Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable.
— Walter Benjamin, “13 Theses On Writing”
But of course, writing materials these days aren’t just papers, pens, and inks. I began aimlessly sketching what they are, for me, and ended up with this blog post.
A Clean Text Editor
For a decade I’ve been searching for a text editor that fit my needs. Typora is the closest thing to it: full screen, distraction free, with beautiful typography and WYSIWYG markdown formatting. It doesn’t handle footnotes well, and it has no citation manager integration, so it’s not much good for academic writing (I ended up writing my dissertation in Google Docs, for example); but for journalism and fiction, it’s perfect.
A Working Library
Ever since I posted about my personal canon, I’ve been feeling a certain amount of guilt toward my working library. This library comprises all the books I actually own (as opposed to the massive, circulating library of books I borrow from Boston College, the Boston Public Library, MITSFS, and etc.), and they are few. Once they were many, but since I live a light and nomadic lifestyle, I decided to relinquish my hundreds and hundreds of books and only keep those that I repeatedly use and wish to write in. I called it my Olde 100 for a while, since the rule was that it must comprise fewer than 100 books; but then the numbers kept dropping as I grew less sentimental and truer to my principle of possession. Now it comprises a slim, odd collection, mostly — I just now realized — of notebooks and hodgepodges and eccentric compendiums, probably because those are the books that inspire me to write my own things. Henry James’s Notebooks, Leopardi’s Zibaldone, Blanchot’s The Infinite Conversation, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Aristotle’s Complete Works, Montaigne’s Essays, Valéry’s Cahiers, that sort of thing. When I feel dry and uninspired, I page through one of these tomes and before I know it I’m issuing emergency flood warnings along the dry wash of my mind. I probably should have listed these books as my “personal canon,” rather than the list of books I most enjoyed in the last decade, which is how I came up with the books I did list.
A Journal and Writer’s Notebook
I keep a journal by hand in a Black’n’Red hardbound notebook, a crucial practice for mulching experience and processing ideas and whining about editors, bad friends, and myself. And I carry a Leuchtturm notebook for the graffiti of the moment, to catch the onslaught of thoughts that begin the moment I sit down anywhere outside my house.
Pens That Don’t Smear
Because I’m left-handed, I carefully purchase, hoard, and act suspiciously possessive about my Pilot G-2 .38 millimeter black pens, which are among the very few kinds of pen that don’t smear at my sinistrous handwriting. They’re mine, you can’t have them.
A Calendar and Stickers
Because I like to reward myself, like a child, visually, and at the wise behest of V.E. Schwab, I have a minimalist calendar and a set of dot stickers to mark how many reps of 500 words in a variety of categories I’ve managed to indite on a given day. Gives me, at a glance, a sense of my mechanical accomplishments over the course of a month. It’s also aesthetically pleasing (I think) hanging up there above my desk.
For outlining and making to do lists, and giving myself paper cuts. They’re great.
An .MP3 Recorder On My Phone
Because walking is mind laxative and you don’t want one grody spatter to go to waste. If I’m horrible at writing by hand when stationary and seated, I am utterly hopeless while on my feet and in motion. But I don’t have to handwrite on the hoof, thanks to the audio recording app on my smartphone. Most solitary walks, I fill five to fifteen minutes of an .mp3 with audio notes. (And have done ever since I discovered the intellectual uses of ambulation.) I came up with the ideas for and wrote on the hoof several paragraphs of this piece on video games for Real Life Mag, for example, as well as the first scene of the short story that got me into Clarion West. I understand that Kevin J. Anderson actually writes the first draft of most of his (many) books orally. If someone could just invent actually workable transcription software, this would be a perfect drafting solution for me as well. Spoken first drafts are a marvelous solution to that horrible blank page. Alternatively, I could just pull a Henry James and hire a hot Scottish typist to smolder and collate in the corner as I pace around dripping wisdom from my lips like honey.