At the Kirkus Writers’ Center, we spend a lot of time asking ourselves what authors need. Whether we’re investigating what you need to write a bestseller, how to increase sales between books, or this year’s best ways for marketing your book, it’s always a deep dive into the publishing world.
But sometimes we forget the simpler things writers need that can make their writing easier, faster, and better—in lots of ways.
So what else does a writer need? Well, it’s a good thing you asked.
Having a notebook handy is useful when you’re jotting down notes, brainstorming a plot, or writing down a great idea that strikes you at an inopportune time. In a pinch, a phone will absolutely do. (I have a separate email folder filled with ideas and strange little jottings I’ve made over the years.) What’s important is to ensure that you have a means of taking down notes or ideas wherever you go. Except for the shower, of course. That’s where the best ideas happen before swiftly being rinsed down the drain.
A really good thesaurus
I’m not actually kidding myself and expecting that all writers have a full-size thesaurus and dictionary (I admittedly do). But they’re super useful, even if you use an online thesaurus. All of us are guilty of recycling our favorite words, phrases, and thoughts. A thesaurus provides you with fresh, often underused or forgotten words that not only mean something similar but are potentially even more fitting. Who wouldn’t opt for splendiferous in place of great? Sometimes our brains default to the easiest word, and having options will not only stretch your vocabulary and inspire you with different words, but it’ll help train you to avoid becoming too dependent on particular words.
A fab place to work
Whether you have a super chill home office, a swank desk in your bedroom, or a beloved coffee shop, pub, or library, creating a regular writing practice often depends on just sitting down to write. If you have an office space you enjoy, aim for a window or some kind of vista where you can happily gaze off into the distance while your brain churns out sentences and plots. A great working environment can mean the difference between wanting to write and wanting to run away from writing.
But it’s not just location. Try to find a writing desk you love (I have a vintage mahogany desk rescued from a friend’s office, and I love it every day) and a comfortable place to sit. Just writing for a few minutes a day or a few hours a week? You can probably get away with something inexpensive and not super comfortable. Parking your butt in the chair every day (or close to it) for hours upon hours? Give yourself the gift of a good quality chair. Your body will thank you for it.
Patience and perseverance
Look, not every writing day is a good one. Sometimes the words come in a rush, and when they do show up, the words are bad. Sometimes they don’t come at all, and the two sentences you’ve managed are still bad. And then occasionally you have those magical days where you hit that glorious sweet spot.
One of the best tools a writer can have is finding patience for it all. The patience to persevere, to stick it out. To let the process of writing unfold and to understand that sometimes fame and fortune or even recognition take a little time to show up . . . if they come at all. You’ll have days when you want to quit or when it’s just hard. Or when money gets tight and you wonder whether it’s just time to throw in the proverbial towel. Patience goes a long way, and perseverance helps you get there.
In order to write well, you need a reasonably functioning brain. And in order to have said reasonably functional brain, it needs resources. Never write on an empty stomach if you have a choice. Make sure you eat regularly. Not great at prepping food midwriting? Ensure your fridge is stocked with easy-to-prep or nutritious ready-to-eat foods for those days when you just don’t have the luxury of stopping to prepare food.
A good support system
Having supportive friends or family can mean a world of difference to anyone who chooses to become a writer. When you’re surrounded by people encouraging you and supporting you, you feel like you can conquer the world. More importantly, that support system can offer you innumerable benefits, such as proofing your manuscripts, buying your books, chatting your books up to others, and keeping you from quitting when things get rough. Sometimes these are the people who make sure you eat and have clean laundry. Sometimes these are the people who take you for a drink after your zillionth rejection. Find your people. They’ll keep you going in the right direction.
A sense of adventure
To nonwriters, writing looks like the easiest job ever. Sit down, write sentences, and voilà! A book. Only it’s rarely that simple. Writing requires a lot of work. And yet—ironically, given the solitary nature of the vocation—it requires serious character. It’s easy to give up, walk away, or tell everyone it’s just too hard. Few jobs demand we crawl into our heads with an ice cream scoop, grab some of the material sitting there, and serve it up in such a way that people want to consume it. There is no greater wilderness than the one in our heads, and getting lost is uncomfortably easy. Plus, there are few professions with such varying degrees of income and popularity.
A sense of adventure—at least mentally—isn’t just a “nice to have.” It’s a necessity.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.