Friday, October 2, 2009

Writing Helps that Won't Break the Bank

Let's face it. If you go into this writing profession expecting to become rich and famous you'll probably be sorely disappointed. Most writers keep their day jobs.

We usually can't go out and by the latest MacBook or expensive writing desk. But don't let this discourage you! There are so many cheap (or free) writing helps that can make the journey a little easier. Here are a few I've found:

1. Google Maps

I can't tell you how excited I was when editing my novel to realize I could actually see the street view of where I wanted to set my scenes. Not every street is available, but in major cities they are. In one scene, I had a character who traveled to the Albuquerque Greyhound bus stop. I looked it up on Google Maps and was actually able to see the Alvarado Transportation Center. This prompted me to research the place a little more and add some description I wouldn't have known to include otherwise. We're no longer limited if we can't travel to where our stories take place!

2. Writing Notebook

When I get stuck in a story (and let's face it, all writers do), often I'll get away from the computer, pull out my notebook, and just start talking to myself on paper. There's something about holding a pen in hand that gets the creative juices flowing better than typing. Maybe because it forces me to slow down and think since I can't write with a pen as fast as I can think, or type.

I also have this new ritual. For casual notes a legal pad will do, but when I start a new novel I go out and buy a nice notebook. Last time it was a $9.99 leather one at Barnes and Noble. Then I'll use my "novel notebook" and try to figure out what story I want to write next, usually asking myself the question, "What I really want to write about is ..." and then writing down my response. It's fun to go back and read these and see if I kept true to my gut responses.

3. Laptop Desk

I don't have an office, or even a real desk I use for writing. I wish I did, but money and space don't allow for it right now. But that's okay. A couple years ago I bought an $80.00 fold-able laptop desk that can slip behind my dresser or in a corner. I couldn't find the exact one I got, but Target's selling one for an affordable $49.99 here.

4. Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Someone beat me to the punch on this one, but I highly recommend this book too. If you can only buy one writing how-to book, this is the one I'd suggest.

Can't afford a pricey writer's conference? Do family responsibilities keep you from traveling? No problem. James Scott Bell's latest book is the perfect solution. Like a week-long writing course, Bell covers it all in easy-to-read chapters. From the Top 20 Ways to Get Hundreds of Plot Ideas to Stretching the Tension, I'd recommend Plot & Structure to beginning writers for its soup-to-nuts approach, but it's also a must-read for veterans. The advice is timeless. It's available for $11.55 at

The point is, you don't have to have top-of-the-line equipment to make it in this biz. Your brain is the most important asset. If you can dream and imagine, then you can succeed as a writer.


  1. Great tips CJ. Although, you forgot to mention that once you get going with Google Maps street view, it can easily suck up more time than a black hole so should be approached with eiter extreme caution or extreme discipline. :)

  2. I can't wait to go on Google maps! Thanks for the link. :)