The Question New Writers Ask That Bothers Me the Most

How do you know what you do and do not need if you don’t actually write anything first?


I am a member of a few writing groups online. I also poke around the NaNoWriMo forums, explore other writing blogs – anything I can do to be a part of the conversation, because that’s the main reason this blog exists. To help writers in any way I can.

Lately, I’ve been seeing the same question pop up. It’s not a new question: I’ve seen it plenty of times before. For some reason, it has really started to bother me.

The question: Which word processing tool do you/should I/do professional writers use?

I have a question in response to your question: does it matter?

I think the focus is a little off here. If you’re more worried about writing tools than you are about what you are actually writing, I am genuinely concerned.

I use Microsoft Word to write most of my projects because I needed to purchase it as a student. Then, it was an investment for my education and I still use it for that purpose and for writing. I also use Google Docs, which is completely free if you sign up for a free Google account and don’t want to pay for Microsoft Office software. They both serve the exact same function: to type words onto a page. To write a story. To put my ideas into words.

That is all I need. I don’t need a special program to count my words or track my progress or keep me from being distracted. Other writers might need these things to keep them going, so they might want Scrivener or another program or app. But here’s the problem … how do you know what you do and do not need if you don’t actually write anything first?

The reason this question bothers me so much is because I feel like new writers especially spend WAY too much time, energy and valuable resources on things that do not matter. You want to be a writer? Well that must mean you need to spend money on a word processor and all kinds of fancy tools, right?

Wrong. What you need to do is … can you guess? WRITE.

This is the kind of question I might expect from a writer who is trying to solve a specific problem they have discovered is an issue for them: they get distracted too easily, or they need a built-in feature that helps them track word count progress. But from a new writer, honestly, this question just seems silly to me. I expect new writers to have questions. But what I expect them to do even more than that is to go off on their own and write stuff. Isn’t that what being a writer is?

You can spend all the time and money you want on products and writing forums and asking questions in Facebook groups. But if you never actually write anything, I just don’t know how to help you. Maybe you’re a little nervous about starting, and that’s fine, but really … just open up a Google Doc and start writing something. THAT is how you become a writer. By writing.

I do worry that new writers aren’t focusing on the right things, and I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to solve that problem other than to tell people to just write. So many people want to be writers. And that’s great! The more voices we have to adequately and accurately communicate messages, the better.

But the thing is, I first started writing when I was very young. There were computers, I’m not that old, but there really weren’t online communities yet like there are today. I didn’t join one until I joined NaNoWriMo in 2008, when I was in high school. I had written plenty of stories before that, on paper and on Word, without asking anyone any questions about it. I just wrote, because that was what I wanted to do. It didn’t matter what tools I used: the story was the only thing I cared about.

So my question for you is this: are word processing programs like Scrivener misleading new writers to believe they can’t write until they have ‘the right tools’ to get started?

I’ve never tried Scrivener, I have nothing bad to say about it and I’m sure it’s a great tool. But I’m worried for future generations of writers. Yes, I worry about things that don’t matter, too. But after this, I’m going to set aside my concerns and write a whole bunch of words because it is my job. I love online communities, but sometimes, they can take away from the actual writing process, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

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6 thoughts on “The Question New Writers Ask That Bothers Me the Most

  1. I completely agree. The same is true of writing screenplays (although I suppose in that instance it can help with formatting if you have the right tools). I once gave a lecture where someone asked what software I use to plan my stories. When I told them that I use a notebook and pen, and go out for long walks with them in my pocket there was practically an uproar.

    Even when I told them that I did this because I couldn’t guarantee that inspiration would just happen to strike when I was sat in front of a computer, they still didn’t quite seem to believe me.

    It’s a funny old world…

    1. Writing with something other than a keyboard? MADNESS!! (I still journal the old-fashioned way, for me it helps organize thoughts.) I write in notebooks whenever I’m feeling stuck, it literally always helps.

  2. I have been writing on and off for decades, yes, decades. Since I was 8, with my first short story in 2nd or 3rd grade, I fell in love with the idea of creating a story that others could read and re-read and share. This excited me. I wrote stories, poems and songs all through my stint in the Army, then I wrote here and there for my own enjoyment. (Which, it really always has been)
    36 – 37 years later, I have decided to put my talent for storytelling into a larger work, a novel, or series of them, if it works out.
    Guess what? I wrote in notebooks, filling spiral notebooks with notes, stories, ideas, songs, poetry and the occasional try at artwork. I didn’t start using a computer until 1995 and then only to draw architectural drawings. It wasn’t until 2000 that I had a personal computer that I could write on.
    I use Microsoft Word, because it is there to use. I can type faster than I can hand write, but, I still have an idea journal, (Thanks for the idea, Meg) I wish I knew where most of my old writings had gone to, but, sadly, I don’t. It would be fun to look back.
    I think Scrivener and templates and such, have their place, but, writers, especially new ones, should know and love the feel of a pen and paper, (or pencil) and learn to use the processor as it was intended, to process words, to have a place, on your computer, to hold your thoughts.

    1. I too started writing in notebooks – it was my preference most of the way through high school, actually, though I learned how to use Word in elementary school. I think it helps in the fact that you are not as worried about spelling/grammar or page breaks, and might be able to focus more on the story itself. I definitely recommend it for newbies. It’s all based on preference though, you can also use a plain text-type app that doesn’t spell check or format and it’s basically the same idea I suppose.


  3. I agree. Since the evolution of the ‘cloud’ and the need access my stuff over several devices, I now use Evernote for everything. Everything. So, naturally, when I started to write fiction I continued to use Evernote. My writing is backed up on two devices as well as online, and I have separate sub folders for character sketches, research, outlines etc. It suits me fine, and it’s free :D

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