Many, many, MANY resources are out there for a writers advantage. Each tool helps spark ideas, regain momentum while writing or unblocks the dreaded writers block. Generally, I keep (on my bookshelf, in a cabinet or on the computer) a bunch of resources that I find work particularly well; some common among writers, others not quite so common.
Common Tools for the Writer
The basic tools a writer should have close at hand, ones you think of first and probably already own, yet no matter how many times you back to them they still prove just as useful as the last time.
- Dictionary– Of course, I must list the dictionary first as one of the most obvious tools used to look up words as a writer needs when unsure of the meaning. However, dictionaries are a great way to spur random words just by flipping to pages each day at random and selecting a word. One practice that maybe useful (if you have not yet tried it) is each time you sit down to write, before you start, randomly select a word and at some point during your writing attempt to use it in the work.
- Thesaurus– The great tool to help find exactly the right words when yours are not quite accomplishing what you want. However, it can lead to a writer overusing synonyms and losing the meaning or sincerity in the writing. Try not to rely heavily on a thesaurus. One way I edit is I go through my poem and circle all the words that seem to not fit well. Then I use a thesaurus to see if I missed something that works better. Typically, I only circle one or two words and when I read the thesaurus I do no necessarily use anything I find, but just throwing around different words helps me think in different directions.
- Books of Inspiration– Everyone should keep books that inspire them nearby while writing, whether they are writing exercise workbooks, journals, you own personal diary, photograph collections or novels that just inspired you when you read them. I have already mentioned Pocket Muse, by Monica Wood, a wonderful source of writing encouragement, but this is just one of several books of inspiration I keep on my bookshelf. Another noteworthy workbook I keep handy, In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop, by Steve Kowit, is especially good if you are wanting to experiment with styles of poetry. Each chapter gives the reader the chance to write 3 different poems based on the topics of the chapter. For a dedicated writer this could lead to a whole new notebook full of poems. Beyond workbooks, I have several collections of poetry, I have already read through, that I keep close by to flip through and analyze what works, what doesn’t and why to keep my brain working right. (I think it’s important to read bad poetry as well as good). One of my favorites is The Pocket Book of Verse: Great English and American Poems, because it is simply about 100 poems from well known poets, but what I love most, is I really enjoy some of the poetry, while others I dislike greatly.
Uncommon Tools for the Writer
While painting you can use absolutely anything around you as a brush, your hand -a Q-tip, a spoon, a hot-wheels car- everything creates a different effect and should probably be experimented with at some point. Like painting a writer can use any source as a tool. I greatly enjoy and probably reap the most fruitful work when using unconventional writing tools. Here are just a few of my favorites, but remember that any source can be a resource.
- Lists, Lists, Lists– Not only are lists categorized, but they are completely adaptable. You can continue adding and organizing the content however you wish to suit your needs. I keep lists on any major theme I have in my poems; flowers, trees, types of clouds, rocks, fragrances, foods, spices and seasonings, cities, and interesting objects. I continue to add, change or create new lists. My flowers list is organized several different ways like by color, scent (how strong or musky), how interesting they look, and simply alphabetical. So when I look for a white flower that starts with “C” I find camellia and carnation. By keeping lists on the computer, through a word processor, you can add pictures, links and organize the several ways with minimal effort.
- Notebook of Words- This almost falls into the category with lists… almost. A notebook of words would seem like just a huge list (which it basically is) but it functions a little differently. While with the organization that lists give help you grab that very particular thing you need, a notebook of words is not organized and instead helps generate ideas or a different thought process. Fill a notebook with words that catch your attention, words you love the meaning or sound of, or words that make you gnash your teeth, and suddenly you are developing a stronger vocabulary for your own unique voice.
- Medical Books– Now this one I highly recommend. Medical books are a great source of terms usually not used in poetry as well as a great resource to examine the body. It may be helpful to explain an emotion by using very specific part of the body that is affected or have available illnesses or reactions that would be descriptive in new and interesting way. Just looking at the muscle form or the nervous system can get you thinking in different ways. Phrases like “my heart skips a beat” become fresh and renewed with words like arythmia.
I hope this post gives you ideas for using different tools while writing, or common tools in new ways. If you have any unique tools or want to share ideas (or just have something to say) – leave a comment 🙂