I recently came across the first story I ever wrote. It was for a creative writing class that I took when I was eleven. I vaguely remember the story: It was during my Beanie Baby phase and of course, they came to life and we had adventures. I didn’t reread it, because I’m pretty sure I would cry (and not the happy kind). After all, it hails from way before I discovered all of the authors that taught me what a good book is made of. But there is something nostalgic about holding that folder, with it’s Lisa Frank stickers and being able to see the date, January 22, 1999, typed in the chunky font of my mother’s typewriter (which was bought shortly before I was born). And something satisfying in knowing that I’ve been writing for twelve years now. It makes me feel accomplished. I can still remember sitting at that little desk, covered in wood grain contact paper, staring at that tiny screen with its glowing green letters armed with nothing but an idea and a deadline.

How far I have come.

I use my own desk now. And I’ve learned that, while a good idea is of utmost importance there are a few other more mundane things that make a writer’s life a little easier.

Like a baby name book. I still remember the look on my mom’s face when she saw me with it for the first time. She of course had (and has) complete faith in me and knew that there was no way that I would actually be naming any babies (not yet at least), but she was really wondering why the heck I had that book. Of course, once she saw the notebook, she got four. It is perfect for when I need a name for a last minute character…or when I discover that all of my characters have names that begin with ‘A’. For my main characters, I like to rely on my reverse name dictionary. This one is great for when I have a character that I know a bit about, but don’t know their name (my leads usually introduce themselves). For example, let’s say I need a name for the sidekick, who will end up being the main characters closest friend–All I have to do is look up the word friend under the appropriate gender and I have a host of names to choose from.

I also have a dictionary and a thesaurus nearby. The dictionary is there is because sometimes I feel the need to double-check the meaning of a word and because when i come across a word I don’t know, I like to actually look it up. The thesaurus is for those times that I I realize that I’ve used the word “glare” six times in the last chapter. Simplicity is best, but there are words, like dazzling, that stand out. You don’t want to use them too often. If I feel I’m using a word too often I’ll look up a quick equivalent. It’s also useful for those times that I know exactly which word I want, but I can’t remember what that word is-but I can remember a synonym. Then it’s time for a word search.

Of course I have my stack of Writer’s Digest magazines…all but the last six months of them still waiting to be read. I know it’s horrible. I’ve always stunk at keeping up with my subscriptions (It was even worse when I subscribed to Dog Fancy right before I got my dog), but there’s SO much in them so I am trying to at least stay up-to-date. You can now find me walking around with the newest issue for about two weeks. I like to spread each issue out, helps me to warm-up for working on my book. As with a good book or a book on writing, these magazines make me want to write, no matter my mood. So obviously, I don’t usually get very far into an issue before I’m putting it aside.

And then there are a the books we all have. Reference books. Mine are mostly books on writing. Actually, mine are all on writing. All of my other research comes from library books because I’m a poor college student.  There’s the textbook from my creative writing class at UF. And the book on getting published that I now refuse to read even though it says “Read this before you start chapter one” (or something like that). Why? Because I read somewhere else that I shouldn’t read any publishing books until after I’ve written the first draft. But it was 40% off at Borders, so I don’t feel too bad. There’s also my B.I.A.M. book that I’ve restructured to do over the course of a year (because there’s no way I can pause my life for a month at this point, but I still like the structure). And then my two personal favorites: 45 Master Characters by Victoria Schmidt and The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein. The first caught my eye because it breaks things down into mythological dimensions and me being a mythology buff, had to have it. It’s been very thought provoking. The latter I bought because I seem to always have one character with some sort of mental illnessand it had a very good chapter on that. They turned out to be a well-spring in my character development process–from thought process to childhood memory to traits that fit the type (I was typing characters in TV and books for weeks afterward).  There used to be a shelf full of spiral bound notebooks also, but I got tired of them taking up valuable book space, so they’ve been boxed until I can get the story starts and the ideas typed into my computer.

Sadly all of this only takes about a shelf on my little desk-side bookshelf (of course, the other shelves are filled with novels, so maybe it’s not so sad). It won’t stay that way for long if I can help it, but right now it seems rather insignificant. And yet, this one small shelf probably tells you a lot about who I am and where I am as a writer.

What about you? What do you find near your writing spot? Or what tools do you have that you favor? And what do they say about you?