WFMAD Day 4 – Finding the right tool, Part 1

Tool Time!

I'm not talking about craft tools, like secrets of great settings, or how to get through a revision without an emotional breakdown. (Do you want me to write about those, too?)


I'm talking about using tools that will help us acheive and maintain focus while we write, plus tools that can be helpful for things like unwieldly plots.

Note – I recommend these tools either because I use (and love) them, or because I know other authors who do. As with all things writing-related, your mileage may vary. Do some research before you plunk money down to make sure that the tool has a place in your toolbox.


A notebook, like the Mark Twain wrote in above. (See more writer notebooks at Flavorwire.) I use old-school composition books. No, I don't fill them with pages of my novel. But I always have one with me to capture those stray thoughts, bits of dialog, and descriptions that happen while I go about my life away from the computer. I think there is something magical that happens when you move your hand across the page with a pen or pencil instead of typing. These composition books fall apart in the shower, though, so that's why it's handy to have something like this.



Internet-free-writing space. I'm cheap, so I just turn it off on my computer. But if that's too hard, there are programs and apps you can use, like Freedom and Anti-Social (to temporarily get rid of the ability to check social media sites). Rescue Time will help you examine how you are actually using your computer time.



Distraction free writing space. I'll write another post about the need to have a regular writing space, but for now, I'm talking about the distractions on my computer and within arm's reach of it. On a good day I have the attention span of gnat, so I've tried every trick out there. What works best for me is this nifty feature in Word for Mac 2011 (I'm told that Word for Windows has a similar feature), that is called the Focus View. One click and every on my computer screen disappears, except for the document I'm working on. Genius!!

I also use the Comments feature in Word heavily. Whenever I think of something that I need to research on the Internet, or check at a different place in the manuscript, I simply add a comment in the right-hand margin and keep writing because I don't want to break my focus and flow. When the day's writing session is over, I scroll through the comments and do whatever research is required, then add in the required information, or make notes about how to add the new material during my next writing session.

Another thing that helps my focus is to guard the space around my computer. The only stuff I can see from where I'm sitting are books or notes about my WIP. And usually a mug of coffee or tea. When I get stuck for a moment and my eyes drift off the screen, I can only see things that encourage me to keep thinking of my story. Because my attention span is so short, I know that if I see anything else, I'm going to get distracted.


Stupid, freaking WordPress has been acting like a jackass this afternoon. (This is a Faulty, Unreliable Tool!) So far I've spent three hours on this blog because the auto-save isn't working and a couple of times (but not always) when I have pressed Save Draft, the stuff I wrote has vanished. This blog should be about twice as long as it is, but I still haven't taken my fifteen minutes yet (actually it's gonna be longer because I need to write five pages today) so this is what you get. Consider the topic of Writing Tools to be continued. Do you have any tools you'd like to share so I can blog about them? How about a chainsaw?


Today's non-fiction prompt: Write about the tools you wrote with in elementary school. Give details of your classroom, the people in it, and what kind of kid you were. Mix in action with the descriptions.

Today's fiction prompt: Two characters are trying to perform a simple task, like hammer a nail into the wall, or pick-up a soft banana that has fallen behind a stove that cannot be moved. Describe how they try (and fail) several different ways to do the job.

Fifteen minutes. More if you want, but just fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your entire life.

Scribble… scribble… scribble…

11 Replies to “WFMAD Day 4 – Finding the right tool, Part 1”

  1. Sometimes I text myself notes/ideas about my WIP. Or I use the "Notes" app on my iphone.

    I also use the "Sticky Notes" program on my PC to keep track of stray thoughts or things I want to go back and research.

    I periodically email myself drafts as "back up." And then I also have a current draft handy in case I want to review/edit something.

  2. I recently discovered Focus@will website with the right music to pull my brain into "flow" … they even have the science credentials to back it up. I was skeptical but have found it surprisingly effective. For the artwork I do, not so much (I usually need something more vigorous and heroic!). But when writing and editing, or anything with words? Yes. Great tool.

  3. If I get stuck between points, I use all caps to write something like INSERT BRILLIANT RESPONSE HERE and keep going. That way, I stay in the flow.  At the end of the day or the start of the next writing session, I go back and look at those. If I've got something, good. If I don't, it will be tackled in revision.

  4. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Sorry, I'm not having an orgasm over here. I'm just really, really on board. I have a selective attention span. I can think on one thing for multiple hours, days, decades, etc. But there are times when, say, I need to focus on revising a manuscript and my attention has…hey, is that cake? Why do you have that fishing pole? Oh. Reel it back in, yo. But in terms of writing tools and keeping my focus, I say yes to the notebook. And especially yes to the pencil-plus-paper-equals-magic method. Yes to Word, yes to Focus view, yes to comments in Word. Yes allover the place to Word. Laurie, I know you're getting to it, but yes to a designated writing space. Yes to snacks, water, coffee, fluffy pet, etc. in said space. (If I am avoiding writing a certain scene or chapter, I will suddenly develop an unquenchable thirst or the need to hear my dogs snoring soundly. Be prepared!) Also, yes to visual aids. I save pictures from magazines and images that remind me of scenes I'm writing or want to write. I try to keep my pictures and images organized, either in a physical folder or in an image file on my computer, for those moments when I need to stare at something other than my computer screen. One more yes: yes to outlines and storyboards. Mine are not pretty, but they get the job done if I take the time to do them. 

    Okay, my yessing has concluded. Thank you, Laurie, for all of the tips, tools, and encouragement! I've got my Nana pants on for WFMAD. 

  5. I use bold italics to add notes for myself, within the wip, or I open a new docto write questions I have right then and there. These questions often serve as a guide for writing and either introducing plot twists or answering something from before. I also listen to classical music when I write, no words, no distractions, and it's easier to use it as background noise.

    In elementary school, I used pencils, crayons, rulers and a lot of lined paper. I especially loved using the me for writing the alphabet, you know the one with the big space, made of three lines, with the second one dotted. Penmanship was a favourite of mine, so that paper came in really handy.

    lhappy writing everyone.


    Peace and love,

    Paula R.

  6. So I just spent over half an hour writing about my strange obsession with pens and notebooks/journals…

  7. Still here & getting my 15 minutes in… I'm noticing an avoidance of dialogue in my work, so maybe I'll make myself do an all dialogue scene tomorrow.

  8. One tool I have – that I had to use this evening, in fact – is switching to instrumental music. I try to choose a piece with the same energy as the scene I'm writing, but the important part is to have something in the background that doesn't involve language I could accidentally mix into my story without realizing it (don't laugh unless you've also written dialogue that says "You're a deadman sunburn!").

    I actually used one of the prompts this time. Yay me! XD



                    It was the kind of screech that wakes you from a dead sleep and lingers in your nightmares:  Kayleigh.

                    I took the stairs two at a time only to smack my face on her bedroom door. “Kayleigh what is it? Open this door!” I pushed against it but felt resistance. Instead of waiting for an answer, I threw my shoulder into the edge, sure I’d find my daughter with a broken neck from falling off her bunk bed. But when I opened it, Kayleigh was belly down on the floor, tears streaked down her face.

                    “Mom, don’t move! Close the door!”

                    Stunned, I did just that. “What happened?” I moved to take a step and she screamed again.

                    “STOP! Calli knocked the cage over. I can’t find Venus anywhere!”

                    Ah. My stomach fell out of my throat and air came back into my lungs. The cat and the hamster were at it again. I was suddenly aware of the pain in my shoulder. “Where’s Calli now?”

                    Kayleigh’s left hand swiped at her tears. “I tossed her out and closed the door. Please help me find Venus!”

                    My first thought was to lecture her about letting the cat in her room, as we’d agreed that she couldn’t get the hamster otherwise, and then obviously reminding her that if she’d just clean her room we’d have a better chance of catching the darn thing, but seeing her desperate search through the mess of her belongings pushed me immediately from Mom-mode 1 to Mom-mode 2. “Alright honey, we’ll find her. It’s okay.  Just move slow and tell me if you see anything.”

                    All I got in response were sniffles. Well, she may have been doing the worm, but it was about all I could do to get on the floor, so hands and knees it was. I looked around boxes and dollhouses in the closet while Kayleigh took the dresser, then the bookcase, then the bean bag chair, and the desk, until we’d worked our way to our last obstacle: the bunk bed.

                    “Kayleigh, where’s your flashlight?”

                    “In the laundry basket.”

                    I laughed. “What on earth is it doing in there?”

                    “I had it in my pocket yesterday.” She replied, in her eight year old logic that flashlights always reside in pockets and laundry baskets, of course. I dug through the dirty clothes to find the orange shorts in question – her favorite – and handed it to her to check under the bed.

                    Crawling, it took her five whole minutes just to clear a path. “There she is!”

                    “Where?” I moved closer.

                    “In the back corner hiding behind the bed post.”

                    Of course that’s where the hamster would be: the one place we couldn’t get to her, since my ever careful husband screwed the 150 pound wooden bed frame to the wall lest our 48 pound daughter  used her superhero strength to topple it upon her delicate head. “Can you reach her?”

                    “No. And,” she paused there, and I feared she’d tell me the hamster wasn’t moving. I wasn’t ready to do the death talk yet. “I think I’m stuck.”

                    So then I spent another 3 minutes tugging at her legs until she managed to shimmy her way out. “Take the exercise ball in there and see if you can coax her into it.”

                    Then, of course, the exercise ball became stuck. But there was no moving this bed without my husband. Probably no moving it with him either, for that matter. I sat back on my heels, searching the room for something to help us. “Will this coat hanger work?”

                    Kayleigh scuttled back under and I hear her muffled voice, “It’s not long enough.”

                    “Oh, what about your lightsaber?”

                    More scurrying that almost could’ve been from either creature under the bed.

                    “Too wide.”

                    This time, once out, she sat crisscross applesauce and looked straight at me. “What if we can’t get her out?”

    And the dam broke. I cradled her into my arms and began stroking her hair the way my mother had always done for me. “Oh sweety, she got herself in, she’ll find a way to get back out. She’ll probably get lonely and come find you just to demand some attention. It’ll be okay.” Kayleigh cried for a few more minutes and I sat silently, letting the situation be.

    Unexpectedly, she yanked her face up and out so fast that I nearly ended up with a chunk of her red hair still in my fingers. “Wait, I’ve got it!” And she burst out of the room in a streak of color that earned her the nickname, Comet.

    I used the moment to pull myself onto the desk chair so I’d be out of the pathway, and not a second too soon because Kayleigh ran straight in and dove under the bed. When she came back out, she sat beside the bed and I looked at her. “What now?” Assuming it hadn’t worked.

    “Now we wait.” She shrugged.

    Oh the faith of a child. I wanted to tell her that we’d be waiting a long time, that there was a chance the cat had hurt Venus, that a best case scenario still had the hamster terrified and waiting until everything was quiet – which was going to be never, if you’re 8 year old is anything like mine. But more than that, I wanted to give her just a bit longer to believe that things always worked out. The truth would hit her soon enough.

    Hence, wait we did. For ten whole minutes. Nine and a half minutes longer than she’d ever sat still or silent before. And then – unbelievable – the hamster walked right out from under the bed! Kayleigh scooped her up and twirled about in utter glee. I laughed too and grabbed both of them to me into a tight hug, caught in the moment. “So what did you put under there?” I asked.

    Kayleigh shirked away from me. “Strawberries,” she mumbled.

    She knew she wasn’t allowed in the fridge between mealtimes, and none of the pets were allowed “people” food. The reprimand sat on my tongue, but I couldn’t muster the energy to scold her. “Just this once,” I smiled, and petted both girls on the head.

  9. Mittens the Destroyer is my new mascot!

    I use Scrivener and love that everything is in one place. It's so much better organized than I was on my own.

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