Build Your Writing Life

What one thing—in your workspace, on your computer or otherwise—would your writing life not be the same without?

“I could not survive without music. My last two projects were written with specific playlists—one an entire album and the other cobbled together in my media player—to both stimulate mood and put me into the story much as the soundtrack to a film would.” —Liz Westmoreland

“I’m a writing books ‘bookaholic,’ so my writing life wouldn’t be the same without being surrounded by my wall-mounted bookshelves stuffed with my library of writing books.” —Judy Kimball

“Seriously: coffee. It’s psychological at this point, too. I don’t drink a lot, mind you—one or maybe two cups in the morning—but I won’t start writing until I’m sitting there with my full mug. And in the afternoon, if I am blocked, I head out to a coffee shop for an iced coffee and bring it home to drink, which gets me psyched up again.” —Linda Napikoski

“My ritual for writing a new story is to always handwrite—on white lined paper—the characters, setting and conflicts. I begin the first draft of the first page (and sometimes complete the story) on paper, before rewriting it on my PC. Then, the problems begin—I often can’t read my own writing!” —Sharon Miner

“I love to be surrounded by my favorite books. I use them as a reference if I’m stuck on a format or on a method of getting my point across.
“Let’s say I’m stuck on the beginning of my book, that first critical chapter: I’ve been known to scatter a few of my favorite books in front of me and look through the first few pages of each. I don’t use them to copy the idea, but instead as motivation and a source of enlightenment as to some different ways of presentation. It helps to get me ‘unstuck.’” —Michelle Reynoso

“The one thing in my workspace that my writing life would not be the same without is my iPod. I find music helps the scenes flow when writing, whether it’s Mozart’s ‘Greensleeves’ for the more peaceful bits or Avenged Sevenfold for the action scenes.” —Bridget R. Carr

“The one thing I could not write without is my organizational notebook. Into this notebook I’ve placed: bio sheets on each character so details remain constant; a family tree of characters showing their relationships to each other; maps, outlines of plot points and climaxes; a glossary of terms and names I’ve created; lists of words to use in name creation; and more. I print out all of these items, place them inside page protectors and then into a large three-ring-binder. I even carry this binder with me on vacation or weekends away. I also keep a file on my computer with all of the same information.” —Rebecca Russell

Dictionary and thesaurus aside, what’s your favorite go-to book or resource in your writing library, and why?

On Writing Well by William Zinsser and The Tao of Writing by Ralph L. Wahlstrom. Zinsser gives good solid information, and Wahlstrom helps me to think out of the box.” —A. Cer

“The one book that has helped bring my writing to the next level is Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. It was kind of like the secret weapon that transformed my writing from good to publishable. I recommend it to every writer I meet.” —Heather McCorkle

“My favorite book on writing is Jerry Jenkins’ Writing for the Soul. It helps me keep things in perspective, and there are many pieces of advice that make me into a better writer. When I first read Writing for the Soul, it confirmed some of the things I do in the process of writing and gave me more confidence in myself as a writer.
“My second is First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner. This book is a great framework for developing characters, scenes and plot methodically. Even though I am predominantly an organic writer, I borrow from this method, especially when developing my characters.” —Dianne G. Sagan

“A difficult one—hard to pick. If I absolutely have to, I’d say The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists by Andrew McAleer. Janet Evanovich’s How I Write is another favorite.” —Sierra Rose

“I’m editing a novel right now, and the book I’ve relied on the most is Write Tight by William Brohaugh. I’m amassing quite a collection of writing books, but that one helped me cut nearly 9,000 words. In order to be more precise, I have to mean what I say and say it clearly. After revision, the novel swelled like a tick, but now my word count is lower than the first draft.”  —Liz Westmoreland

“My favorite go to book in my library—and let me tell you I have a very large library—is my world history book, because I want to make sure that when I put down facts that they are true and not just made up. I know it is easy to just put down something that you think is right, but I want to make sure that it is factual.” —Thomas Reale

What writing rituals do you rely on—from the methodical to the quirky—to really get your creative juices flowing?

“I’ve got to have some type of obsessive disorder, because I clean my room while my dinosaur of a computer boots up. I pull up my comfy chair, shut the door, grab a glass of water and crank up the country music. I then sit, staring at a blank screen, trying against all doubt to convince myself I’m a writer.” —Sierra Rose

“One tool that often gets my creative juices flowing is Wordle at It’s a word cloud generator. I can put in some of my favorite words, or copy and paste the text of a poem or story. When the cloud is formed I see new relationships between the words—new startling images that I can then use to write a new poem or story.” —Shutta Crum

“I play a ‘what if’ game with myself. It can be focused on something in a picture, a history book, or a television show on the Discovery Channel or the History Channel. I think about a particular person mentioned or about a minor person on the sidelines of the action and wonder what their experience was.” —Dianne G. Sagan

“The first writing ritual I rely on is a nice glass of something indulgent—whether it’s a Caramel Apple Spice from Starbucks, red wine or a chocolate milk. The second is a bit more bizarre. Before I can begin, I must thread the wire for my iPod under my clothes so I don’t become tangled up in it while writing. I usually pop in the headphones for my Pod and take a deep drink of whatever I have next to the computer before I begin. I can write anywhere, anytime as long as I have those two necessities.” —Bridget R. Carr

“Once I have a story concept, the first thing I do to start a story is [try to better] understand my characters. I ask them questions and answer them in order to discover their secrets. I draw their portraits to visualize their appearance and how they dress. Once I fully understand the characters and all details have been recorded, I begin outlining a basic plot including the First Plot Point, Mid-Point, Second Plot Point and Ending. While I’m plotting and planning, I use Post-its on a wall in order to organize the plot. When I begin writing, the story ends up only slightly resembling all of the planning. But it’s a starting point and direction.” —Rebecca Russell

“This is kind of weird, but if I’m having trouble with a conversation between characters, or a speech by one of them, I’ll speak it. In the shower or while doing the dishes is the best time, because the activity is mindless and I can improvise. I used to do theater and drama in high school and college. I knew that unit on extemporaneous speaking would come in handy someday!” —Liz Westmoreland

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