The Tools of the Trade

By Paul Hobday

Writers I encounter often contend that the tools they work with are words themselves — structuring sentences, designing clever and evocative phrases, or building dialog to reveal a character’s depth. While I agree these are all implements in the author’s toolbox, they are not the only tools. When an author thinks of themselves as simply wordsmiths, they are not only selling themselves short, they handicap themselves.

Writing is both art and craft. It is the process of taking a known quantity (words) and making something new and compelling from them. What we should not discount are the tools we use to achieve this art.

When I think about my writing implements, a few specific tools come readily to mind:

  • My ever expanding collection of pens (I have a bad habit of stealing pens, I’m sorry).
  • An array of notebooks, ranging from $0.99 Staples 8.5x11’s full of detailed story notes and plotlines, to the leather-bound Moleskine I keep on hand for ideas.
  • My Laptop — a rather cheap 11” with a wonderfully “mechanical” keyboard and just enough processing power to write with, but not enough to allow me full-on Internet distraction.
  • My smartphone, whose “Notes” app overflows with snippets, sentences I don’t want to forget, and clever phrasings I think I might someday want to use.

My vocabulary is not a tool I imagine being in my toolbox. It is the medium I work with. I imagine, to a greater or lesser degree, all writers have a similar list of their primary tools. I’m sure some employ an audio recording device or use speech to text, some might even write long hand with a stylus and a tablet. The exact tools can vary.

Yet so often, I encounter writers who do not think of themselves as authors. The distinction, in my reckoning, is not a history of publication, but rather a deeper understanding of how to transition from “one who writes” to “one whose writing is read.” Publication is part of this, as we all strive for that joyous feeling of knowing someone else read and enjoyed the work springing from our minds. What often goes unnoticed, or unappreciated, is the craftwork the writer (and the writer’s tools) put into organizing words in compelling ways.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in writing workshops and working in self-publishing, and the primary take-away from this experience (other than the heart-warming knowledge that so many writers and authors live among us) is that many of us are working with imperfect knowledge of the tools we operate. Imagine a pilot who knows only the basic principles of flying, or the carpenter who can swing a hammer, but knows nothing about how to properly frame a window or build a wall.

We cannot hope to work at our best, or produce our best work, unless we commit to knowing our stuff. This means, in part, appreciating our toolbox, from the pens we scribble notes with, to the computer we draft and edit on, to the very words we use.

To that end, I would encourage all writers to stop and consider their tools. To spend the time learning the ins and outs of their software, to contemplate the mindset writing long hand engenders versus typing. Over the following weeks, we’ll look more closely at the tools I use to write every day, and how they influence me as a writer.

Paul Hobday, born in Vermont and currently residing in North Carolina, likes to write character driven fiction. He enjoys reading anything interesting, but lately has been on a sci-fi and fantasy kick. He writes mostly in the evening, though he writes best in the morning. He enjoys cats, spring rains, and movies about time travel. When he is not writing or reading, he’s generally at work or asleep.

Chair & Pen publishes stories on the writing process and the writing life. It is edited and curated by Writing Coach Annalisa Parent. To learn more about how to work with Annalisa, visit

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