Empty Pages – What You Need To Write A Story (Episode 4)

Empty Pages – What You Need To Write A Story (Episode 4)

Empty Pages
Image ©2021 by Ian MacTire, all rights reserved.

This podcast follows my journey from first draft to published novel and beyond. This episode covers the basics of what you need to write a story.


If you’re a return listener, welcome back, if this is your first time, welcome! I hope you find the information in these episodes to be useful. Also, if you are enjoying these, please leave a review and share with others.

This is Episode 4, titled “What Do You Need to Write a Story”.  This episode is a break from reminiscing, and is just a really basic “how to get started”. You likely already know this, but  part of the purpose of this podcast is not only to chronicle my own journey as a writer, but to help other writers out along the way. Since I have no way of knowing how far along in your writing journey you are, I have elected to start at the beginning and go forward.

Before I go any further, for the interest of transparency, all the information I give you is just for your own use. I’m not getting paid to promote anything, I’m not getting a kickback, and if you find something different from what I’ve suggested that works better for you, rock on! Live your best life!

So to begin, the first thing you will need is an idea obviously.  As you already know, everything begins with an idea. If you’re wondering how to get ideas, I will address that in a future episode, however chances are pretty good that you already have at least one idea, if not more. So you have your idea, what now?

One of the best things I’ve found is to at least keep a notebook and some kind of writing instrument nearby. This is handy for when inspiration hits and you get an idea. Before switching to a technical solution, I used to keep a notebook and pen next to my  bed in case I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea. Keeping it next to my bed also made sure that I always knew where it was.  Notebooks are also good for outlining your story, and even writing the story itself. One of the pros to this is you can usually get notebooks and writing instruments on the cheap, so it can be cost effective. Another is that they keep all your writing in one place because the paper is bound together. Some of the cons to this method is that  if you’re carrying it with you, it’s possible to set it down somewhere and forget about it, possibly losing it, and if you don’t happen to have it with you when inspiration hits, you’re left scrambling to find something to write your ideas down.

If you’re a bit more tech savvy, you can always use some kind of notetaking app. Examples of this would be apps like Evernote, One Note, and even Notes. Some smartphones have a notetaking app already installed (as is the case with Notes on iPhone and iPad),  but if your phone doesn’t come with one, you can always download one. Keep in mind that these will run the gamut from free to paid, whether it’s a one time fee or a subscription fee. I personally use Evernote for reasons I’ll discuss in a future episode, but you aren’t required to use this particular app, so if you’re looking for a technical solution, feel free to experiment and find one that works for you. Some of the pros of this solution is that you’re likely already carrying a smartphone, so it’s one less thing to carry, and it’s always available to you. Some cons of this method  include not being able to jot your writing down if your battery is dead, and depending on the app you use, you may not be able to access your writing if it doesn’t have any way of backing it up anywhere off your phone, such as the cloud.

If you’re someone who has issues with physically being able to write or type, or would prefer to speak out loud, there are also options out there that will allow you to dictate your ideas and stories and transform them into transcripts. Examples include Dragon Naturally Speaking and Otter.ai. Some word processing apps, like Word and Google docs, have this function built in as well, and just like with the previous mentioned note taking and word processing apps, pricing can vary.

As for writing out your actual story, obviously the cheapest and easiest way is the notebook and whatever you choose to write with. However, keep in mind that when it comes time to submit your story to a magazine, agent, or publisher, you will likely need to submit it in some electronic form. If you’re just starting out and don’t have much of a budget, then this way will work well for the time  you spend writing.  Since your story will likely go through at least a few rewrites before it’s ready for primetime, this could buy you some time to save up to buy a laptop, desktop, or chromebook. If this isn’t something you’re able to do right away, you can also go to your local library and sign up for computer access.  Most libraries have computers that have programs like Word installed, and you would just need to have some way of backing it up, by either emailing it to yourself or copying the file to a flashdrive.

When it comes to computers, you don’t need anything too expensive. You can usually get a pretty decent computer for a few hundred dollars, especially if you catch a good sale around the holidays. I will say that having worked retail and seen  “behind the scenes” as it were,  you probably don’t want to buy a  computer around Black Friday.  Though the prices seem pretty good (especially if you were price comparing before the Black Friday sales), the really cheap computers  you get are usually not that good. That said, it is possible to get a good deal for a good price, you just have to be willing to be patient and do your research. As well, if you’re just using it for writing, you don’t need a lot of processing power and hard drive space, so it may be that you  can’t afford something better than that Black Friday deal and that’s ok. Writing is a hobby that doesn’t need to break the bank to be rewarding, and you can always upgrade later.

When buying a computer, another thing to keep in mind is what word processing software are you going to use. Most computers have at least a basic word processor. In Windows, this would be Notepad. On Apple computers, this would be  something called Pages. I can attest that Notepad is the most basic, but will get you by. It has minimal formatting options and you can only save  it in the .txt file format which is not acceptable when submitting to a publisher or agent. As I’m not an Apple user, I don’t know much about Pages, but I believe you can save your Pages document in the same file format that Microsoft Word uses. In addition to the aforementioned examples, other examples of word processors are Google docs, Scriverner, Open Office, and Libre Office. Much like notetaking apps, word processing software can range in price from free to either a one time fee (like Scrivener), or a subscription (like Microsoft Office).  As with notetaking apps, feel free to research your different options and experiment to find what works best for you.
Ultimately, whatever you choose, you want it to work with you and not against you. You want to figure out what tools and systems work best at facilitating  your creativity, so that they enhance it and aren’t getting in the way of it.  In a future episode, I will go over my set up and why I chose the tools that I use and how it helps me write better.

Okay, this brings this episode to a close. I hope you found this helpful. If I missed anything, please feel free to reach out to me on my Twitter account, or Instagram account, and let me know.  If I missed enough of them, I’ll make a second episode to cover what I missed.

Stay classy, and keep writing those stories!

If you’re a return listener, welcome back, if this is your first time, welcome! I hope you find the information in these episodes to be useful. Also, if you are enjoying these, please leave a review and share with others. 
This is episode 6, where I talk about my writing set up. just a quick disclaimer, I am not getting paid to plug any of the products that get mentioned, these are just the products I personally have discovered to work the best for me. If you find something that works better for you, rock on! Live your best life! So in case you are wondering what a writing set up is, it’s basically the workspace and tools you utilize to write your stories. This can range from something as simple as, say, a notebook and pen at the kitchen table, to an elaborate library complete with cozy fireplace and picture window looking out on some idyllic scenery while banging your story out on an iPad. Whatever set up you decide on, the most important factor, at least in my opinion, is whatever is going to set you up for success and not get in the way of your creativity.
For example, I don’t typically use a notepad and pen or pencil, simply because I can’t write as fast as I think. I used to think that all good writers wrote their stories by hand and only once it was done, did they type them out. I don’t know if that is actually true. It could be, back in the day, it was probably easier and cheaper than messing up on a typewriter and having to start the page from scratch.  All I know is that my hand would end up cramping up while trying to keep up with what my brain was telling me. To get a good visual for what I mean, imagine that I’m writing Star Wars: A New Hope. My hand would be writing the cantina scene with the aliens, but my brain would already be at the part where Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were rescuing Princess Leia from the detention level on the Death Star. It was extremely frustrating because it would often times derail what I was writing and my pages would often become a mess of hand writing that had become almost illegible and several things scratched out.  I eventually switched to a system where I would write until I couldn’t keep up, then grab a new piece of paper and begin writing where my brain was, but that just ended up resulting in a mess that I couldn’t figure out how to put together. This would eventually become moot when I stopped writing for several years.
Fast forward to when I started getting serious about writing again. I had no problem getting ideas, and I would jot these ideas down on any piece of paper I could find, and these I would carry around in my pocket. It got so bad that at one point, I found myself with my wallet in one pocket, and a stack of papers just as thick as that wallet in another.  During this time, I had resumed trying to write by hand only to run into the same situation as before. The final straw came when I left this stack of papers home one day, only to  come back to find out that my ex-wife had thrown them away, because in her words, “it was garbage and I didn’t need it”. Thankfully she had just thrown it away and I was able to retrieve it. This event would lead me to think of a way to solve this so that it didn’t happen again.
Now before I get into my set up, I will say that I am not claiming that my way is in any way original. I’m sure that there are numerous writers out there that either have the exact same set up, or something similar. I will also say that I don’t think my way is the right way or the only way, it’s just one way. What I want for you is to think about your own situation and figure out a solution that works best for you. Now then, on to my set up.
My basic set up consists of using the app Evernote for keeping my ideas in one handy place, a laptop that I  can type on that allows me to type as fast as my brain goes, and Scrivener, a word processing app that was built from the ground up with writer’s in mind.  
The first step was to figure out some way of being able to keep my notes in one place, that couldn’t get lost, and couldn’t get thrown away. I’m horrible at remembering some things, so if I had not been able to get my stack of notes back, I would have lost so many ideas. As well, having a stack of papers is not necessarily a good idea, because if my ex hadn’t thrown them away, it’s entirely possible that I might lose some simply taking the stack out of my pocket. Then there is the wear and tear itself as paper is folded, unfolded, folded again, etc. At this point in time, I was used to carrying a smartphone, and I used apps for several other things in my life. It was here that I turned to. The thinking was that my phone was not likely to be lost, stolen, or thrown away, and so keeping notes there would be a safe bet. After doing some research and downloading and playing with several different apps, I settled on Evernote.
Evernote allows me to access my notes from my phone, as well as one more device (under the free version). This I found to be excellent, because it turned out that Evernote had a desktop version that was compatible with Windows that I could link together (they also have it for Mac as well, though I don’t use any Apple products aside from an iPad and the iPod Classic).  This meant that I could be out and about, get an idea and put  it in Evernote, or work on an outline and even write, and I would be able to access it on my laptop when I got home. The free version also has limited amount of storage, but since everything I’m storing is text, I have never even come near the limit.  You can store more than just text, including pdfs and pictures, but I’ve just never needed to use this feature.
The next piece is the laptop. I don’t really think I have to go too far into this, because it’s a laptop, enough said. The most I’ve ever paid for a laptop has been a little over $500, but that’s because when I get a new laptop, it needs to be good enough to last for at least four or five years before I need to upgrade. If you figure that I spend $500 and it lasts for five years, the math works out to $100 per year, and that’s a good return on investment in my opinion. Now you don’t need to spend that amount. You can find deals for pretty decent computers  for less if you’re patient, or buy around holiday sales. I personally find that this amount works for me, and I’m usually able to get pretty good mileage with laptops in this range.
That said, with the laptop, I’m able to keep up with what was is in my brain when I’m writing. I used to be a huge PC gamer, and as such, I used to have a really good gaming PC that I would also try to use to write. I say try because, unfortunately, I had the bad habit of deciding to take a 30 minute break to play a game only to find that a few hours had gone by and I had wasted time that could have been spent writing. It was this bad habit that made me decide to get a laptop that  couldn’t play the kind of games I was into at the time. This and I wanted to be able to go anywhere and write. At one point I had the “romantic” notion of sitting in a coffee shop writing the Great American Novel while sipping on a latte or whatever it is that hipster writers drink. The problem was that I had, and have, no desire to write the Great American Novel, I’m a basic coffee and creamer kind of guy, and coffee shops suck for getting any kind of writing done.
Finally, the software that I would use to write my stories. To be honest, I gave so little thought to this very crucial piece. I had already been using Microsoft Word for several years for everything from my resume to business reports, among other things. Since it worked so well for everything else, I figured it would work well for writing. At its most basic, Word will get the job done.  For a short story, I found no problems with using it, although aside from my novel in high school, and the first draft I completed last year in December, I never actually finished anything I started to write, and neither of those were done in Word. Before I continue, I don’t want to bad mouth Word. Some of you use it and enjoy it, and it works for you, and that’s great.  If it does, rock on! It’s absolutely good at what it does. It just turned out not to work for me, although I wouldn’t find that out until I got the idea for my werewolf novel. 
Most of my ideas come in short bites, just enough to know what the basic premise is and not much else. Not the werewolf novel. When the proverbial dam burst on that idea, it was a flood of ideas.  As a comparison, think of most of my story ideas as post it notes, while the werewolf stuff is more like the Lord of the Rings.  I quickly found that Word was not up to the task of keeping this stuff organized, and I would soon find myself with several Word documents open as I bounced back and forth between the different documents trying to keep these ideas organized. It quickly got out  of hand and frustrating, not to mention that having several Word documents open would begin causing my laptop to become sluggish. 
So what was I to do? For a good two or three months I struggled with using Word until I got so frustrated, I went to Google and typed “software for writers”, or something similar, into the search. I don’t remember what all came up in the results, but Scrivener was among the top results, if not the  top result. I saw that it had a 30 day free trial, and I downloaded it. It was a little overwhelming at first, but after playing with it for awhile, I started to see that it was perfect for me. I’m not going to turn this into a commercial for this product, if you want to know more about it, you can go to their website at literatureandlatte.com. However, here’s what I found to be the highlights:

  • you could keep all the notes and writing in one file, that you could access from a tool bar on the side, so no more multiple versions of the program needing to be opened
  • it had a tracker that allows you to set project goals and daily goals, so you could theoretically set your project goal to be at least 80 thousand words, and/or your daily goal to 2500 words (which is my own personal daily goal), and it would help you keep track
  • when it came time to export your writing, you could export it in any format, including .doc and .docx (which is Word’s default extensions, depending on version), PDF, and even various ebook formats.
  • and probably one my favorite features, you can go full screen and set it to be as opaque as you want, so the background can be made as light or dark as you want it, which helps to block out the annoying pop ups that Windows loves doing, so that it cuts down on distractions
  • and my absolute favorite feature, the full screen is set up to mimic a page in a typewriter, meaning that when you start writing, you will of course start at the top of the page, but once it reaches the middle, it stays there, meaning your head is looking straight ahead, instead of bent downward as it would be in Word because new lines form at the bottom of the screen

If you’ve used any kind of word processing program for any length of time, you  know how sore your neck gets looking down all the time. This was a huge game changer for me.
The remainder of my set up is that I have a room that I converted into an office, so I have a place to work, but I can also take my laptop and go the the library, or work in the park, and yes, even a coffee shop if I want to deal with that hassle. The only other thing I have in my set up is my iPod Classic,  as I listen to music when I write.
So now that I have gone over my set up, how exactly does this help me be more productive with my writing? Evernote allows me to jot down my ideas, and work on my projects without needing to carry around my laptop. When I’m ready to sit down to write, I can simply open Evernote on my laptop and retrieve whatever work I did on it. The laptop allows me to type as fast as my brain spits out the story. And Scrivener allows me to keep everything in one place so that I only have that and Evernote open so that I’m not fighting with my computer being so slow. If I’m in the middle of writing and I forgot a detail, I can click on my notes, then jump right back to where I left off. It also allows me to set up my book so that I can write in chapters, or even in character points of view. If I decided that one chapter should be placed ahead of another chapter, I can just drag and drop it where I want it, without having to rewrite it. My set up works with me, not against me, and because of this, my  creativity can flow unimpeded. And the music? Well, that helps with blocking out distracting sounds, and even help with setting the mood for whatever scene I’m currently writing. In a nutshell, the tools serve the muse, they do not interfere with it.
When figuring your set up, make sure that you are striving to create a system that feeds your creativity, or at the very least, doesn’t impede it. I hope this inside look helps you if you’ve been struggling. If you already have a set up that works for you, please feel free to reach out to me on my Twitter account, or Instagram account, and let me know.  Who knows, your set up may help out a fellow writer to reach creative nirvana. Stay classy, and keep writing those stories!

This has been another episode of Empty Pages. If you enjoyed what you heard and want more of it, you can follow me at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts from. Please leave me a review, as that really helps me out, and if you do, you might find your review featured in a future episode. You can find me at ianmactire.com, as well as on Twitter and Instagram as @ianmactire. Until next time, I’m Ian, and this is Empty Pages.  Stay classy and write those stories!

© Copyright 2021 Ian MacTire, All Rights Reserved, except where otherwise noted.

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