Shop Talk: Tools of the Trade


I recently came across an article by Michele Filgate on Literary Hub entitled “Writers and Their Favorite Tools.” Filgate indulges in a bit of shop talk on tools of the trade, but also explores some of the nostalgia and memory behind why we use the tools we do. That, and this recent video my wife shared awhile back, got me thinking: if car enthusiasts can talk horsepower, and hunters can swap stories of guns and bows and calls, why can’t we as writers and artists and singers talk about our favorite tools? So, whatever your artistic bent is, what are some of your favorite tools of the trade, and why? I’ll start:

When it comes to writing poetry or prose, I usually get ideas when I’m out walking, so I like to carry a pocket Moleskine. I also have a larger, paperback size Moleskine for when I want to do some longer form drafting without feeling cramped. I also recently purchased some Shinola Detroit small ruled page notebooks that I’m looking forward to trying.

For writing with, I’ve long used the smooth Pilot G-2 05 gel pen. It just flows nice and lasts forever. Recently I discovered the Moleskine Roller Pen .05 mm Fine Point, which is really nice, although tends to smear because I’m a lefty. I did briefly try a Bobino pen that hides in the cover of my notebook, but I don’t like it very much because it feels too insubstantial and the writing is dry and scratchy.


Once I’ve drafted some ideas longhand, then I’ll move to my Macbook, where I use LibreOffice.

I occasionally do some songwriting on the side, but this is a slightly different process. I like to write on legal pads or three hole punch paper, so I can see the song structure spread out. And I’m usually just grabbing whatever writing implement is closest to me, since I’m trying to get the idea down before it disappears.


Once I have a song idea, I usually try to do a rough recording so I’ll remember how the tune flows while it’s fresh in my head. In the past I’ve used Audacity and Adobe Audition, but now that I have a Mac I’ve been enjoying playing around with Garage Band.

So those are some of my favorite creative tools. What are yours?

Chris currently teaches writing and literature to community college students in Massachusetts. He is the author of six books of poetry, and can probably be found reading a book, drinking chai, and wearing flannel. In 2018 he and his wife Jen co-founded The Poetry Pub, an online community for poets. He enjoys walking in the woods, hanging out in coffee shops, and poking around used bookstores.


  1. Jen Rose Yokel

    I currently have quite the collection of blank notebooks going… for some reason, nice hardcover journals / notebooks intimidate me out of writing anything, so I’ve always preferred cheap for my “idea dump” books. Right now, I’ve been using a Five Star college rule composition book with a durable, soft plastic cover. I do love the feel of Moleskine paper though, and always carry one of their thin softcover journals in my purse. (Mostly, church sermon notes go in it though.)

    For pens… um… mostly promotional pens with radio station logos on them. Because hey, free. Pilot G-2 gel pens are pretty sweet though. I enjoy a nice smooth line and a good sharp point.

    But the biggest surprise lately is I like to draft poems with a good ol’ yellow Ticonderoga #2 pencil. Something about being able to write, erase, and shape the poem as I work on it is quite satisfying.

    This is all for working out ideas though. If I’m writing a blog post, drafting an essay, or writing copy for work, I type it up in Pages on my Macbook. (I like the clean layout and fullscreen mode.) And I love Scrivener for storing and organizing poems.

  2. Pete Peterson


    It may not be romantic, but I can’t write a word without my Mac. Writing longhand is the devil.

    To be fair, I do sometimes write poetry longhand, but I only do it to torture myself.

  3. Pete Peterson


    The only requirement in a sketchbook for me (besides good paper) is that it be spiral-bound. I like to use pencils to sketch, but also ballpoint pens that are fine tip. And they have to have black ink. I can’t abide blue.

  4. Lisa

    In a word, Scrivener. Being able to have all my research readily available as I write is essential for historical fiction. And the index card feature, and being able to import web pages into the research section, and…..yeah. Scrivener.

  5. Bailey Gillespie

    Chris, I actually follow your songwriting style for my writing – using any pen or pencil nearby and any ripped shred of paper (yes, it’s been napkins, receipts, and even my Bible) to get thoughts down before they leave.

    My favorite tool since getting an iPhone is the Notepad app that’s built in. It’s saved my life and grocery shopping lists too. Definitely beats trying to keep track of scraps of paper and receipts.

  6. Jonathan Rogers

    I usually write in old-fashioned composition books, preferably with grid paper. If somebody gives me a Moleskine, I’ll write in that. My mother-in-law recently gave me several Martha Stewart journals which have a Note from Martha at the beginning (“There’s something inspiring about opening a brand new journal, with its fresh, clean pages full of possibility…”) and surprisingly helpful party planning pages at the end (diagrams re: how to set the table, checklists, drink recipes, etc.). In short, I’m not picky about my notebooks, though I do like larger pages and smaller lines when I’m working toward a daily word-count goal; for whatever reason, writing two or three big pages seems easier than writing four or five smaller pages, even if the word count is the same.

    As for pens, it’s Uniballs all the way for me. I’m a bit of a splurger in that regard.

    Once I’ve got a draft hand-written, I type it all into the MacBook Pro that has been my faithful companion since 2009, in spite of the fact that I ran over it with a rented Volkswagen last fall. I use Microsoft Word. Occasionally I use Evernote–I really want to use Evernote–but I have found that real paper notecards are a hard habit to break.

  7. Sarah N

    I walk around with a mini Moleskine in my purse for ideas. I’ll use a pen or pencil, but the pencil must have an eraser that actually erases and doesn’t smudge, hence I gravitate towards mechanical pencils.
    Most writing usually happens on my MacBook Pro in Microsoft Word, though someday I would really like to try Scrivener. I managed to get most of my story notes into one journal this time and I’m also trying out 3×5 index cards for brainstorming scenes.

  8. Betsy

    Fancy paper is great, and all that, but there’s just something about folding origami with white lined (read: school notebook) paper that I enjoy. Maybe it’s from all those years of folding origami in school growing up, or maybe it has something to do with creating something orderly and beautiful out of something flat and mundane.

    As for pens, Pilot G2 07 (black) is my go-to, with the G2 07 color 8-pack to mix things up when I’m tutoring someone or when I’m studying physics (one black + one color at a time). And on the subject of doing physics, nothing beats loose-leaf graph paper in a binder, for me.

  9. JamesDWitmer

    I’m with Pete on this one. I’ve written almost nothing since eighth grade without a computer.

    Song ideas are different – I always use a cheap legal pad, tearing pages out and re-writing with newer ideas. But those are rare, and usually more for the process of working thoughts through.

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