Tools of the Trade

This week in class there is a lot of technical talk. Boring doesn’t even begin to describe it. All we’re getting this week are definitions and explanations of the different types of arguments. So rather than bore everyone to tears with all the technical stuff that doesn’t really apply to writing as much as some other aspects of the course, I’d like to take a minute to talk about the tools of the trade.

Which trade you ask? Well writing and online college. Surprisingly enough, the two use almost identical tools. There are a few big ones that truly matter and then some others that are optional but can definitely help.

The first thing you need is a computer of some sort. I write on a 13” MacBook Air that is my exclusive computer for school and writing. You absolutely do not NEED a $1700 computer. Any laptop or desktop you feel comfortable with and can afford works. I chose to go with Apple because most of my peripherals are Apple products. (I had an iPhone and an iPad already when the time came to purchase a new laptop.) There are great options out there now from Microsoft, Acer, Asus, and Google if you are looking for a laptop or tablet for portability and a traditional desktop PC set-up is another great, inexpensive option.

Notebooks are the next thing you’ll need. It’s been proven many times over that writing down your notes as opposed to typing them out will help you retain information better. There are millions of options out there so it’s best to figure out what will work for you. My current note taking set up for school consists of a 3” three ring binder with looseleaf paper and plenty of dividers. All of my dividers have pockets so anything I print out for class can be stored with my notes and contained accordingly. For writing, I like to keep a separate portable notebook, usually A5 sized, for each project. Story ideas that just randomly come to me have their own notes file on my iPhone using an app called Tick.

With the need for something to write in, comes the need for something to write with. Pens and pencils are a deeply personal choice but there are a few things to keep in mind. You will want writing utensils that don’t cause hand fatigue, so find something you can write with for long periods of time that won’t cause hand cramps. Pencils are pretty basic so I won’t go into huge detail on those. Gel pens are great if you need or want to write incredibly fast. The new Papermate InkJoy gels are lightning quick to write with and dry quickly. The same goes for the Zebra Sarasa gel pens. Both are excellent choices for lefties as well do to the fast ink drying time. If you prefer to write slower and at a more measured pace, felt tips are the way to go. Pigma Micron pens, Papermate Flairs, and Sharpie pens, are all great choices for felt tips. Of course, there are your traditional ball point pens (not my favorite option by any means but definitely usable if it’s your preference). Then, of course, there are fountain pens and dip pens but I don’t recommend either for full-time note-taking or writing; if that’s your thing though, go for it. You’ll forever have my unwavering respect for having that kind of patience.

So, those are your three main tools: a computer of some sort, writing utensils, and a place to take notes. There are some other useful things to have as well that aren’t necessities. One huge thing that I highly recommend everyone have is a secondary place to back up your work. Cloud storage, flash drives, external hard-drives, servers, etc. All are useful. The more places you can save your work the better. A planner is another great tool. If you are a regular reader of my column you know that I live and die by my planner. I cannot begin to explain how important it is. I would also like to recommend a comfortable space to work distraction-free, but that is unfortunately not feasible for everyone. The only way I get any quiet to write is if I work through the night when everyone is asleep and no one is waking past my house. (My dogs get very excited if they hear a butterfly flapping its wings 20 miles away, so you can imagine the noise level if a living, breathing entity is with in their line of sight.) 

The tools you use are incredibly important as a student and as a writer. Try lots of stuff and find a system that works for you.