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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