A Writer’s Tools and a Writer’s Process

Guest Blogger: Carla Neggers

Thanks for having me here, Janice!

Early in my career, I bought my first computer and started typing. Ah. I was in love. It was far more complicated and unreliable than computers are today, and, sure enough, one day I turned it on and got gobbledygook. I called my local computer guy, who’d sold it to me, and he said, “What did you do?”

What did I do?

I wanted to know what it did. Basically he said he didn’t know and that everything I’d typed was indeed gone forever.

“These things happen,” he said.

I turned off the computer, put it back in its box and got out pads of paper and my old IBM Selectric typewriter. I loved my Selectric. I remember what an advance it was to have lift-off correction tape. I was always too impatient for White-Out.

I never did go back to my gobbledygook computer but I bought a new one and we made an uneasy peace. Backing up files was easier and more reliable, and freezing and gobbledygook were less common. Solitaire and then AOL were the big distractions. Now? Distractions abound. We all know what they are. Hey, I just spent ten minutes printing out seven different recipes for chicken soup.

The new “full screen” feature in Microsoft Word helps tame the temptation to look at photos of Ireland or see if I have a new email from HGTV, but there’s nothing quite like turning everything off and sitting on my project table with my pads, pens and pencils. I gave up my Selectric but not my paper. It’s not so much about avoiding distractions as it is about the writing itself. Last September I spent three weeks in an Irish cottage with Rhodia pads (lined and graph), twenty different pens and pencils and no computer as I worked on SAINT’S GATE, my upcoming novel.

A few years ago, I ran into a writer who was writing furiously with a black Bic pen on college-ruled notebook paper. He said that writing longhand is far more efficient for him—that the permanent “soft sentence” of composing on the computer lends itself to a lot more spew and he does more internal editing with pen and paper.

Another writer I know writes certain kinds of scenes longhand and certain kinds of scenes on the computer. Several writers I know switch to paper when they’re stuck and then go back to the computer. Of course, lots of writers don’t go near paper until the editing process, and they do just fine.

I have no set rules, and, who knows, the 11-inch MacBook Air I just bought might convert me to an all-computer writer, but I doubt it. If you’ve looked longingly at that Levenger’s fountain pen or wondered what writing on Rhodia paper might be like, why not take the plunge and see what happens?

Take care, and thanks again for having me here,


Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling writer of more than 60 novels. COLD DAWN, the third book in her popular Black Falls series, was released in November, and her 1999 stand-alone novel, KISS THE MOON, has just been reissued. Watch for the paperback of THE WHISPER in July and SAINT’S GATE in September. Known for her blend of action, suspense, romance and adventure, Carla enjoys writing, traveling, hiking and gardening. She lives with her family on a hilltop in Vermont. For more information, visit Carla here.

What’s your writing process like? Do you work on the computer? Use paper and pencil? Are you distracted by the internet and other outside factors? Do you have writing tools that you favor?


  1. I keep a notebook in my bag. It’s small, black leather bound and has the word IDEAS all over it. I scribble and jot ideas or inspiration as I see them.

    I use my laptop for everything and get distracted of course. But I can honestly say my most powerful writing has come from legal pads and pens.

  2. Carla–not too long ago I came across a postcard I received from you years ago. One of the comments you made on that card began with “Anyone who shares my suspicion of computers….”

    It took me a long time to get past my mistrust of technology, but these days, I don’t even write a grocery list in longhand. I’ve actually composed most of my new book on my Android phone!

  3. Charli, I know what you mean. Btw, I keep a Moleskin pad in my bag. Love it!

  4. LOL, Norma! That probably wasn’t long after the gobbledygook day. These days I’m even doing galleys electronically.

  5. Hi Carla – very interesting blog about the writing process & I think I would be using a lot of pen & paper as well. I love it!

  6. Up at 4:30 a.m., “write” (surf, email, facebook, edit; write? that, too, if I have time) until 7:00 a.m. on a Mac, re-fuel with a Dunkin’ Donuts on the hour-long drive to the evil day job, and during that drive I get my best ideas for future scenes. So there you have it, drugs are the energy source for many of my novel/short story scenes. Long live caffeine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *