The tools of writing are very simple. While other arts like painting, sculpting, or gardening require investing in tools and materials, all that writing requires is means to take a record. Writers have their preferences, and as time goes on, more options become available. Each offers something unique to the experience of writing, and this has led people to stand by their favorite tools with fierce loyalty. Listed here are several of these tools and their general pros and cons.

Pencil

Early pencils (really early) were little more than charcoal sticks with a narrowed tip. Some were covered with clay to hold the core together and to protect the user’s hand.

Writing a manuscript by hand is a treasured method for many creative people, and pencils are one of the oldest writing implements still in use. In general, writing longhand is excellent because it requires a second, even third read-through before it can be presented to someone else for review. With each read, flaws in the manuscript are weeded out.

Pencils are a freeing tool because they write in any direction and are forgiving when it comes to different writers’ varying hand pressure and grip. With the addition of a reliable eraser, changes can be made with very little hassle. On the downside, graphite tends to smear without a certain treatment to the paper. After that treatment, erasing gets more difficult.

John Steinbeck was an avid pencil lover, and apparently started each of his writing sessions with 24 fresh pencils at his desk.

Pen

Some people collect these intricate little beauties. Fountain pens are both traditional and pretentiously expensive. Functional models won’t break the bank, but there are collectors who would dish serious cash for limited edition and/or discontinued models.

Use of a pen prevents smearing and ensures permanence, correcting the issues of the pencil. There are some options here, since pens are a piece of technology unto themselves, and they’ve been developed in different forms from a quill plucked from a turkey tail, to elaborate fountain pens, to the incredible variety of ball-point, gel, and felt pens of all kinds.

Fountain pens are very popular with writers, and most say they prefer it because the structure of the pen requires careful thought for each word. Some get a lot of comfort from writing with a tool that requires some maintenance and care. There’s something to be said for having a tool to care for and fuss over. One thing to watch for is getting too caught up in the tools and losing out on time spent putting the tool to work.

A personal favorite is the simple ballpoint pen. There are a ton of varieties out there, but as long as it puts ink smoothly on the page with minimal resistance and smudging, then go for it. They’re very quick-drying and cheap to get. Price on ballpoints is rarely an indication of quality since the best are often the ones that have the least bells and whistles.

Dictation

This creepy little illustration is of Milton, the author of Paradise Lost, dictating his later works to his daughters after he lost his eyesight. Fun fact about this guy, in the terms of his day, he was a real “pretentious sot”! Poor girls.

Dictating material has come a long way from the early years when authors like Milton relied on family to transcribe work from speech to paper. Milton was blind, so writing for himself was beyond him at that point. Now, computer programs exist to take a spoken line and record it as if someone had typed it directly.

This is an excellent method for getting down a first draft. People with the gift of gab or a knack for verbal storytelling would excel using this tool, though there is a difference between dictating and just speaking. Dictation programs aren’t the best at following every rule of writing, especially when it comes to the punctuation for prose. Formatting can take quite a bit of time after the first draft is churned out. Depending on the language used, dictation programs still have to be developed to better handle accents and inflections present in individual users’ language.

Typewriter

This nifty picture shows several models and the famous authors who used them. Thing about typewriters is there are thousands of different models. They’re pretty hipster now.

Many aspiring writers have only heard of these things or seen them romanticized by other writers. Yes, a typewriter has many advantages, the first being its place as the first mechanical writing device widely distributed for home use. Writing went faster with the help of the typewriter, and the technology used improved rapidly with new models, companies, and material. Still, copying was difficult, as was correcting any flaws in the manuscript. These machines came with a whole drawer full of tools to keep them going: oil, spare keys, inked tape, paper, carbon paper for copies, etc. For a mechanically minded person, a typewriter could be all they need to satisfy both their writing passion and their need to tinker.

Ernest Hemingway wrote many of his drafts using a typewriter, believing that as long as the first draft was more fun for the writer than the reader, then he might as well use the fun tool. He worked out other drafts using his pencil, grateful for the necessity of going over the draft at least two more times to weed out issues. This “longhand to type” method is often chosen by individuals who struggle with the editing process because it forces another look at the draft word by word.

Computer

Oh look! Someone took a picture of my desk! Just kidding. This could be a snapshot from the life of millions of modern writers. Editing is a breeze with a little digital know-how, thanks to search functions, track-changes, and organizational programs like yWriter and Scrivener.

These days, a computer is a lot of things to a lot of people. Having a word processor installed on a laptop or desktop is expected. This makes writing very easy, in terms of having the tools close at hand. Digital files are easily moved around from computer to computer via USB drives, and the internet allows for a wide range of services for writers looking for help on their work. Material can be reviewed, critiqued, professionally edited, and even published online.

The major drawback of work processed completely on the computer also comes from the internet. While this is an amazing tool, the freedom of access means that people everywhere can get on as well. Without careful precautions, original material can be corrupted by computer viruses, files can be lost during drive crashes, and material published online can be stolen and resold under someone else’s name. The risk vs. reward equation really belongs to the individual considering this option, though most traditional publishers now require manuscripts be submitted in digital format anyway.

Links/Research:

The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors | Flavorwire

  • pencils, index cards, pocket notebooks, comp books, fountain pen, Twain’s tabbed notebook (for finding the next blank page)

  • long: 3 different sights of it, change ink shows how much got written each day, slow down and think of each word (fountain)

  • type: more fun, even more for you and less for readers

  • dictating!

Writing Longhand vs Typing | Teaching Authors

Longhand vs. Laptop Notetaking | Journalists’ Resource

  • notetaking

4 Benefits of Writing by Hand | Mental Floss

A Defense of Writing Longhand | Lifehacker

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