Writing Tools


Although the main tool I was planning to discuss was something for ferreting out cliches and overused expressions, the timing was right for kicking off with this article on the preferred writing tools of some famous authors. I’m sure that not many modern publishers would appreciate an envelope stuffed with hundreds of pages of loose-leaf paper smothered in barely legible fountain pen ink, so anymore analog tools are the luxury of someone who wants to retype all of their work or someone already so famous that they could scribble a novel on a roll of toilet paper and receive offers for it, but the idea of buckling down with a fountain pen or a pencil and a notepad does carry a romance that’s difficult to obtain with a computer – the same tool that does everything from calculate taxes to display videos of cats falling off of sofas.

Though analog tools have fallen out of favor, the specialization that something that cannot be reprogrammed, such as a fountain pen and an empty sheet of paper, provides is not only romantic, it makes the tool legitimately well-suited for the job it was designed for: writing. The empty piece of paper doesn’t offer the allure of escape. It gets filled with thoughts or it stays blank, whereas a computer display can easily flip from Word to the news that Ben Affleck is going to be the next Batman (I think he’ll do a good job btw). Whether the writer does actually flip to the news of Batman = Daredevil or not doesn’t matter, the fact that the option is available is what makes writing on a computer a dangerous activity because we are trained through hours of flipping back and forth to treat anything perceived through the computer in short bursts, which is why reading on one is so difficult. Even on my writing computer, which is not attached to the internet, it’s likely that some attention is lost to the flipping habit, so the ye old fountain pen approach is quite attractive. Alas, it is impractical.

Though it’s not all bad. Aside from not having to smear white out all over mistakes, the other advantage computers provide is providing tools that cover repetitive tasks or data analysis. I’ve mentioned a few before, but one that I found recently that’s interesting is Cliche Cleaner. It’s rare I buy tools, but this one might be worth it. It not only checks text for overused expressions from the public domain = cliches, it also checks text for overused expressions from the author = repetition. On a few tests, it tore through a few bits of writing like an editor worth his or her weight in gold (cliche attack). The fountain pen might have its uses, but the computer’s no slouch (argh, another one).

The other option that has been popping up more and more among writers is dictation. Not dictation software, but dictation into recording devices while on the go and using those audio files to transcribe what was said. In my case, that’s not an attractive option because my stream of thought doesn’t flow in one direction and any attempt to record me speaking to myself would leave me trying to decipher the ramblings of a crazy man at the end of my walk through the woods, but it might be worth a try for more organized folks. The powerful advantage that the approach offers is the ability to hear how words sound strung together long before the editing process begins – potentially saving hours of work later at the cost of an initial transcription investment. A boon, especially in a dialog rich work.

In a perfect world, I could dictate to a robot that writes with a fountain pen while double checking my work. Eh, who am I kidding? If I was shooting for perfect, I might as well throw in a brain-wave reading robot which would dictate to the other robot for me. Until then, I’ll have to make do with Cliche Cleaner and macros.

Short or Long Story?

Once in a while I come across a novel that should have been a short story or a short story that should have been a novel. What seems to be the problem is:

A short story that should have been a long story =
a character-focused story that doesn’t pan out because, like an awkward date between two people that don’t know anything about each other, the character hasn’t fed the reader enough reasons to care

A long story that should have been a short story =
a plot-focused story that hangs on the empty framework of shallow characters and drags with a Monty Python-style “Get on with it” chorus chiming in every chapter

Although there are examples of short stories with a rich character (note the singular) and plenty of examples of novels that keep the pages turning on the power of their world or story alone, they are the rare case. In general, it’s safer to decide:
“Is this about how a character adapts to challenges and grows?” = Long Story
“Is this about a cool idea I want to explore?” = Short Story

Writing with Style

This jumps back to the earlier post about JK Rowling being recently outed by her style, but there is a site that will analyze a few paragraphs of work and tell what famous author’s writing style the writing resembles.
I Write Like
Of course I have no idea what sort of algorithm is behind the decision, how many authors are covered, etc. so it’s not to be taken too seriously, but it can be fun, especially if given a few years worth of work. According to what I’ve done so far:
1st Novel – Dan Brown
2nd Novel – James Joyce
3rd Novel – P.G. Wodehouse
Quite an odd progression in style (and a bit hard to swallow, but interesting nonetheless). Style is like a fingerprint, it’s so unique that, even if similarities exist, no two people write alike. And, more enlightening, as writing reflects growth, no person writes like they did yesterday, which makes it so much better than a fingeprint.