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Top 5 Tools for the Not-Yet-Published Writer

by Laura McClellan

As a lifelong student of the writing craft, I’ve heard and read lots of good advice, tons of suggestions for essential tools for those of us who are working toward a career as a writer. I thought I’d offer my suggestions for the top five tools for pre-published writers:

1. A calendar. All the real experts, the pros, seem to agree: the number one key to becoming a skilled writer is to write regularly. But the best of intentions can get derailed by the pressures of daily life. That’s why every writer needs a calendar on which to schedule that regular behind-in-chair time. Make appointments with yourself and write them down. Be in that chair at regular intervals, so your muse will know where to find you.

2. An idea catcher. Ideas really are everywhere, aren’t they? But if you’re like me, your best ideas can disappear almost as quickly as they appear. That why it’s crucial to keep something with you at all times to capture the ideas when they come. Carry a notebook and pen; dictate a voice note into your phone; use note-taking app (I use an app called Drafts on my iPhone and iPad). The method is not nearly as important as the consistent practice of writing down those great ideas before they fly away and land on somebody else’s computer.

3. A support system. If you’re as fortunate as I am, you have a spouse who supports your dream and encourages you to keep at it, who holds down the fort and writes (or at least approves) the checks for conferences and writing materials. Every writer needs someone in her corner, cheering her on, talking her off that ledge on the bad days. If it’s not a spouse, maybe it’s your mom. Or find a writing buddy either locally or online. If you can’t find someone, email me! I’d love to trade encouragement.

4. A teachable heart. At the 2013 ACFW conference, I heard a multi-published, award-winning author say she never wants to stop learning and growing as a writer. No matter where you are in your writing career, there’s always something to learn. We must keep our ears and hearts open. The day we think we’ve got it all figured out is the day we need to shut down our computers and go do something else. Attend workshops. Always keep a craft book handy for bedtime reading. Look for the truth in every critique or rejection letter, no matter how off the mark you think it is-always ask, “What can I learn from this?”

There are lots of other tools, both practical and “philosophical,” that can help a writer in the journey toward publication. I could go on for hours on the subject of technology-computers and apps and printers, oh my! But the tools I’ve listed above are the ones that come to mind for me as the basic building blocks.

Oh, yes-I promised five, didn’t I? The fifth writing essential? Chocolate, of course.

What are your can’t-live-without-them tools for life as a writer?

Laura McClellanLaura McClellan has been married over 30 years to the same man (she says she was a child bride). She’s mom to five, grandmother to five, and a partner in a large Dallas law firm. During her “spare time” Laura is polishing her first novel, a winner in several fiction contests.

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6 Responses to Top 5 Tools for the Not-Yet-Published Writer

  1. Marji Laine says:

    I love your “five,” Laura! Especially that number 2, well and 5 of course! Thanks for sharing your insight!

  2. Ron Estrada says:

    For me, Laura, remaining teachable has been the biggest hurdle. I read all the how-to-write books early on and attended conferences, but I really didn’t sweat over my manuscript to apply what I’d learned. Much like a surgeon who reads medical books for a few years and steps into an operating room, the end result was a disaster. Now I take those same books and conference notes and painstakingly go over my manuscript. One line at a time. That’s where we go from absorbing to learning to applying. It’s hard work, but our passion for it makes it an incredible journey.

  3. Ashlee says:

    Love these tips! I am fortunate enough to have a supportive network of family, and even a couple of friends who write as well and offer encouragement. However, while running a household and homeschooling, it is rather difficult to find the time I’d like to write. But I think your suggestion of having a calendar and making appointments for yourself to sit down and just do it is a great idea! Thanks :)

  4. Ron, you are so right. I’m an admitted craft book junkie, but it’s not enough just to read the books, is it, or even to just attend the workshops at conference. We have to absorb what we’ve heard, resist the urge to defend our “brilliant” work, and do the hard work of applying what we hear to our own writing!

  5. Ashlee, I totally get how hard it is to find the time. With a more-than-full-time law practice and all the other demands on my time and energy, I have to take my own advice and intentionally schedule time to write!

  6. You’re welcome, Marji! It was so nice to see you at the conference! Eat a bite of chocolate for me!