10 Essential Tools for the Modern Writer

Laptop. Coffee. Water. All a writer needs for a long day of creative composition, right?

Sitting in my favorite Cool Beans today, I thought about the most important things for my productivity as a writer.  I’ve been writing creatively, almost innately, since I was very young, but I realized I needed these “tools” when I began thinking of writing as a craft or a profession.

Essential tools in my writer’s toolbox (besides coffee, water and laptop) 

1. Books: It doesn’t matter whether they’re digital or print. Reading is absolutely vital for good writing. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t practice or an athlete who doesn’t train.  There is almost no chance for growth.

2. Internet: Maybe there was a day, way back in 1990, when access to the Internet wasn’t important for the modern writer. Nowadays, I get significant inspiration from flipping through random writing blogs, The New Yorker fiction archives, magazines and online newspapers. That being said, the Internet can sometimes be detrimental to the writing process.  Author Zadie Smith suggests working on a computer that’s disconnected to the Internet. I don’t totally agree, but when it’s time to get down to the really hard stuff, the Internet can be counterproductive.

3. Coffee shops: For me, coffee shops make the perfect environment for writing. I need the stimulation of conversation and buzzing espresso machines. I also need a place that’s quiet enough for me to isolate myself with headphones.

4. Notepad. Again, whether it’s an iPhone or a Moleskin, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I always something on hand to jot down ideas or paragraphs when the muse strikes.

5. Thesaurus. Let’s face it: no writer always has the perfect word to describe their perfect image. The thesaurus is a fabulous writer’s tool for constructing with words the image already constructed in your mind.

7. Music. The way runners have pump-up playlists, most writers use a playlist of songs to help them transition into a writing mood. Sometimes it’s very difficult to go from the mindset of rushed every day life to the very patient, isolated and introverted mindset of writing.  Music is also one of the best tools for climbing out of the trenches of writer’s block.

–> What are your essential writing tools?

ND Magazine: Looking out, looking over

Author’s Note: this article was first published in Notre Dame Magazine at magazine.nd.edu.
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Looking out, looking over

BY SARA FELSENSTEIN ’12

After work one night in September I met up with a friend from Notre Dame, Meg, for drinks at a rooftop bar in New York City. We’d been talking about doing this for a while, getting to a rooftop bar before things got too busy and the summer passed right by. After consulting timeout.com and conversing via Facebook we chose The Press Lounge, located on the West Side and overlooking the Hudson River.

It was something to look forward to, something to break up the monotony of the week. And in a way, going to a nice bar like this after work on a weekday feels like a young-professional-in-New-York-City rite of passage.

We arrived around seven, ordered glasses of Pinot Grigio and took a prime spot facing the city to watch the sun set while we caught up on our new lives. We talked about how beautiful the city looked from this angle and how we hoped to never become one of those jaded New Yorkers who goes about life in such an irritated rush that the place loses its awe-inspiring quality.

Meg and I graduated from Notre Dame the same year and both grew up in New York City suburbs. We talked about college, of course, but it was strange how removed we felt from it after only three months as young alumni.

We realized there is a clear disjointedness to those two lives, college life in the Midwest and home life outside of New York City.

Those two lives don’t seamlessly meld into one another, but rather seem to be self-enclosed bubbles of months or years, sharing adjacent positions on the timelines of our recent pasts.

It’s odd too thinking that during those undergrad years, college was everything. Total immersion in papers, practices, clubs and parties meant I’d sometimes lose track of major news events, even family updates — as if all that mattered was Notre Dame.

Despite semesters in different countries, summers in various cities or breaks at home, as soon as we were back on campus and thrust into the regular workload, those other experiences faded.

It was like we had never left.

Then, all through senior year, our impending graduation was this distant siren growing louder by the month, but never quite loud enough to demand serious acknowledgement. Even weeks before graduation, some of us were still in denial it would happen.

If we remained firmly grounded in this place, in everything Notre Dame, how could we suddenly end up on the other side?

Of course, after summer break ends and students move back in — that’s when the reality of graduation really sets in.

I think that’s what Meg and I realized that September night at the rooftop bar, surrounded by dresses and suits and foreign accents, wondering how much this vibrant place surrounding us was actually our place. Letting go of the feeling that this could be any other summer we worked in the city, that our professional lives were just practice for later and we could still be going back and accepting that four years of college is actually a relatively small amount of time.

It’s hard to keep that perspective as a student, to really feel how short four years are.

Until they’ve passed.

So yes, college was dearly, dearly missed. But we were also thrilled with being in New York and completely in awe of the sights in front of us. We couldn’t stay out until 4 a.m., but there were no tests, papers or job applications in our immediate future.

We were “done for the day,” a brand new concept.

One that we very much liked.

Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition

  SOURCE

Remember this post?

(Actually, I’ll be seriously impressed if you do.) “Classics & Cocktails” was one of my first, written shortly after I turned 21 in Toledo, Ohio last summer. I was bored and lonely in my apartment one day, flipping through some classic literature I’d taken out of the library. I felt like going out, but my fellow interns were working the night shift (we often had opposite schedules) and I had no one to have a drink with.

So naturally, I decided to Google my favorite authors’ favorite drinks and write a post about it.

Classic literature and classic cocktails: what a perfect combination.

Well over a year later, at a book sale at work the other week, I found this gem. Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition by Lesley M. M. Blume, a journalist and author based in New York City. The cover drew me in initially (isn’t it preettyy?) but the content pushed me to buy it. It’s basically an entire book of classic cocktail recipes, along with humorous anecdotes about each one, bits of history, quotes and poems.

The Chicago Tribune called it “a charming slip of a book…that quite deliciously and convincingly has the romantics among us pining for the ways of the dearly held past.”

Definitely my kind of thing.

My favorite page. Poets Dream: for a “literary” slumber.

In Ms. Blume’s introduction to the book, she writes:

“It’s great fun not only to revisit the stories behind the creation of these cocktails, but also to imagine the millions of narratives caused by drinking them. The following libations caused faces to be slapped, tears to be shed, babies to be made, fox trots and the Twist to be danced, marriage proposals to be uttered (and perhaps rescinded,) and so on.”

She continues, more seriously:

“The people who drank these drinks during the heights of their popularity did so for the same reasons we guzzle today’s trendy cocktails: to celebrate, to escape, to drown sorrows, to feel bigger, to feel glamorous–or feel nothing at all.”

As tongue in cheek as most of the book is, it also touches on the deeper theme of why people drink, why socializing over alcohol has persisted so strongly throughout history.

For now, Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition is tucked neatly into my bookshelf. But as soon as I have my own apartment in a city, I’m going to make use of this book and hold an epic throwback cocktail party, unapologetically artsy and decidedly literary.

Either that, or I’ll go find a way back to go back to the grandeur of 20s nightlife, Owen Wilson style.

Fictional Cheers, Hemingway.

                                                                                                                  SOURCE

Blue Bottle coffee: ‘so good it’s almost beer’

It’s a warm, breezy afternoon in summer and my grandpa and I are strolling along New York City’s High Line park.

We’ve walked about 15 blocks when we come across some vendors selling art and a few scattered food carts. One is Blue Bottle Coffee, a California-based organic coffee brand that also has a few shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  You probably shouldn’t judge a coffee shop by its barista, but the guy behind the cart has that scruffy, indie look that makes me think he takes his coffee seriously.

“Let’s try it out,” Papa says. “I’ve heard it’s good.”

Of course, I’m not going to object. It smells amazing. I wonder though, realistically, how anyone has time for Blue Bottle.

There is no line when Papa and I order our Three Africans Blend drip coffees, but it takes almost five minutes to make them. Not exactly conducive to New Yorkers on the move, but I guess when you’re strolling on the High Line you’re supposed to be relaxed.

With our coffee slowly dripping through the filter, it’s awkward not to make small talk. The barista starts telling us how the Blue Bottle brand has a “cult-like” following in San Francisco, but is just beginning to catch on in New York City.

“In San Francisco,” he says, “Where people only have to be at work at ten, ten-ish, they’ll wait on line forever for a cup. It’s different here.”

Honestly, I can’t imagine people having the patience for that in New York. After all, a cup of coffee is a cup of coffee, even if it’s a really really good cup of coffee.

But we have plenty of time today, and  by this point I’m pretty sold by the scent of the coffee grounds, picked up and swirled around by the High Line breeze.

We finally get our coffee and sit down at a little table in the sun near 15th street. It’s about 75 degrees — if it were any warmer drinking hot coffee might not be enjoyable, but it’s perfect in this weather.

Papa takes a sip first.

“It almost tastes like beer it’s so good,” he says says, smiling.

I start laughing. My Irish grandfather loves his beer. I actually know what he means though — the coffee is so thick and rich-tasting, it’s almost filling.

I take a sip.

“Wow, this is good.”

Now I have to rationalize the high price.

“Starbucks lattes are like $3.75,” I say. “I mean, $2.90 for a cup? It’s still not as bad as being a latte person.”

We talk and talk about how delicious this coffee is. One of the best things about loving coffee is talking about how great your cup of coffee is with another coffee-lover who is genuinely enjoying his or her cup.

“I think this is one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had,” Papa says.

“Really?! The best you’ve ever had?”

 I’m thinking this is a pretty big deal for him to say, after a lifetime of drinking the stuff.

“Well, not the best, but close.”

Papa has never been a gourmet coffee drinker, preferring a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts black or the dark roast from Wawa. His all-time favorite — a 7-Eleven blend — was tragically discontinued a few years ago, and he’s been searching for a replacement ever since. He would never willingly step foot in a Starbucks; he thinks their coffee has too much of a burnt taste, which I agree with even though I buy it all the time.

Needless to say, I’m pretty happy about his newfound love for the trendy Blue Bottle.

We continue walking along the High Line, savoring our Three Africans Blend for the next 15 minutes until the coffee’s the same temperature as the outside air. It still tastes good.

That night I arrive home to an email from Papa, informing me of Blue Bottle’s dangerous new Rockefeller Center location.

“How can any one be able to save money working near a Blue Bottle coffee kiosk?” he writes. “There ought to be a law against this type of temptation.”