So you want to write fiction or memoir. Where do you begin? And what creative writing tools do you need to accomplish your writing goals?
I’m afraid there’s no right answer to get started as a writer. Each writer comes to fiction in their own way. Whatever it is that draws you to a good story—a gut wrenching plot twist, a heroic protagonist, a likeable villain, a happy ending—is great because it helps keep your passion for storytelling alive.
But when it comes to the actual writing, the composition and craft, all the supposed experts in the field disagree on the right approach.
What a beginner needs is a good schooling in the basics, the foundations of creative writing.
In this series, I’ll go over the common tools experienced writers use to write great books so that you can get moving in the right direction.
7 Creative Writing Tools Every Writer Needs
But before we get to the basic tools you need, we have to know what tools are at a writer’s disposal. For a beginner, this is as good a place to start as any.
If you want to write books, you’ve got to read books. A whole freaking lot of it.
Start by reading any and every short story and novel you can get your hands on. Don’t worry about taking notes or thinking too much into the stories. Just read. Chances are, you’ve already done a lot of it. All writers come to writing through reading first.
Spend as much time as you can spare browsing new book stores, used book stores, and ebook stores. Free ebooks are a great resource that cost very little and they’re all over the place. There are a lot of great free titles out there, especially some of the classics that are in the public domain. Check out Project Gutenberg if your budget is tight.
Not sure what to read? Here's a list of ten books every writer should read based on genre.
2. Notebooks (or a Notetaking App)
Carry notebooks with you as often as you can. I like the solid dependability of a large Moleskine Classic, but buy whatever kind of notebook pleases you the most. This is your happy place.
And if you're not a notebook person, consider downloading a notetaking app to your phone or mobile device. You can use Evernote or Notion, but personally I just use the native Notes app on my iPhone. Wouldn't it be better to be writing, even if you're just doing it on your phone, rather than playing a phone game or scrolling through social media?
Immediately make a habit out of journaling. Write every day, even if it’s just about the weather or what you had for breakfast.
This is a judgment free zone, so don’t worry if what you write sucks or doesn’t make sense. Just fill the pages, and when you get to the end of that notebook buy another one, and then another, and then another.
When it becomes harder not to write than it is to write, you’ve accomplished your goal. You’ve made writing into a habit.
Journaling is all well and good, but it’s not very productive.
Once you start writing stories you’ll want to use a word processor. We’re beyond typewriters, so I don’t mean those. I mean word processing software.
With the rise in ebooks, doing things digitally first makes a lot of sense and saves you extra work anyways. Don’t commit yourself to the pain of writing longhand in the 21st century. Though writing longhand has its own therapeutic benefits, typing on a keyboard is much faster.
We have lots of book writing software we love at The Write Practice, but here are my top three:
- Best Word Processor for Writers: Scrivener. Scrivener changed my life as a writer. It’s easy to use, easy to keep organized, infinitely flexible, and for those long-term thinkers, you can compile straight to any format, including ebook formats that are ready to publish on Kindle and various other ebook platforms. It has character and setting sketch templates (we’ll go into more detail about character and setting sketches in the next two articles), it autosaves your work, and it rarely ever crashes (unlike the options above). I could go on for days about Scrivener. Instead, I recommend you check out The Write Practice's review of it here.
- Best Editing Tool: Google Docs. Google Docs allows you to quickly share your writing with editors and other writers. I do almost all of my writing and initial rewriters in Scrivener. But when it comes time to share my drafts for feedback, I move over to Google Docs because the real-time editing and suggesting features makes the process so much easier. Check out Google Docs here.
- Favorite Publishing and Book Formatting Tool: Vellum, but it's Mac only (close second: Atticus). Vellum allows you to take what you've written and create beautiful books quickly and easily. I personally have used it to design several of my books and client books, and I know so many other writers who use it to publish their books too. Check out Vellum here. There's just one problem: it's Mac only! So for the PC users, and if you want to experiment with the new kid in town, there's Atticus, which is a cloud based book formatting tool that has some upcoming features that might just make it better even than Vellum. Check out Atticus here.
- BONUS Best Book Promotion Tool: Bookfunnel. Once your book is published, Bookfunnel allows you to create instant landing pages to deliver your book to readers. They also have a native reading app that allows people to read your book once they have it, saving them from painfully migrating it to their Kindle or other reading app. Bookfunnel is useful for delivering your book to beta readers or your launch team, offering a free book or short story for email subscribers, doing book promotions with other authors, or even selling your book. I've gotten thousands of new readers through Bookfunnel and it's a great tool! Learn more about Bookfunnel here.
My advice here is the same as with Notebooks, above: use whatever makes you happy. You’ll be spending a lot of time here.
4. An Author Website and Email List
If you're ever going to publish your writing one day, you need to have an author website, a place where readers can find your work and sign up for your email list so they can be the first to hear when you publish new books.
Now, I know the idea of setting up a website can feel scary, but we've made it easy for you with this guide, 10 Steps to Building an Author Website. It will walk you through everything you need to do to build a great author website.
Don't forget your email list. It's honestly more important than the website alone, because it's the best way to stay in touch with your readers and share your work with them. Our favorite email newsletter tool is Convertkit. You can check out Convertkit here.
5. Grammar and Style Guides
Every writer needs a firm schooling in grammar do’s and don’ts as early as possible.
English grammar can take a lifetime to master, which is why there are these handy style guides you can keep around and reference while you’re doing your work.
These guides, plus a dictionary and a thesaurus (I like dictionary.com for those), are a must have for every writer’s toolbox.
I've written in detail about these three essential style guides for writers. But for easy linking, here they are again:
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- The Star Copy Style by The Kansas City Star
- Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
On top of learning about grammar and style from these books, you can use grammar checking tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid to make the editing process easier. Personally, we prefer ProWritingAid at The Write Practice. You can check it out here (and get a discount with the code WritePractice20).
Need more grammar help? My favorite tool that helps find grammar problems and even generates reports to help improve my writing is ProWritingAid. Works with Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and web browsers. Also, be sure to use my coupon code to get 20 percent off: WritePractice20
6. Study of Craft
Now that you’ve studied grammar, read the kind of fiction you want to write, kept a journal, and found the right software, you should take a step back and study the craft of writing fiction by reading some nonfiction books on the subject.
I’ve read dozens, but these are the ones that have taught me the most:
The best memoir on the subject.
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French
An absolutely indispensable guide to writing. Talk about nuts and bolts, this book has it.
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
James Scott Bell is a bestselling author and renowned teacher of writers. This book also introduced me to the LOCK method, which is a really handy tool.
Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran
I included this one because, while it’s extremely biased towards indie publishing, it provides an excellent overview of the modern publishing landscape for both fiction and nonfiction.
7. Writing Groups
Writing groups are my favorite tool of all. They’re a great way to meet other writers and put your skills to the test. Being a part of a writing group and workshopping your stories is, in my opinion, the absolute fastest and most surefire way to learn how to write fiction. Hundreds of MFA programs across the country agree.
Writing groups provide:
- Moral support. Other writers understand when you complain that writing is hard.
- Like-minded people. Share your hopes and dreams with like-minded people.
- Feedback. The invaluable critique that comes with workshopping manuscripts. They will give you honest feedback even when you don’t want to hear it.
- Healthy competition. Seeing other people produce work is the best motivation for a writer who is not writing.
I love writing groups and believe that every writer should have one in the early stages. Check Meetup.com or your local bookstore for one you can join, or join ours.
For years, we've been helping writers connect and get feedback on their work in our community, and we'd love to have you. Learn more about joining our writing group here.
However, one warning: if the writing group you find turns out to be a back-patting session, bail immediately. You’ll never learn anything if no one has the courage the tell you the truth, especially when it hurts.
How about you? What creative writing tools do you find are essential for your writing? Share in the comments section.
(Note: Some of the links above are affiliate links. Thanks!)
Now that you know what’s in the beginner’s toolbox, what do you do to practice? Here are five options.
- Read a novel or short story
- Write in your notebook
- Read a book on craft
- Study a style guide
- Find and attend a writing group
Share which option you chose and what you learned in the practice box below. Then respond to three other writers.
Enter your practice here: