• S.M. Ryan

My Writing Tool Kit & 3 Tips on Building Your Own

I always hated the question: "What's the one thing you'd bring to a deserted island?" First of all, I refuse to pick one thing. I also refuse to go to the island.

Here's the thing, even when I was a kid I knew that when someone asked, "What's one thing you would you bring with you to a deserted island?" it was less about what you picked and more about why you picked it, and then what that thing somehow said about you as a person.


The thing is, I hate this question.


Like, first of all, why am I on this island? How did I get here? How the fuck did I manage to get here by myself at all? If this was planned, why the fuck am I only bringing ONE thing?


It's a stupid fucking question.


Also, as an introvert, best believe if I'm going to a deserted island for an allotted amount of time it's entirely intentional, well planned, and, obviously, I'm going to overpack.


Even though I hate this question, I like it better when I pose my version of it.


What would you bring with you on a deserted island writing retreat to bring out your best creative self?

Like I said, if I'm going to a deserted island, it's with bells on and an over-packed bag.


When I first started leaning into my writing again and wanting to take it seriously I wasn't any different than any other newbie writer who feels like we need all of the things in order to make us good writers. I also had a tight grip on the idea that I needed a specific environment set in a certain way or I wouldn't be able to access the creative part of me.


Obviously, I learned otherwise over time but it was a process of shedding what I thought I needed v what I really needed to get the job done.


It helped that at the time, I'd been looking into writing retreats and trying to figure out what I would realistically pack without being labeled the writing retreat weirdo who doubles as the supply closet for the guests.


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Now, I was never trying to find an all-in-one solution to the first dumb-ass version of the question. Instead, I decided to narrow it down to the things that truly made a difference for me, and as long as it was something I could bring with me -- again without being the obnoxious one -- it made the list.


Here's what my packing list would look like right now --


My typewriter-style keyboard

I mean, can you blame me? It gives me typewriter vibes and while it's not the quietest keyboard it is one that inspires me.


When I look at it, I want to use it. I want a reason to use it. I want more of the keys to be worn from being used, letters rubbed off, and having to call the company to buy a new set of keys to replace the old.


The keyboard obviously makes the words happen, but I LOVE using it to make the words happen and what's more important --it inspires me to keep coming back.




Journals

If you're a writer, you likely have a spot in your home with old journals you don't really want to look at but you know you're not going to throw away.


I never thought I'd be one of those people who used more than one journal at a time but I've come to understand the benefits of having more than one journal but I like to cap it at two.

One for my everyday thoughts and journaling needs that is part of my daily ritual.

The second one is equally as important because it's a journal that's specifically for my project.


Do I need a special journal for my project? Well technically no. But it helps me to have a dedicated space where I can vent about my project in a good or bad way - you know whatever moves the creative muse - as part of my writing routine because it helps me build a healthy relationship with my project in a way that helps me actually finish it.


Writing a book, especially fiction, is a lot like building a new relationship. If we don't work out the bad vibes between us why would I come back? Having a second journal helps me work through these things and it's an underrated writing hack for me.



Coffee

I'm not even going to explain this one.


if you have spent any time on any of my platforms at all then you already know I need my cup of coffee while I work. At this point, it's less about the caffeine and more about satisfying my taste buds and the ritual of making the coffee and having something warm and sweet that really does it for me.


Candles

While I may have had to learn how to pack light and that there's no such thing as a perfect environment that can also travel with you -- candles are as close as I can get and recently I have found a candle company I absolutely LOVE for so many reasons beyond how good they smell.


Lighting a candle to burn through my writing or work session is a part of my ritual that helps to ground me and set the vibe -- because when has a candle not set the perfect vibe?


Creative Energy Refills

Having some creative hobbies I can lean into during a big project helps me refill and have fun while still being creative. Flexing my creative energy with sewing, painting, sculpting, or even just creating my weekly bullet journal spreads, helps me do something creative in a pressure-free way.


Creative refills allow my writing mind to rest and recharge so I can keep going without burning out the tank.


Movement & Meditation

Something that's important but not entirely tangible is my routine of yoga and deep stretching. It's not something I'd pack technically, but you get the idea.


Writing involves a lot of sitting or standing but rarely much else when you're working to get the words out. Keeping movement in my routine lends to my ability to be able to be comfortable and keep sitting for long periods of time to get the words out.


I'm not sure you can name a single writer who could write while being uncomfortable.

Meditation usually follows after bodywork for me and has become important in helping me clear my head, ground myself in my story, and dive in with more ease.


Scrivener & MS Word

My favorite programs to use are the basics which are Scrivener and MS word.


Once I find a program I like, I stick to it and rarely do I want to try something new. While I do alternate my writing between a notebook and a writing program sometimes, I could never write an entire novel or even a novella by hand, so I rely on my two favorite programs.


Within them is also a saving file that goes to a backup cloud to ensure I don't lose my work so it's like a two in one and I love the ease.


Strategic Breaks

Something it took me some time to learn is just because I can - doesn't mean I should.


Just because I have the energy to write for more than four hours before taking a break doesn't mean I should let myself run dry before I take a break to check in.


Including breaks in my day and especially during a longer writing session helps me in the delicate balance between energy and creative energy to keep moving through.


Planning ahead

While I don't plan my stories out very much -- I've tried a lot of ways it just doesn't work -- I do plan everything else around my writing sessions.


I also plan the hell out of my writing sessions to help me keep focused on the writing part.


Writing takes a lot of mental energy because it pulls not only on our creative energy but requires as much of our decision-making capacity as possible, which you may know on any given day does have a limit.


As an attempt to hack my way out of decision-making fatigue, instead of planning out my story ahead of time, I plan everything else. The time I'm going to walk the dog. Exactly what I'll eat on meal and snack breaks, exactly what I'll wear for the day -- all of it. It gives me less to think and decide about and creates room for me to daydream and brainstorm while I get ready to settle in for the session instead.


Silence

One of the most important tools that aren't so easily packed is my deep desire nad innate need for silence.


While I realize a lot of people would list headphones and a playlist as part of their toolbox, there was a time I would have listed that too, the more I realized that for me I was using music as white noise whee I couldn't find silence.


Not only is it lighter to pack than headphones or a mini speaker, but it allows me to listen deeper to my thoughts, sink in, and get really into my story without any distraction. Though if I have to pick any sounds at all, I will say binaural beats are really my thing.

 

Constructing your arsenal, or writing toolbox doesn't have to be complicated and it doesn't have to look like anyone else's.


You may even wonder why you need one at all and maybe you don't but maybe you also already have one and don't realize it?


Your writing toolbox is comprised of only the things you truly require to support yourself to be the best writer you can be when you sit down to get the work done.


If you're looking to construct your own, here are the 3 things I think it takes to make up a great personalized writing toolkit. Truly though, it may help to think of it as packing to go on your dream writing retreat which can be to some part of my deserted island if you'd like to come.



1. Inspiration & Motivation

Two things that can be hard to find when you're elbow-deep in your project are inspiration and motivation.


When building your writing arsenal, I think it's worth it to include things - tangible or not - that would help you maintain the feeling of inspiration and drive to get through the project.


Writing is hard, no surprise, nothing new. If you have a favorite quote, a mood board, a list of milestones and corresponding rewards, a favorite thing to wear, or a gift that has nothing to do with writing at all, or even your favorite book -- it's worth adding to your arsenal to have as support when you're running low on the will to write.


Inspiration and motivation come from a lot of different places and things, so there's no reason you can't cultivate it and bring it with you.


2. Comfort

Comfort isn't always a fluffy blanket, warm socks, and the right chair - if it is, that's fine I'm not here to tell you what to do.


My version of comfort is found in movement, and journaling, and silence, but it's also found in my robes and pajamas I call "work clothes".


Comfort is anything that helps you feel grounded, more at home, more at ease.

Again, name me one writer who got a novel done while uncomfortable in any way.


Whatever it is that helps you feel grounded, and relaxed enough to climb into your imagination may be the underrated thing you need to include, and protect, in your writing toolbox.



3. Balance

While I think it's easy to get swept up in choosing the things that will keep us going when we embark on a project, I think it's equally as important to include the things that help us slow down, take a breath, and check in every now and again.


This can look like planned breaks, creative projects, reading a book alongside working on your project, a standing regular date with a friend -- whatever it is -- at its core helps ground you back to yourself, and helps you hold off that burned-out feeling and keep your head in the proverbial writing game.


 

Do you have a writing toolkit? Favorite things that have become an integral part of your writing ritual or routine?




 

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