What a Writer Needs

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At my daughter’s school, something called “Writer’s Workshop” is part of the curriculum, starting in kindergarten. They learn about inciting incidents, conflict, and that stories need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I’m impressed–creative writing wasn’t taught at all in my childhood school, as best as I can recall, and certainly not so early! So far young Miss Fraser, age 8, has been encouraged to write nonfiction stories of daily life, though she’s prone to cheat by writing about adventures from her favorite video games.

This year when we went to Curriculum Night a few weeks after school started, we found the following list in Miss Fraser’s Writer’s Workshop notebook.

My remark when we saw that? “She left out peace and quiet.” Though I’m in full agreement that “Ideas” belong at #1 and “Food” should be in a big font!

My List

Peace and quiet
A good computer
An ergonomic desk and chair
A personal research library and access to a good library system
Piles of index cards and a corkboard
A whiteboard and multicolored dry erase markers
A notebook and plenty of pens



The whiteboard, notebook, and corkboard are all key parts of my process. I’ve tried using Scrivener, where a virtual corkboard and files full of notes are part of the same file as the manuscript, but it didn’t work for me. I need to be able to step back from the keyboard and take pen in hand to brainstorm properly. It flips on a different switch in my brain, somehow.

When I was finishing the first draft of An Infamous Marriage, my new release from Carina, I added sticky notes to the mix and wrote up a separate one for every scene or key character moment that needed to happen before the end of the story. I divided my office door into sections labeled “To Do,” “In Process,” and “Completed,” and moved the notes from section to section as I worked. Seeing all those little squares of paper crowded into the Completed section the day I finished was beyond satisfying.

What about you? What triggers your creativity, whatever form it takes? Comment to enter my month-long blog tour contest. At the end of the tour I’ll be giving away a grand prize of a $50 gift certificate to their choice of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell’s Books to one commenter on the tour. You get one entry per blog tour stop you comment upon, so check out my blog for the whole schedule! If you want to be entered in the drawing, include your email in your comment in the format yourname AT yourhost DOT com.

An Infamous Marriage cover

Northumberland, 1815

At long last, Britain is at peace, and General Jack Armstrong is coming home to the wife he barely knows. Wed for mutual convenience, their union unconsummated, the couple has exchanged only cold, dutiful letters. With no more wars to fight, Jack is ready to attempt a peace treaty of his own.

Elizabeth Armstrong is on the warpath. She never expected fidelity from the husband she knew for only a week, but his scandalous exploits have made her the object of pity for years. Now that he’s back, she has no intention of sharing her bed with him—or providing him with an heir—unless he can earn her forgiveness. No matter what feelings he ignites within her…

Jack is not expecting a spirited, confident woman in place of the meek girl he left behind. As his desire intensifies, he wants much more than a marriage in name only. But winning his wife’s love may be the greatest battle he’s faced yet.


Visit Susanna Fraser at her website, follow her on Twitter, or stop by her blog.


17 thoughts on “What a Writer Needs”

  1. Funny enough, sometimes I need the drone of other people. Some of my best outlining and writing occurs during meetings or in busy cafes or restaurants. Something about the constant motion or activity spurns on my focus and creativity.

    Chocolate and chai are also staples in my writer must have list.

  2. Beth says:

    Great post! I need noise, either my family in the background or a playlist blaring. Too much quiet and I can’t focus. Weird, I know!
    Secondly, index cards or sticky notes.
    Third, coffee.
    Fourth, coffee.

  3. I’m a ‘need-for-noise’ writer too. But I tend tobounce back and forth when it comes to brainstorming each project. I’ve used Scrivner for one book, MS word for another, notebook and pen for another, and a voice recorder for dictations… What does that say about my personality.
    Oh and YES to the coffee and chocolate, too :)
    Great post. Very envious of the program at your daughters school – how fantastic to foster such creativity when the mind is so willing to create!

  4. M'Renee says:

    1. Quiet 2. Coffee 3.Sticky notes and a tablet and pen. 4. Laptop 5. Coffee 6. Popcorn. LOL!

  5. Petula Winmill says:

    Unfortunately I don’t
    have a very creative
    brain. That’s why I’m
    a reader not a writer
    The only things I create
    is with knitting needles
    Or a sewing machine.

  6. Cathy P says:

    Hi Susanna! I think it’s great that your daughter’s school has a “Writer’s Workshop. We never had anything like that when I was growing up either. I also don’t have a very creative brain. When I’m working around the house or sewing, I like to have 50’s-60’s music on to listen to.

    kscathy AT yahoo DOT com

  7. Either pen and paper or a laptop depending on which stage of writing I’m at. Quiet is nice but not necessary, I’ve written while my daughter coloured nearby, it’s slower but still doable. I burn my tongue on coffee, so for me it’s Coke Zero and lots of carrots.

    nmluiken AT telusplanet DOT net

  8. Melissa Cox says:

    My creative best is either before lunch or very late in the evening. I start imagining my scene and dialog then my fingers try to keep up. I also prefer to be listening to soft music.

  9. Michelle – The drone of other people can work for me as long as they’re not talking *to me*. My “peace and quiet” need is for Miss Fraser to not be popping in and out of the office asking for a snack, or, for the last few weeks, for Mr. Fraser not to stick his head in the door every. single. time. there’s a new poll in a swing state.

    Beth – Despite living in Seattle, I’ve never acquired a taste for coffee. I get my caffeine fix from tea and soda.

    Sasha, I think mixing it up is a great way to keep your process fresh and engaging.

    M’Renee, I love popcorn, though when it’s nice and buttery it’s too messy to eat while actually at my keyboard or notebook. :-)

    Petula, it sounds like you have a very creative brain, just in another direction. My mother was a gifted seamstress and quilter, and while I’m lacking any such skills whatsoever, I’m glad to have so many of her works of art in my house and to pass down to my daughter someday.

    Cathy – Again, anyone who can sew impresses me with their skill, patience, and creativity, since it’s all I can do to sew a button back on, and Miss Fraser never gets a homemade Halloween costume!

    Nicole, I’m glad I’m not the only one who still uses pen and paper as part of my process.

    Melissa, I think it’s very valuable to know your peak creative times and work with them. I for one will never be one of those authors who gets up an hour before her family to write, because it takes a couple of hours before my brain fully engages.

  10. Janie McGaugh says:

    I love that your daughter’s school is teaching creative writing.

    A good brainstorming session can get my creative juices going.

    jmcgaugh AT semo DOT edu

  11. I love the Writer’s Workshop curriculum (same school district) but the Reader’s Workshop makes the writer in me gnash my teeth. The kids are supposed to “stop and Jot” while they read – in other words, as soon as they get to a really good part, they’re supposed to stop reading, write a sticky note to themselves about why it’s good (officially called making a text-to-self, text-to-world or text-to-text connection), and then put that note in the book. Then they may continue reading. Readers, thumbs up or thumbs down on that plan? Have you encountered that system too, Susanna? Sorry, when I’m pretending to be saving the world, or just riding a horse in Hyde Park, I don’t want to have to stop and write myself a post-it.

    During nonfiction units, okay – but they were supposed to do this during fiction units also! Last year I actually complained to the principal and teacher that there was not one children’s novelist in the the entire world who wants a kids to stop reading at the good parts. Not one. That class stopped it for the remainder of the year, but this year – new teacher – stop and jot is back. And I don’t have the energy for the good fight against misuse of office supplies.

    Sorry to rant! I do love Writer’s Workshop – they make nifty little double page arcs and ladders as they plot too.

  12. Tin says:

    Been following this blog tour (started a bit late) —

    Crafting is a therapeutic thing for me — the last opportunity I had to make anything was my goddaughter’s invitations — we made popsicle-shaped invitations. I had fun searching for pegs online — that got the creative juices flowing.

    Congratulations on the new release!

    – Tin
    khriscc (at) yahoo (dot) com

  13. Reese Ryan says:

    I need tea, and lots of it.

    I am also rather attached to Evernote now. I don’t know how I would function without it. I use it to record all those random ideas that come to mind–story scenes, character background, ideas for new stories, blog post ideas, etc. Best of all it syncs across my laptop, phone, and any web browser.

  14. Janie – I love brainstorming. My critique partner Rose Lerner and I have lunch once a month and spend a lot of our time hashing out challenges in our WIPs.

    Anna – I don’t think they have to do Stop and Jot, but I’ll ask about it at our parent-teacher conference week after next. They are expected to read 20 minutes each night in a leveled book chosen from the class’s collection, which I’m not crazy about because the selection isn’t the greatest, and the books she chooses for herself are actually more challenging than her supposed reading level. At her age, I’d rather reading be FUN, so she’ll build the skills she’ll need for required reading in high school and college, and so she’ll remember reading can be a joy when those assigned books are dry.

    Tin, those invitations sound wonderful.

    Reese, I have Evernote, too. I sometimes use it, along with the notepad app on my iPhone, for jotting down random ideas, and it’s also handy for keeping recipes so when I go down to relatives’ houses for the holidays, my recipes for things like that chocolate cake everyone always wants me to make are right there.

  15. Carrie says:

    for me, I really need a good prompt to get my juices percolating. Unless I am on a role for a story I use prompts to write scenes and then string them together :)

    carrie dot rogozinski at gmail.com

  16. Penni says:

    My husband is a writer and he always says he needs his coffee smokes and a bag of cookies. He is forever walking around with a small notepad to write down ideas.


  17. bn100 says:

    nature is inspiring


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