The Essential Guide for the Care & Maintenance of Your Writing Tools

by Jenna Kalinsky

Writers: are we ever lucky! (Not a phrase you either say or hear very often, right?) But when it comes to the tools we need to get our writing done, they are few, which makes getting our work done a lot easier.

Those poor visual artists — all those paints! The canvases! And sculptors — source any slabs of marble lately? What a hassle!

While writers may like having a slanket, a roaring fire, a fluffy dog at our feet or a hot drink by our side, in truth, we only need something to write with or on, and we’re good to go. Not only are we on trend with our minimalistic approach, we’re also highly portable, making us the kind of artist who can drop and produce at any time, from anywhere, and with no fuss.

See? We are so lucky!

And, since we have so few actual tools to worry about, we have no excuse for not taking anything less than stellar care of them.

hammer and wrench on wood
  1. Laptop or computer
  2. Paper and pen
  3. Your posture
  4. Your body
  5. Your mental health.
spiral notebook with pen and writing
  • Like your body, your beautiful machine needs to be kept clean.

Wipe it down often with a cleaning spray designed for computer screens or glasses. Be sure to get in-between the keys for any crumbs or smudges. Not only will this keep things ticking along (no stuck “j’s” on your watch!), working on a unit covered in smudges or lunch is dispiriting. Clean up on Aisle 7!

  • Give It a Tune Up:

Once a month:

  • Organize your files. Delete downloads, categorize your MS Office docs, and drag random things into folders.
  • Back up your hard drive up to an external hard drive. *It’s an annoyance, but a necessary one. Imagine losing everything? Fear is a terrific motivator to haul the machine out.

Once a week:

website home page for One Lit Place
  • Clear your cache (in Chrome it’s under “Chrome” –> clear browsing data –> clear data)
  • Reduce your visual clutter and the burden on your computer’s operating system by using One Tab (a browser extension in Chrome).
  • Like a digital vacuum cleaner, it sucks all of the many tabs you have open into one tidy tab, preventing all those open tabs from continuing to drain the life out of your operating system and helping you Marie Kondo your workspace.

*Watch the quick tutorial video I made on how to do this HERE.

blank journal with pencil

Paper: You’re past the point of doodling on napkins (though if that’s all you’ve got, go for it!) Get a notebook (or a few) that work for your hand placement and writing preferences (spiral vs. bound; hard cover vs. soft, etc.).

Comp notebooks from the dollar store, reporter style or journals from the bookshop, old school steno pads in yellow or white (Jennifer Egan is a fan) or a classic moleskin- they’re all great.

Find what you like and sprinkle them throughout your house and one in your bag. (That’s for everyone; if you don’t have a bag, it’s time to get one!)

Pen: find a type you love and get several. Digital storyteller and video producer Adam Caplan at Web.isod.es adores fat funky pens from Germany. He buys them by the box, and they’re his “thing.” They make him happy, and everyone knows a happy writer writes more.

My sister gave me an engraved pen. A pen made with love is a good pen with good energy. I love using it. But I also adore gel pens and particularly ones that make refill cartridges so I can still look out for the environment.

wood chair alone against a wall

Bad posture, or worse, slouching, is the enemy of the writer. Align your computer so it’s up at eye level, and your keyboard so it’s even with your wrists. Strengthen your back and core muscles with daily exercise, from gentle to vigorous, and lift weights. Doesn’t have to be a lot of exercise or heavy weights. But it’s critical you keep your upper half strong so you can let the ideas flow through you properly.

If you suffer from back, neck, or wrist pain, are a sloucher, or simply want a body tune-up, seek out a professional who can guide you with a few sessions as to the best ways to hold yourself to good posture and stay strong, or read our blog on correct exercises and body alignment for writers with infographic.

Want a person to help you? Former professional violist Karen Moffatt of Kettlebell Wellness is a postural therapist who specializes in Egoscue Postural Alignment and helps straighten people all over the world by Zoom. But any Pilates or yoga teacher will also be able to set you straight.

two hands making peace sign

Photo credit Pris

Your body is your most important tool, and it’s vital you keep it agile (literally). Walk, dance, make it move. Get up and jiggle your blood every 20 minutes (set a timer, put up a Post-it note). Consider it a palate cleanser to keep your mind fresh.

Eat well and conscientiously. Follow what writer and environmentalist Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And while writing, try to keep it light and nutritious. Junk food goes down so smooth at first, especially if you’re having a rough writing day, but if you’re concentrating on your work, it’s easy to eat too much without even tasting it and end up feeling unwell. Same with wine. Best to wait so you can enjoy your special pleasures as a reward for a job well done.

Remember your eyes! Make sure your glasses are clean (use the same spray you’d use for your computer) and serving you. Have you had your eyes checked lately?

Your hands and wrists- if they bother you, or even if they don’t, enjoy our modern era and use the dictation feature on your computer or phone!

  • Google Docs: go to “Tools –> Voice typing
  • On a Mac, press the function (fn) button in the lower left corner twice to spark the dictation feature
  • On your phone, go into the Notes app, and use the microphone button there.
pad of paper with pen and espresso

Writing is a lonely business, so to nurture your soul, spirit, life force, and overall mental health, do all you can to surround yourself with people like you:

a) To normalize what you live every day and who you are

b) Because it’s fun, stimulating, and affirming to connect with people like you!

Join or create an accountability group or networking group for writers (like our private and very welcoming group on Facebook, the One Lit Place Writers Lounge), work with a writing coach to power into your process and/or help you make strides on a project, or simply hang out with friends to enjoy general good camaraderie.

Another fun way of caring for your mental health is to give yourself something to look forward to such as an upcoming writers’ conference or residency. The lovely anticipation of being in the company of peers and geeking out together in that very special way you can’t do with non-writers is often enough to pull us through the harder times of writing alone.

Taking care of your tools isn’t only a necessity; it’s a reinforcement that you are a professional (even if you’re a hobbyist, you will feel stronger, taller, and more convicted of your purpose and your work), and it shows you — and by extension the world — that you mean business. And that will filter into all the writing you do.

With love,

Jenna

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Jenna Kalinsky

Jenna is a writer, writing coach and editor, and Founding Director of One Lit Place: a full-service writers’ center. onelitplace.com