Writers ask writers: Tools of the Trade

For November’s “Writers Ask Writers” post, we are discussing our ‘tools of the trade’. We are joined by Angela Savage, an author I met recently at the Brisbane Writers Festival.

144891357_2449343cfd_mAngela is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlett Stiletto Award and has twice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards.

Her latest novel is The Dying Beach.

You can read more about Angela and her books here.


One of the best things about writing is that it doesn’t require many tools: the words come from within us, and we simply need a method of recording them. But there are few things that, over the years, have made it into my toolbox:


I write in various places: my local library and cafes while my children are at home with a babysitter, and at home while they sleep. I write straight onto my computer, and love my laptop for its portability.


At the start of each new novel, I buy myself a new notebook to keep everything together. I use it to jot down ideas, plot points, problems, time line issues, research etc. Once I’ve solved a problem, I score it out so that when I flick through the pages, I can find the issues that I still need to fix, and ideas that I’ve had. I keep this notebook with me at all times, including next to the bed at night, so that if ever I have an idea, I can quickly jot it down then go to the computer the following day and use it to write.


For those of you who don’t know, this is a programme designed specifically for writers. I didn’t use it when I was writing Fractured. For that novel, I wrote in Word, but then when I go to the end of my 100000 word+ draft, it was very tricky to move scenes around and find my place.  So, for my second novel, I wrote each scene in Scrivener, up until my third draft, which is when I felt that I had the structure of the book almost right. For some reason, I still prefer the ‘look’ of Word and the editing and formatting ability, so I’m currently using that as I fine-tune the book.


When I’m writing, I try not to read too many other novels with similar themes to what I’m writing: I worry that I’ll either unconsciously steal ideas or phrases from the other writer, or that I’ll feel restricted because I’m worrying about using others’ intellectual property. When I edit, though, these are the books on my desk:


My Macquarie Dictionary. I look up words that I’m unsure of, and am often amazed to learn that words don’t mean what I think they do or that I’m using them in the wrong context!






My Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. I love this thesaurus. I try not to use it too often, as I don’t like to use worlds in my writing that I don’t often use in everyday writing (I hate reading books that make me feel dumb for not knowing the meaning of unusual words), but sometimes I do need to try and find another word to replace one I’ve used over and over. What’s great about this thesaurus it includes lots of mini-essays by writers (Including Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace and Simon Winchester). It also has paragraphs explaining which word is right in which context (e.g. knowledge-v-information-v-scholarship-v-learning-v-erudition-v-pedantry-v-wisdom) and lists of subtypes of words, e.g. 38 types of windows, over 40 names of wines and teas!

I had the pleasure of doing a grammar workshop a few years ago with Mark Tredinnik and use these two books regularly: his Little Red Writing Book and Little Green Grammar Book.




If I write in the morning, a strong flat white. If I write in the evening once the children have fallen asleep, a big glass of wine.

Now read about what these other authors use as their tools of the trade:

Our guest blogger, Angela Savage, whose writing tools are ‘so basic, they’re almost quaint’…

Annabel Smith, who lists some practical things (including chocolate!) but for whom the most important tools are the ‘intangible things like inspiration and time to write’…

Amanda Curtin who has a love of stationary, except when her late cat, Daisy, ate it all…

Sara Foster, who mentions that all important tool: a babysitter!

Natasha Lester, who also uses Scrivener as ‘her most loved tool’

Emma Chapman, whose heart races at a trip to the stationary shop…


6 thoughts on “Writers ask writers: Tools of the Trade”

  • I know what you mean about using the thesaurus. I was recently re-reading The Corrections and had to look up the word ‘gubernatorial’. I wondered why Franzen would choose to use a word which he must know almost no one will know the meaning of.

    • Hi Annabel,

      That must have been a word I skipped over when I read The Corrections! I hate having to look words up – some other authors who’ve done the same as Franzen are Lionel Shriver and Donna Tartt. It can be very irritating as it pulls me out of the story and I become irritated rather than impressed!


  • I like the idea of the thesaurus giving the use of the word in context because sometimes I discover that a word doesn’t mean exactly what I had thought it did, so the context is always useful. Hop you’re having fun in Cape Town too!

  • I love both of those books by Mark Tredinnick, and I love that they’re by an Australian. The ‘Little Green Book’ is as useful as Strunk and White, I believe, and the ‘Little Red Book’ is just beautiful to read. In fact, I think they should be in every writer’s toolbox, especially beginners.