Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Every tradesman treasures his tools. We writers are no different. Several years ago, one of my children asked me, “If we had a fire, what would you grab?” I answered without hesitation. My computer. My kids have razzed me about that ever since. I told them it was because of all the family photos I have stored on it but they weren’t buying that. They knew it was one of the tools of the trade.
Aside from our physical tools, though, there are a number of systems we develop that are also tools of the trade. One of my clients just sent a color-coded synopsis– her writing map. It’s the tool she uses to work her way through the book
Back when I was actively writing I depended on my systems. When I began a new book, the first thing I would do was set up a binder. My book, Almost Home, that told the story of Mary Chilton of the Mayflower started out with the working title, The Mayflower Nanny. (We say it all the time– don’t get attached to your working title.)
As I began to gather resources and do research I’d take copious notes and those went into the binder. Sometimes the notes would be on odd scraps of paper or napkins so I always made sure my binder had pockets. With this book, which ended up getting an endorsement from the Mayflower Society, I knew I had to be exacting. Those who love this event in American history know every grain of wheat and pea that was loaded onto the ship. A writer had better not get a single detail wrong.
Because there were over 100 souls aboard the ship– most well-documented– I needed to keep track of who they were, in which family groups they began the journey, in which family groups they ended the story, who died, who had babies, where the orphans went and who comprised the two different groups onboard–the “saints” and the “strangers.” That took a complicated character chart. My spreadsheet was over two feet long. This complicated a character chart would not be necessary outside of historical fiction, of course, unless the author were doing a family saga series.
Reference photos are important as well– for the author as he writes but also for the editor to eventually pass on to the cover designers. With this book I took a trip to Plymouth Plantation and took photos of the historical interpreter who portrayed my character. She was perfect.
Those are just a few tools of the trade I used.
A writer of nonfiction uses a whole different set of tools– especially photocopied pages along with the title page for reference in compiling the footnotes and sources.
How about you? What are your tools and systems? How do you manage to keep it all straight? Share your own tools of the trade with us.
A YA historical novelist shares some of her tools of the trade. Click to Tweet
As a writer, what are your tools of the trade? Click to Tweet