Alexa’s Favorite Writing Things 2012

Oprah’s just unveiled her list of Favorite Things for this year, and inspired by her assembly of items and by NaNoWriMo this month, I decided to come up with a short list of my own. Mine are cheaper than most of Oprah’s favorite things – she got me this year and has something for $20 – and they’re indispensible to my writing process. They also make terrific stocking stuffers for the writer in your life. Or the writer you’d like to have in your life.

Or me. Just keeping it real.

These are some of my favorite things for work, but as they say, “All work and no hot shirtless men makes Alexa a dull girl.” At the end of this month, I’ll have another favorite things post with stuff I’d love to have just for kicks.

The AlphaSmart 3000. For writers prone to distraction, the AlphaSmart is a perfect tool. It’s basically a portable keyboard with a display that allows you to see four lines of text at a time. And that’s it. You can’t get on the internet. It won’t run other programs (although I think there’s a calculator buried in there somewhere). It’s even kind of a pain to edit what you just wrote. Its simplicity is gorgeous.

Once you’re done, you hook the AlphaSmart up to your computer and let it dump all your words into the program of your choosing. I’ve plopped things into WordPress, MS Word, and into Scrivener, which I get into below. It holds 8 files, one for each day of the week, plus an extra for notes, and you will get 700 hours of battery life on 3 AA batteries.

I paid about $30 for mine on eBay – go check it out!

Scrivener. Neil Cross convinced me to look into purchasing Scrivener. Not in person – OMG, I would talk about that all day every day – but with his testimonial on the developers’ website. He and many other writers sang the software’s praises, talking about how intuitive it was, so I gave it a try. The developers offer a 30-day free trial, but they only count the days you actually use it. So if you try it one day and then go back to it six months later, you would only have used two days. That really impressed me.

Scrivener costs $40. You are getting a TON of program for $40. There’s enough program that everyone can use it a little differently and still be getting their money’s worth. I like it because I can keep the same document open in two windows (Chapter One on the left and Chapter One again on the right). Then I can move things around from place to place very easily. I often have to rearrange stuff inside my chapters, and that was a HUGE pain to do in Word. I also keep my outline open all the time, so I can see how far along I’m getting and move portions of the document as necessary. There’s a panel on the right where I can keep my notes as I’m working. The index card for that particular scene is displayed there, along with whatever I need to keep in mind while I’m working. Everything’s in one spot.

Here’s some more good news. If you win NaNoWriMo, you get a discount code for half off. If you don’t win but find someone who does – a practice both NaNoWriMo and the Scrivener folks are okay with – you can have their code. So I actually got Scrivener for $20. Try out the program this month if you’re NaNoing and let it convince you.

Spiral notebooks. The list gets decidedly low-tech from here with the appearance of an old favorite. When I started writing – during class as a girl – I used to use the margins of these for stories so I could take notes in the center of the page. Of course, that meant I hesitated to let anyone see the inside of my notebooks for any reason! Today, I don’t have to waste all that space on chemistry or calculus or … wow. I just got really nostalgic for a second!

I use the notebooks for everything except the actual draft. I keep my initial brainstorming notes there. My lists of blog topics go there. I keep snippets of description in there, too. I used to keep a separate book for each project, but it didn’t take long for me to lose track of those. Now I just dump everything onto the page and sort through it as I’m going.

I was at a workshop with Candace Havens last weekend, and she showed us the inside of her spiral notebook. It was so cool! I feel like we’re besties now. Hers was really pretty and expensive-looking, though; I bet Oprah has something like it on her list. The ones on my list go for ten cents each at WalMart during back to school season. I go out there and buy 30 or 40 of them at a time and then work through my stash.

Index cards. I probably have enough index cards in here to wallpaper the house. One of my teachers in high school taught me to use them to outline papers, and I’ve kept that habit for *coughcough* years. They’re good for arranging scenes, of course – I just put a few words about a scene on a card, and then another scene on another card, and then I sit on the floor and spread them around. Scrivener will let you do that on the screen, but my mind needs to touch the card, and I accept that. There’s more to the lowly index card than that, though. I use them to keep track of my project ideas – right now, I have 16 of them on my bulletin board, each with the names of a couple from one of my stories. I also use them to write quotes on. One of my favorites, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song,” is front and center above my keyboard for those nights when I feel like I’m a huge literary joke that everyone gets but me.

I have index cards in all colors, lined and unlined, and I do so love building a little stack of them as I’m plotting my next story! You can score them at the dollar store, and they fit beautifully in your favorite writer’s stocking.

Pens and highlighters. It is really embarrassing for a writer to be caught out without a pen. I know because it happens to me all the time. I don’t need anything fancy to get the job done. In my day, the chisel and quill were gradually replaced by the transparent Bic Cristal, which is still my favorite. Today, you can get a purple ballpoint pen at the grocery store. Isn’t progress grand?

Some people are organized enough to use a different pen for different purposes. That’s not me; I can barely manage to keep one in my purse. I am happiest when I’m using a color that’s not black, but aside from that, anything will work!

I can’t keep enough highlighters in the house for some reason. I’ve used them for editing – one color for dialogue, one for action, and so on – but again, I tend to not be that organized. I’m much more likely to use them while I’m reading, so that the good parts stand out more. I highlighted The Sociopath Next Door like wildfire!

Tuck a pack of pens – or one really nice pen – into your writer friend’s stocking, and you will make her happy. Slide one of the nice ones (the kind that come in a box) across the table to her and tell her you’re thinking about her hand on it while she’s working. Hell, that’d make me happy!

Now get out there and shop! The Oprah folk will start packing the mall soon.

I think everyone has been too kind to say how badly things seem to be going for me in NaNoWriMo this year. There’s a good reason for that, though. Earlier this week, I finally submitted Project NSA, the story with which I won the Passionate Reads Pitch Contest in February 2011. I had to pull two all-nighters to do it, but now it’s done. My hope is to get back to my collection of erotic short stories this weekend – my day job is closed on Monday for the holiday, so I can catch up. But I do acknowledge at this point that I need to catch up.

Have questions about what to get the writer in your life? Want to tell the world about your favorite things? Hit me up in the comments.

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