIET PET
A gentle dog or highly independent cat is a perfect pet for the writer. A turtle. Some fish. Something quiet while you type away at your manuscript. A parrot, on the other hand, is not recommended. It might deflate your ego with truths you’d rather not hear mid-sentence:
AN INTELLIGENT, ELOQUENT, AND AGGRESSIVE AGENT
Your agent should believe in your work, be convincing in the art of negotiation, and be able to sell your book on a larger and more legitimate platform than eBay. If your agent tries to sell your book on eBay, best to look for another agent.
A READING CHAIR
Who needs a sore neck? Not a writer. Forego that squeaky office chair and lounge into your sweet reading chair of choice. Here’s mine, the Ektorp from IKEA:
Even feet need to be happy. The writer would do well to invest in an ugly pair of fuzzy slippers to keep him or her company until page 348 of his or her manuscript. My belief is: the uglier and fuzzier the slipper, the happier feet will be. (Hey, it’s better than razor-sharp heels. Wouldn’t want to slip and die before your first book signing…)
A RED PEN
Editors love the slash and proof marks they make with their red pens. Why not beat them to it and mark up your manuscript first? You ARE the writer after all. Think of the craft. Think of your manuscript. Bleed it to death until it’s reborn into a magnificent piece of work!
Better to see your manuscript with, my Dear. Light it up. Your room… not those cigarettes that you hide from your spouse when you can’t think of an ending to your book!
The Tube is bad for writing. Yes, it’s great for other things like crooning beside the latest contestant on American Idol or watching the latest fashion trends on America’s Next Top Model. Sure. It might even be great for testing your IQ with Jeopardy or your romantic patience with Grey’s Anatomy. It does not, however, help you in writing your manuscript. So, turn off the Tube. Or better yet, throw it out the window. Why tempt yourself?
If you need to do your laundry while waiting for your Internet connection to come to, you need to unplug, and re-route. The faster your Internet, the more time you have to complete your research for your upcoming book. Just resist the temptation to pin everything you see on Pinterest.
I’ve spoken to other writers and we’ve all confessed to practicing our signatures. You know…for the time it’s needed when we must autograph the hardcopies of our latest bestseller! You know…just in case.
Do you have a signature yet?
A SIGNATURE PEN
I don’t know about you, but I have a pen fetish. Pens also transform me into a kleptomaniac. I’m not sure of the exact amount of pens I actually own, but I do have a particular pen I enjoy writing short stories, poems, and reviews with. It’s literally my “writing pen.” Every writer has one (whether they admit it or not!). Here’s mine:
Yes, a lot of people have gone the self-publishing route, but if you can land a contract with a publisher on your behalf, do it. Editing and promotion is more significant with one. Here’s one publisher I absolutely love:
No, they’re not attractive, but they do help when you’re banging away at your keyboard. Strong calloused fingers make for better protection and speedier typing. Type away with confidence! (And a jar of moisturizer lotion.) Here’s what I use:
Be sure to check my next post on the Writer’s Must-Haves, Part Two tomorrow.
What’s on your writer’s must-have list?