Monday, 31 January 2011


Happy Monday, everyone! Today, I thought it was time to look at some essential writing tools - or, actually, I should say PUBLICATION tools. Of course, all anyone needs in order to write is a pencil and a scrap of paper. That's how shopping lists are made. But if you want to write something good and get published, you need to make an effort to aquire all of the following items. I really, honestly think that they are essential, and I will now tell you why.

     1) A notebook which you carry with you at all times

Why this is important: Because your brain, like the brains of all humans, is a sponge. Just as the liquid of inspiration can flood it at any moment, it can equally easily drain out again, leaving your mind dry and slightly crunchy with the bitterness of lost opportunity. Trust me. Unless you intend to take up muttering your ideas to yourself over and over again until you reach home and your computer (which I have done on occasion, and trust me, it doesn't win you any friends) you need a notebook.

     2) Pens and pencils. Lots of 'em

Why this is important: Your notebook is just a hunk of dried out tree pulp without them, and they are surprisingly easy to forget. And even if you remember your one favourite pen that you carry everywhere - it's bound to run out or get lost at the crucial moment. Fill your bag and pocket with the little suckers. I prefer propelling pencils because they're not going to leak and ruin my trousers/bag, but whatever your perferred writing tool, stock up and keep them handy.

     3) A computer

Why this is important:  I know I was just banging on about notebooks and pens, but publishers will not accept handwritten manuscripts. Ever. And they're pretty dubious about typed ones too - not to mention that revising a typed manuscript means re-typing the entire thing every single time. You need access to a computer. Enough access to be able to type up and format your book - eg. a LOT of access. Save up for your own, bargain for extra time on your family model, whatever. This is not optional.

     4) A laser printer

Why this is important: Have you ever tried to print out a four hundred page manuscript on an old fashioned ink-jet printer? Have you ever tried to print out a four hundred page manuscript at the library with people standing in line, muttering and tapping their feet, behind you? If so, I need say no more. If not, count yourself lucky. Back when I first got my first laser printer (a secondhand model which my father had liberated from an office, and which was given to me for my twentieth birthday) they and their toner cartridges were ridiculously expensive. Nowadays they're cheap, reliable and readily available from eBay. Get one You can thank me later.

     5) A copy of The Writer's and Artist's Yearbook (or your country's equivalent)

Why this is important: Because if you read it carefully it will answer around 80% of your questions on how to get published, and if you follow its instructions your chances of getting published go up by about 75%. Yes, I'm seriously. About half of the emails I get ask me to answer basic questions, the answers to which are found in this book, along with the addresses of all UK publishers and agents (or US, or whichever country you come from - and believe me, there is a version of this book in pretty much every country with a publishing industry). You won't understand how vital this book is until you have your own copy.

     6) A library card

Why this is important: I'm astonished by the number of people who don't have them! Chances are if you want to write you're going to have to do various kinds of research and because non-fiction and reference books are generally the most expensive, you can spend hundreds on books which will often only have one chapter or even one page which is helpful. But your library will supply you with these books FOR FREE. Plus, it is everyone's duty to support their local library, especially writers.

     7) Internet access

Why this is important: Most of my younger readers are now asking themselves - isn't that too obvious to be mentioned? But bear in mind that up until a few years ago most people didn't have internet access at home. Agents and publishers only accepted manuscripts via post. Editors and agents were mysterious and shadowy people that you only got to learn about once you'd actually broken through and found one. This is no longer true. Nowadays you can follow an agent or editor's blog and learn incredibly valuable information on their personality, tastes and preferences which hugely increases your chance of making successful submissions. You can save substantially on postage costs by sending queries and manuscripts via email. You can develop personal relationships with agents and editors and benefit from their insights online. You can also - and this is really important - find groups of like-minded writers who are at the same stage of the writing/publishing process as you, and make friends who will not only keep you sane, but maybe even become beta-readers or critique partners. The internet has lifted much of the painful solitude of the writing profession. Take advantage of that.

     8) The ability to accept criticism

Why this is important: Because you'll get criticism whether you want it or not. When you write anything - a book, a book review, fanfic, a blog post - and send it out into the world, you will soon find that eeeeveryone's a critic. A lot of writers don't read reviews and try to shield themselves from this, and I applaud their self control. But personally I think that giving into the temptation to read bad as well as good reviews can help you to understand other people's perceptions of your work, and eventually improve your skills as a writer. Plus, you WILL have to take criticism from agents and editors - you might as well get used to winnowing the helpful comments from the not-so-helpful comments, and to taking both with a smile.

     9) The ability to reject criticism

Why this is important: Because otherwise you'll go (even more) nuts. You can't please all the people all the time. You're lucky if you can please some of them some of the time. If you get published, people you've never met will say inevitably outrageous things, make unfair assumptions, and come to incorrect conclusions about you and your work, whether that's in a respected review journal or on Amazon or Goodreads. Even before you get published, you will on occasion need to argue your point with an agent or editor who has their own opinion on what you have written. Without being aggressive or defensive, make sure that you have a core of self belief in your writing and do not let anyone impinge upon this. That way lies madness (the unproductive kind).

     10) An enduring passion for books and stories

Why this is important: I have never met or heard of a published author who didn't love books. Simple as that. I have recently been noticing a surge in unpublished authors on various writing sites who state that since they want to be a writer and not a librarian, they see no need to read. They say that if they read the work of other authors, their unique voice could be compromised. They say they don't like reading. They say they are dedicated to their writing and have no time to read. They say that they don't want to absorb cliches. They say, frankly, all kinds of cr*p. To which I say: Hahahahahahahahahah. Ha. Haha. Ha. Ha. Those guys are never, ever going to get published. They're never even going to write anything that remotely resembles a book. I mean, maybe once every three or four generations a genius is born who can master an artform simply through sheer talent, like Mozart picking up a violin for the first time and playing a concerto. But guess what? YOU ARE NOT THAT PERSON. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read some more. If you don't like it, keep on doing it until you do. And if you can't fall in love with other people's words and stories and characters and worlds, no matter how much you read? Then just take up stamp collecting or something. Writers are readers. The end.

What other essential tools do you guys think a would-be published writer needs? Or do you disagree with me on any of these? Let me know in the comments!


Alex Mullarky said...

Here's an idea: tie a pen to your notepad. Then you'll never lose it. Oh, and tie the notepad to yourself, just to be safe.


I have the Children's Writers and Artists Yearbook at the moment and it is invaluable. Think this year I will have to upgrade to the more general one though, since I'm writing a bit more for the adult market... sad times :(

P.S. If you're wondering why I keep commenting on your blog creepily quickly at the moment, it's because I'm on holiday from university. So essentially I'm living on the internet.

Anonymous said...

Haha, amazing idea Alex! Except for trying the notepad to myself; I wouldn't love that.

Thanks, Zoe! I'm going to save this somewhere, in case I need it in future.

I'm really lucky that I got my own laptop at the age of 9!!! And really EARLY 9.

Zoë Marriott said...

Alex: I usually buy spiralbound notebooks for that very reason - you can pop a pen or pencil in there. I'm not sure I need to tie my notebook to me, though. I take it everywhere anyway. Like a security blanket... And there is nothing creepy about commenting quickly.

Megha: I got my first typewriter when I was about eight, I think (it was a fully working miniature one, painted royal blue) but that was before laptops. Shocking how old I am!

Anonymous said...

I have all of that but number 5.

Zoë Marriott said...

Well, that's one of the easiest ones to get hold of!

Isabel said...

I think the number one quality a writer needs is patience . A LOT of patience. You need it when you're writing a story. Really.

I don't have my own laptop, but I have my mum's computer, and it has internet connection and all that, so it's easy to get access to all of the above. Like Megha, I have them all except number five. I'm not about to get published any time soon, so getting it is not among my priorities, but I think I'll tell my mom about it. She's a writer trying to get her stuff published, too.
Oh, yeah, and Alex is my beta-reader (since Saturday)!

Zoë Marriott said...

I kind of thought patience went without saying! Congrats on getting a beta-reader - I hope you and Alex get on really well.

Nini V. said...

Notebook: heard of a lot of people using this tool, yet for some reason I never tried it. I keep telling myself that, if it's really important, I can easily remember it and type it on my computer later. It's rare that I'll remember something straight away.

Laser printer: I haven't reached that stage in printing out manuscripts, but I know what it's like to print out a simple sheet of paper using an ink-jet printer.

So, I have all of them except 1, 4, and 5.

I read somewhere that you could use sticky notes and a poster board to organize your novel. Or you can go the technological route and use "Storybook", a software developed to organize your story.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever been to figment its a site where you can write books and people can comment it's a lot of fun you should get one I was even inspired to write my own book from the Swan Kingdom

Zoë Marriott said...

Nini: There are as many ways to outline/organise a novel as there are novelists, I think. If you look at Plotting a Trilogy up there under Best Of you can see some of my methods, but I change from book to book, depending on what feels right. I don't think anyone needs to buy expensive software when they can get sticky notes and pens for a few pence!

Anon: I haven't heard of Figment, no - it sounds a lot of fun. It might be more helpful to some of the young writers who comment here than to me, though. I have an agent and editor whose comments I need to pay attention to!

Isabel said...

I've been listening to "Howl" by Florence and the Machine a lot lately for my book. It's really helpful. My favorite song ATM. It's my song for the novel I'm writing now.

Anonymous said...

Bookmarked this page for later reference and spreading the word. I must say, although somethings seem rather obvious, others I'd never heard of (or considered) before. Thank you!

Zoë Marriott said...

Lady Kay: I must admit that when I was putting the list together most of it seemed quite obvious - but I get a lot of emails from young authors and they tend to ask the same questions about seemingly obvious things over and over again. So I've learned not to take anything for granted!

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