Top 13: My Favorite Writing Things

If you think ballplayers and crazed sports fans, with their amulets and gestures and habits all meant to bring about a win, are the only superstitious people in the world, think again. Writers can be just as quirky when engaging in their sport. And so I present a baker’s dozen of my favorite writing things, in no particular order.

1. Men’s cashmere sweater

This is my go-to, get-in-the-mood wear when it’s time to write and the season is autumn, winter, or early spring. It was love at first sight when I found this baby in a pigeon-poop-covered sealed box at the back of a warehouse. Yes, I know, disgusting. But inside were dozens of men’s cashmere sweaters individually packaged in plastic. No avian bird flu for me. This was my favorite, and definitely not because of the thick horizontal band falling at exactly hip level. Egads! No, the reason I love this sweater is because it is 100% cashmere, made in Scotland, and thick and comfy, unlike those cashmere sweaters in the department store that feel like you’re wearing expensive tissue paper. When I slip into its luxurious softness, I let out a contented Kashmir bleat and my Muse instantly appears for some cuddle time.

 2. Bic 4-color pens

With a click of one of the colored levers, I’m instantly transported back to fourth grade. Sophisticated? No. But it’s surprisingly smooth and long-lasting for a simple ball-point pen and does a great job for first drafts. Up until recently, I did all novel writing by hand. There’s definitely a creativity channel that runs from brain to fingers. Typing directly into a computer was how I wrote user manuals in my day job, but when it was time for novels, I needed the creative flow of handwriting. I use only the black and blue inks for my first drafts. The red and green inks are reserved for editing, but that’s the subject of a future Top List.

3. College-ruled spiral notebook

When you’re writing first drafts by hand, you need a cooperative writing surface. That’s why a bound notebook or journal is never going to work for me. I need to flip pages quickly and not fight with a book that wants to constantly close on me. A spiral notebook lets me get the job done. But it has to be college-ruled. Wide-ruled spirals throw off my equilibrium and make me tense. I’m weird that way. Perforated pages are preferred. Yes, sometimes they rip out of the notebook when I don’t want them to, but when I do intentionally rip them out, there are neither messy edges nor bits of paper to get stuck to my nice cashmere sweater.

4. Post-it flags

When I’m in the flow, in that sweet spot of writing momentum, I don’t want to risk stopping to look something up. So, I write through the missing information with just a quick bracketed note to self [get info] and stick a colored flag on the page as a reminder to do research later when the Muse has left me for the day.

5. Baby name book

There are no more babies in my future, but I keep my baby name book close by. It’s a great tool for coming up with character names. Yeah, yeah, I know, you can look this stuff up on the internet. But I still enjoy the feel of a book in my hands. And I just don’t like to be plugged in all the time.

6. AlphaSmart Neo

The day finally arrived when I got fed up writing novels by hand and typing them into my computer in long, tedious sessions, unable to always read my chicken scratch. But there was no way I wanted to sit under a hot laptop for hours at a time, distracted by email and other internet activities. It doesn’t take much to get my hamsters overexcited and headed in all the wrong directions. Imagine my joy when I discovered the AlphaSmart Neo. Originally created for schoolchildren and teachers, it is smaller than a laptop, less than 2 pounds, has a full-size keyboard, does not emit heat, and works for 700 hours on 3 AA batteries. My laptop gives me about 2. The screen is visible in bright sunlight, though it is primitive. There are no fonts to choose from, and it displays only three to six lines of text at a time (I set it to four). But this is actually a good thing. It makes it virtually impossible to edit as you write. And we all know that editing while writing leads to writer constipation. It keeps you in the forward flow of writing, and no matter how much your internal critic (read: AntiChrist, fallen Muse, etc.) shouts at you, you can’t give in to him.

7. Manuscript template & List of Scenes table

After a day of writing on the AlphaSmart Neo, I plug into the PC and upload my work directly into my manuscript template, which is set up with all the formatting that agents and editors require for submissions. It allows me to gauge where I’m at, calculate word counts, and determine if my plot pacing is in line with the intended length of the book. I also couldn’t exist without my list of scenes. This is an ever-changing table, which numbers the scenes, outlines each in a few sentences, and lists its purpose. It keeps me on track, points out inconsistencies, and ensures all scenes move the plot along. It also allows me to jump to a future scene when writing the current one just isn’t doing it for me.

8. Beautiful journals

When I’m feeling introspective and need to get thoughts down on paper, a spiral notebook will just not do. It’s time to break out the quality journal. The cover needs to call out to me. One of my favorites was a journal I found in Florence with its colorful swirls and gold details. I prefer ecru-colored paper, no shine, with a bit of texture. I’d show you the insides of my journals, but I’ve already written in them and I’d have to kill you. If you don’t keep a journal, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Writing down a problem or idea instantly releases some of the pressure and allows your mind to simmer in the background. I have solved many a problem this way. Similarly, when insomnia strikes because the neon To Do list in my brain won’t stop flashing, I grab my bedside journal and transfer that mental list to paper. My mind no longer needs to exert itself to remember. Within minutes, I am relaxed and ready to doze off. That same bedside journal also records dreams and inspiration that comes in the middle of the night. (A battery operated book light helps in the recording of these nocturnal notes.)

9. Fountain pens

A fountain pen is much too messy for writing first drafts of novels and a bit too precious. But nothing is better for that moment of journaling you give yourself. It sets the tone. “This is important. This is me time.” They come in so many gorgeous designs. You can have several to match your moods. There are different nibs for just the right flow of ink. I prefer medium. There are numerous ink colors to choose from. You can use ink cartridges, or for an authentic touch, fill your pen from an ink pot. It’s all part of the ritual of getting ready to write your soul on paper. Check out the selection at Levenger.

10. Tray of tea and cookies

For morning writing, a huge cup of coffee from the local store is all I need. I’ll sip on it for hours until it has turned lukewarm. But for afternoons, a bracing cup of tea served up in style with some cookies keeps the energy flowing. Harney and Sons offers some of my favorite teas and accessories. My pal, Richard Lamb, laughs and says I’m more English than he is when it comes to making tea. He calls it “playing with my chemistry set.” Listen up, people, a tea bag in a mug of tepid water is not tea. You should be ashamed of yourself, Rich. You’re an embarrassment to your country. 😛

11. A walk

There is nothing more inspiring, creativity producing, and calming than a walk out in nature. I typically walk the same route every day. I’ve mapped out the mileage and I know the route like the back of my hand. So I don’t have to think about any of that. Instead, I notice how that same route changes day by day because Mother Nature is a prolific creator. That inspires me to create as well. Since I don’t have to concentrate on where I’m walking, I can simmer on the direction my novel is taking. I am ALWAYS in a better place mentally after a walk or run, and my body is better off, too.

12. The right chair

Unlike tech writing, during which I need to be sitting upright in a chair with lumbar support, creative writing requires a more relaxed, slightly reclined posture. I am unable to write at my desktop PC. It sucks the creativity out of me. In the late spring, summer, and early autumn, I sit in a lounge chair out front so I can stare into the sky and dream in between bursts of writing. When the weather gets too cold for comfort, I sit on the sofa in my living room. It has a Duncan Phyfe, early Empire look to it (and I’m not talking about Star Wars 😐 ) with rolled arms that give just enough back support. No overly mushy cushions to drown in, and that’s a good thing for me. My front window and skylights let nature in when the weather prevents me from writing outside. I’m sitting here now. See me through the window? [waving]

13. Lap desk

These hands are registered with the…no, only kidding. But I’d like to steer clear of carpal tunnel syndrome. My handy dandy lap desk is the perfect base for my Alphasmart Neo. It allows me to comfortably type and supports my wrists with a bean-bag roll. You can’t be creative if you’re uncomfortable. Though this isn’t an exciting edition to my list, it is a very necessary one. And what do you expect, the 13th in a baker’s dozen is free.

There you have it. Please feel free to share your favorite things whether you’re a writer or not.

26 comments on “Top 13: My Favorite Writing Things

  1. Richard on

    Well, first, you’ll never convince me about the pens. I loathe handwriting. In my opinion, the keyboard is one the greatest inventions ever, along with movies and Raisinets. However, the Baby Name Book is just inspired! I’m hopeless at coming up with character names. I could use the help. Maybe I’ll take a walk and buy one. Two writing tools for the price of one? 😛

    As for your whole, strange, Dr. Bunsen tea ritual, what can I say? A tea bag in a mug of HOT water IS tea. That’s why they call it a TEA bag. It makes tea. Next you’ll be telling me that instant coffee granules don’t make coffee. 😛

    Great post, Maggie. You’re flying the eccentric flag for writers everywhere and I salute you. 😀

    By the way, it’s freezing here and that sweater sure looks good.

  2. huffygirl on

    Ditto on the different color pens and sticky notes. Could not have gotten throught grad school without them. I do most of my writing by keyboard, but I still keep the colored pen supply for notes, scribbling and for fun. Great post.

  3. Joseph Hayes on

    Yes, pens. Not even for using, just to have lovely old celluloid fountain pens.
    A paper clip, box of wooden matches, or a carabiner. Anything to fiddle with unconsciously when clicking a ballpoint would be too annoying. Shut up, Richard.
    I found an office chair made from bungee cords for $29 at Target, best chair I’ve ever had.
    Two words: ACTION FIGURES!

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on


      A carabiner??? Is that for climbing the walls when inspiration won’t strike. Or maybe you strike a match when inspiration won’t strike?
      The paper clip must be the little bit of hope that inspiration will strike and you’ll be able to clip the results together.

      Thanks for taking a road trip from Inked-In land to comment. Love you!

  4. sue fineman on

    I don’t write much by hand, but I do most of my editing by hand, sitting in my favorite chair. I look up baby names on the computer, but I use an old-fashioned phone book to search for last names.

  5. Jessica S on

    Phooey. I wish I would have known about the AlphaNeo before my husband shelled out over $500 for an iPad. All I wanted was a longer running, portable word processor that wouldn’t melt my pants to my thighs. GRRR! I wonder if I’m still within the first 15 days…

    I loved this post, by the way, so I think I’m going to wait a respectful amount of time, and then steal your idea. 🙂

  6. Blockader on

    You can never go wrong with a Bic four-colour pen!

    I often used one in my old journals, to let me know where one story ended and another began. (Yes, I know now that I could of simply written titles.)

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      That pen really makes people nostalgic. I’ve had some funny reactions when I’m taking notes in a meeting. All of a sudden I’ll hear “Oooooooo, I used to have one of those when I was a kid.”

      Thanks for stopping by to comment. 🙂

  7. girlboxing on

    Great post!

    You are so right about writer’s and their quirks. I have specific pens for specific purposes, notebooks I will and will not write in — and don’t get me started on coffee, coffee houses and the muse!

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Thanks, GB!

      I took some ribbing on this one. I was told a walk was not a favorite writing thing. I beg to differ. Writing isn’t just what you put on paper. It’s what happens in your head before you put pen to page. Without that walk, which gets me out of the distraction zone and affords me some peaceful, simmering time, there might not be as many ideas to record on paper. I suspect you, as a boxer, understand what I mean. 🙂

  8. Paper Tiger Press on

    Mrs. Dempsy, I must say those 13 things are great, especially the name your baby book! I need to pick one up anyway, my wife is having a baby in April. Maybe you have some ideas for how to describe people, for example a reference book that would aid in making a character more detailed (I know, it’s usually in our heads, but extra always helps!) The nice pens are good ideas for writing too. I have a pen I picked up at a shop for 350yen (about $4) and it is the one in the header picture of my blog because of the way it just catches the light. Thank you for your blog post! Keep Writing!

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Congratulations! I remember the excitement (and nesting) in anticipation of my son’s birth. 🙂

      It’s funny that you asked about a book to help in character development. I almost included one in this list. It’s called Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richard Riso with Russ Hudson.

      I’ve always had a thing for personality typing and have studied various philosophies. This book would be my pick for character development. It presents nine personality types and extremely detailed information on how each type would appear in various levels of health. Knowing the possibilities along the spectrum helps prevent creating a “good” character who is all good or a “bad” character who is all bad.

      I’ll warn you, it’s not a thin book, and you’ll have to get through a bit of the philosophy before jumping into the types. However, I highly recommend it. If you decide to give it a read and have any questions, feel free to contact me. It’s one of my favorite topics of discussion.

      Oh…I love the color of the pen on your blog.

  9. ??? on

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  10. Monster Beats Dre on

    I lately came across your site and have been scanning along. I thought I could leave my 1st comment. I do not know what to say except that I’ve enjoyed reading what you all have said.


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