There are five essential tools I have on my desk every day when I write — five tools that I cannot write without. They have not changed in many years and I suspect they never will. Why? Because they work. They get used every single day. All of them. And I look forward to seeing them every day when I get to my desk.
How about you? The holidays are over and well, maybe there are a few things on the list of gifts you wish you’d received. These always seem to be those that truly define you but that everyone else sees as wildly — and way too — practical right? Well, maybe you should get them for yourself. What would most help you to write memoir in the new year? I think I know. And I think if you think of these as retail therapy for your professional life, you’ll see your way clear to get them for yourself.
5 Tools That I Cannot Write Without
Roget’s Thesaurus. Do not even try to discuss with me using the one on your computer. No. Nope. Not a chance. Here’s why:
You are not merely searching for a substitute word when you consult the Thesaurus. Not if you want to write well. @mroachsmith
By the way, if you love Roget like I love Roget, you’ll want to read this book about Roget and the making of the Thesaurus, but it was while reading up on that one that I discovered that two clever women had written an award-winning kids’ book on Roget and his little book. Cool dogs, as we say in my house.
Bartlett’s Quotations. No, I do not begin my chapters with quotations. But many people do. And it’s fine. I use Bartlett’s to read what people far smarter than I think about what my book is about.
Huh? I know. Here’s how this goes. Once I know what my essay or radio piece, op-ed or book is about — mercy, justice, the precious process of learning the stages of grief, — I look up the word or key words related to my topic. This adds to the palette of my thinking, heightening and adding to what I already thought I knew about, say, justice, by reading a succinct quote by Homer or Milton or Angelou on my topic. It breaks open my brain a bit. It’s a great place to start thinking more broadly, widely, deeply and finely on what you want to write about.
A clipboard. This is a classic piece of hardware for me and I’ve been using the same particle-board clipboard for years. And I am amused to see they are still for sale everywhere. Apparently, I am not alone in my adoration of the clipboard. I clip a legal pad to it daily, on which I write the punch list of things to do and stand it up behind my computer, right there under my book argument. I cannot work without it.
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. This last one is deeply personal. You will choose something else, perhaps, though I can tell you that Emily won’t do your bit of harm. But maybe, instead, you’d like the poems of William Butler Yeats or Chase Twichell. Perhaps you are more of an aphorism person and like to start your day with a snappy saying. But have something close by that feels like yours and into which you can dip when you need a push, as well as a reminder, that writing is putting one word after another, and that other people knew this, did it, and lived to tell the tale.
This is not to say that my office does not more resemble the old Curiosity Shop than a sleek mid-century modern desk and chair set. I have previously written about the things that I keep at hand, specifically those reference books needed to write well. My office is cluttered with those things I use every day, but these, above, are the top five, those writing buddies I can reach without so much as swiveling my office chair.
What’s on your desk? Let’s help each other through the writing year by sharing what we need to write well.
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