Poor Writer, Sad Writer.


Look at them with their fancy apple products and their expensive apps, look at them writing away, producing masterpieces as they sip their thirteenth latte of the day in that cute boutique coffee shop that only makes coffee from cat shit, or something. Expensive cat shit….you don’t know. It sounds gross but hey if it’s expensive it must be amazing, right?

If only you had [AMAZING NAME BRAND PRODUCT WITH AMAZING NAME BRAND PRICE TAG] you too would be producing effortless prose, nuanced story lines, witty and wonderful characters.

And of course you know that’s bullshit, but even so, that lingering want remains. It would make writing so much easier….



I can’t even with how much kak that is.

elephantkak(about this much, I reckon.)

Most of us don’t make the kind of money to buy those products and live those lives, so here’s my slightly more realistic version of the writing life for humans who are not made of trust funds.

Let’s talk writer tools and freebies and cheapies. I’m not going to recommend the usual names you hear bandied about, because plenty of other people have already.

Firstly – you do need to have a place where you can write without distraction. I’m going to guess this is why people run away to coffee shops – no dishes to wash, no one is going to come tell you you need to start vacuuming now, your untended heap of dirty laundry is not gaining consciousness and asking to be fed… All you need to do is keep buying the over-priced coffee and live in the freedom you can afford.

Might be cheaper to get a desk and a screen, to be honest. However you can do it, get yourself a nook that is just yours where you will not be disturbed. I know this is not always feasible, so at the very least, if all you have is writing on your laptop on your bed, ask your fellow house-mates/family/partner(s) to not disturb you for a set period of time. (An eggtimer worlks great for this; that sound signals to other humans you are actually doing something.)

Today, most writers who aim to submit prose or poetry professionally are going to need a pc or laptop of some kind. Stephen King might write everything on a typewriter and then have each separate page delivered to his agent by carrier pigeon, but that ain’t you, I’m afraid.

You do not need the best or most expensive. For ages I wrote on a laptop I bought new for 2k (rands) without Windows, and simply installed ubuntu. (The most user-friendly of all the Linux distros, I’ve also used Mint though I found it to have too many issues with laptops tbh.)

The other thing I recommend is buying yourself a sturdy A4 (or smaller if you want to keep it in your bag) counter book (they’re usually pretty cheap – about R20 for 288 pages) for jotting down notes, ideas, or writing by hand if you’re so inclined. Also pens (especially coloured ones. There is no joy like the joy of giving a writer money in a stationery shop). And when it comes to carrying books and pens around, you want cheap. Pens grow legs.

Another manual tool I find useful – mindmapping and diagramming with white board markers on my cheap-ass melamine cupboard doors (who needs an expensive whiteboard…? Though just check first that your markers will come off 😉 ) This can also work on fridges.


But there are plenty of free tools you can use on your computer:

1: The most obvious is one where you can actually, yanno, WRITE your novel. I haven’t used ms office for well over a decade – originally we used star, then open and now Libre Office.

2: Mind-mapping software I’ve used and enjoyed – FreeMind

3: For keeping track of intense world-building (especially over several novels), I use my own personal little wikipedia-like set up – Zim Wiki

On the design end of things, if you’re planning to dabble or plunge into self-publishing:

1: For working with images I use Gimp. (be aware that Gimp’s default is RGB, and I have yet to go to the effort of finding and installing the extensions that allow for CYMK. This is a major flaw for those who want to deal with print. If someone knows of an easy work-around or alternative, I am all ears).

2: For setting up books for ebook publishing, and converting html into epub and other formats, Calibre is a great little tool.

3: For setting up books or magazines etc for press, though there is a learning curve, I’d recommend Scribus.

ETA: 4: Carfolio just reminded me about Inkscape for vector graphics, should you be doing some illustration work. Thanks so much for the reminder!

So that’s a pretty good start on free software, and there are thriving communities, and tutorials on you tube and blog posts that should get you over any initial hurdles.

So come join me at the kitchen table, with your cup of luke-warm Five Roses, and let’s smash this masterpiece out. 😉

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