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May 25, 2010

Michael Scott: The Writer's Tools

Posted by Marisa Emralino

MScott_credit-Perry-Hagopia.jpgNecromancer.jpgTHE NECROMANCER --- the highly anticipated 4th installment in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series --- hits stores today, and author Michael Scott is kicking off his blog tour right here on, where he talks shop on some of the tools of the writing trade.  For more information about the series, please visit, where you can also play the Alchmyst Game, as well as enter the NECROMANCER-inspired giveaway contest (for U.S. residents only).  You can also follow Michael on Facebook, here.

Probably the number one question I'm asked (actually probably the number two right after, "Where do you get your ideas from?") is, "So what do you use to write? What are the tools of the trade?” This question is always asked in a tone which suggests that there are secret and arcane devices which every writer uses. There aren’t I’m afraid, but over the years I've spoken to many writers about the tools of the trade, what they use to capture the ideas and get them onto the page.

In the end, it all comes down to personal choice. Use what works for you. Every book is essentially broken down into three separate processes: the idea, the research and the execution. The idea. Ideas are sneaky --- they have a nasty habit of popping up when you least expect them. The middle of the night is their favorite time. Many writers sleep with a notebook beside the bed or a small digital recorder (a cell phone is great for this) to capture the midnight idea. And if you have a hard time deciphering the mumble you recorded at 3.00 a.m., then it probably wasn’t a great idea anyway. Far more disconcerting are the single-word ideas which, at the time, obviously made perfect sense, but in the cold light of day are utterly meaningless. I have a note to myself which says “ice-cream.” Was it a character trait for one of the Flamel characters (I know Sophie likes chunky monkey ice cream), was it a shopping list, a fabulous idea about the magical properties of ice cream? I’ve no idea. Maybe I just wanted ice cream in the middle of the night.

When you’re out and about, keep the notebook handy. Also check out some of the new and very exciting speech recognition software, which allows you to translate spoken notes into text. For capturing notes on the move, either by voice or with your phone’s camera, then look to the online applications like Evernote.

The research.

For me, this is always the best part. Writing is hard, research is fun. And here is where your digital camera is a must. Memory is fallible, photos are not.

The Flamel series is set in very familiar locations --- San Francisco, Paris, London --- and although I have been to these cities, lived there and know them extremely well, I still have thousands of research photos. A portion of THE ALCHEMYST is set in Ojai, which is north of LA. I have hundreds of photos --- not only of Ojai itself, but street names, the slanting evening light, the local newspaper. Everything. When I came to write the Ojai scenes, I scrolled through the photos and was instantly back there again. Because of course, photos are not just static images; they evoke memories --- and writers mine those memories for their material.

Organizing your research is critical. When I started working on the series which ultimately became The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, I knew I was about to amass a huge body of research material. For a while I used outlines and then, a few years ago, stumbled across a wonderful piece of software called TheBrain (one word). This is a stunning piece of mind-mapping software. All of the research, data and links for the series is built and stored within TheBrain and it allows me to see the connections on a single screen.

More recently, I have been using Microsoft’s OneNote as a way of capturing and storing online data. Over the last couple of books, it has become a crucial writing tool.

You may not need something so sophisticated for your writing project – many writers I know still prefer yellow note cards stuck the wall. The only rule is that you have to keep the research up to date.

The execution.

So this is the hard part. The world falls into two camps: those who write on machine and those who write by hand. Ultimately, even those who write by hand will have to present their manuscript in some digital format.

There are any number of word processors --- they all do the same job, and some of them will do more than you will ever need. If you cannot afford the commercial word processors --- and indeed, you may not even need them, then look at some of the freeware offerings. OpenOffice is an incredibly mature product. The only rule is to make sure your software can save in a recognized standard format.

There is one final, absolutely critical piece of equipment that you are going to need --- a comfortable chair. Trust me: you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting in it.

-- Michael Scott


For the next stops on Michael's blog tour, visit Immortal Portal tomorrow, and Book Divas on Thursday!