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Five of my Favorite Tools, or, How to Make Writing More Fun

I’ve been a copywriter for a long time–working in ad agencies, whipping up site copy, banner ads, Facebook posts, video scripts, billboards — you name it. After a while, you get picky about your tools. You identify your favorite tools — and your least favorite. You know exactly how you need things to function and anything sub-optimal just feels annoying. 

A crappy pen is fine enough when you’re signing a check, but if you’re taking pages of notes by hand (a pro-tip for remembering your notes better), it won’t fly. 

Close up of a sparkly fountain pen with the cap off, exposing the nib.

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And some tools just make life a little more pleasant. Make things run smoother. Which makes it easier to focus on deep work and important things. Every person will have different preferences for their tools and the things that help keep them on track–which is why it’s so fun to read about other people’s must haves. 

In this post, I’m going to talk about stuff, and in another one, I’ll talk about programs. So here are the top 5 things that I can’t live without: 

Once you’ve written on really nice paper, it’s hard to go back. If you’ve never noticed the differences in paper qualities out there, let me explain. Cheap paper is thin, a little rough, flimsy. And a cheap notebook is not constructed very well, either through manufacturing that makes it less durable, or through design that makes it harder to use. Picture a bound notebook that you have to hold open while you write, vs. one that lays flat on its own. Which ones is easier to use? 

I discovered the Mnemosyne notebook several years back. (Side note: it’s pronounced like nee-moss-innie and it’s named after the Greek goddess of memory.) I don’t remember what triggered it, but I got really into fountain pens. The inexpensive ones. I bought my first pen from GouletPens.com, a Pilot Metropolitan for under $20. And it wrote like a dream, gliding over the page so smoothly that my hand never cramped, that my letters flowed easily from one to the next, that cursive suddenly made sense. I loved it. 

But the thing about fountain pens is that they beg for good, quality paper in order to dazzle. There are hundreds of different kinds of inks, in every color you can think of, and many of them only reveal their secrets on a nice, smooth, acid-free paper. 

You Never Regret a Good Notebook

The Mnemosyne notebooks have all of that. I like the 194A model, which is lined in a soft, gray ink. It comes in a B5 size, about 7.5” x 9.85” (190mm x 250mm). So it’s a full-size page of paper that will fit easily inside folders, binders and notebooks. I love the design of it, too. Every page has space at the top to title your notes and a box for the day’s date. 

The cover is made of a black resin, which keeps the pages protected and deflects moisture. Corners are rounded so the notebook doesn’t snag as you pull it out from a tote bag or backpack, and every page is perforated so it tears out cleanly. 

They’re $12 each on Amazon (although I’ve seen them cheaper occasionally), and Mnemosyne has a wide range of models and sizes if the 194A isn’t for you. (Think unlined, dot grid and graph paper, memo and steno pads, pocket-size options, oversized options, etc.) Whenever I buy these, I grab multiples so there’s always a blank one waiting to get used.

Ok, this pen isn’t cheap. So first off, let me say that this was a Christmas present (to myself) last year, and by far the most expensive fountain pen I own. The Pilot Metropolitan I mentioned above handles just as well for less than $20. 

But my god, look at it. I still love taking notes by hand, which means I do a lot of writing. So when I was looking for an everyday splurge for myself and I crossed paths with this sparkling wonder, it was love at first sight. 

The Benu Euphoria is big pen, too. It’s got a thick barrel great for keeping your hand from getting tired, and the fine nib writes elegantly. Ink flows easily out of this pen, and you can use standard international long cartridges (easy to change, lots of ink) or the converter it comes with to fill it with an ink of your choice. Plus, nobody can borrow this pen and forget to give it back, because you’ll never see someone else carrying it around. 

But if I’m being really honest with myself, aside from function, aside from the mechanics of the pen, I just really love looking at it. Shouldn’t your everyday tools be a joy to work with?

Ok, coming back down to earth, I love this $11 planner. Someone turned me on to the Full Focus planner method, which breaks down your goals into yearly, weekly and daily bites. And I love the system, which you can read more about here. 

But I just couldn’t handle the price tag of their planners, which start at $37–for a NINETY-DAY JOURNAL. Which means you’d need to spend $148 for 360-days of planning, which isn’t even quite a full year. 

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stomach the thought of spending that much on a planner – which I’ve never even been great at using! A $150 pen will last you the rest of your life, but $150 in planners only gets you most of the way through one year? No. 

A Better Planner Option

Close up of the TreesPlanner daily planner page.

The TreesPlanner Non-Dated Daily Planner is a close dupe, though. It’s got a prominent section to list your top three goals for the day, as well as a to-do list section under that. On the right, there’s a daily schedule, hour-by-hour, with 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. broken down into half-hour segments. 

There’s a little spot for notes at the bottom, and a meal and water tracker. Plus, every page is undated, with a bar of weekday abbreviations so you can circle which day of the week you’re on. If you’ve struggled in the past with buying a nice planner only to forget to use it for a week or a month, wasting all those pre-dated pages, this is the planner for you. 

Because it’s a full-size notebook, it only holds 100-days’ worth, but at $44 for the year with the main functionality of the Full Focus planner, you still come out ahead. 

I bought the pink one, but it also comes in blue. 

Image of the IKEA Dagotto footrest, a black board on a metal frame.

I can’t remember whether I picked this up on a whim or had my eye on it before I bought it, but it was one of those items I bought mid-pandemic that changed everything. 

Do I have a desk? Yes. Do I have an office chair? Yes. But are either of these things as high quality as the desk or office chair an actual corporate office would have? Heck no. The ergonomics are all off. 

My desk is just a butcher-block slab of wood screwed into three metal trestles. It doesn’t adjust in height and it doesn’t move. The chair is cushioned and adjustable, but when I sit in it with my feet flat on the ground, the desk is too high. 

If I had known I would be spending so much time working from home, I probably would’ve planned my workspace better. 

Save Your Back, Buy a Footrest

So I did the next best thing – I got this little footrest. Now when I sit at my desk at the proper height, I can have my feet flat on the foot rest instead of supporting myself on my toes. It takes the pressure off your lower back and keeps everything aligned, which means you can get through the day with a minimum of physical pain. 

If you can’t get to an IKEA, this Mount-It! footrest model is similarly built and about the same price.

Favorite Tools #5: Good quality headphones

For some reason, it’s hard to focus in complete silence. I can’t do it. But it’s hard to focus in a noisy environment, too. Like an open-plan office (Satan’s own playground), on a plane, or at home with someone on the phone in the next room. I need some music, some white noise, some TV chatter in the background. To quote John Cusack in the original High Fidelity, I just want something I can ignore. 

Headphones have been a lifesaver. 

Favorite Tools #5.1: Apple Airpods

If you have an iPhone, Apple Airpods are great. They pair easily with both iPhones and Mac laptops, have an elegant interface and serve my purposes well. I love these for joining Zoom meetings and getting on phone calls while I’m walking around. 

I’ve had one pair for four or five years and the battery is just starting to lose steam. Which, honestly, is longer than I thought they’d last. When I research replacing them with something less expensive, the reviews always call out how nothing syncs as easily with Apple products as Airpods. It’s hard to envision myself getting frustrated with pairing every time I put them in and not regretting how I prioritized saving some money instead of a seamless experience.

They’re small enough to tuck into a pocket (even the tiny ass pockets on women’s jeans) or a purse, and snap closed with magnetic force. If you lose things easily, you might want to forego the benefits above for a cheaper pair of ear buds, but otherwise, they’re amazing.

Favorite Tools #5.2: Urbanears Plattan Wireless Headphones

The only problem with Airpods is that they’re hard to see. Which means if you’re trying to send a message to people around you – headphones on don’t talk to me go away – you’re going to want something bigger. Like the Urbanears Plattan Wireless headphones.

The sound quality, friends. It’s good. Really good. Trust me, music is A Big Deal in my home, and I would not in good conscience recommend over-the-ear headphones with terrible sound quality. I would rather fling myself off a cliff. 

A Story About A Drunk, Condescending Creep

Years ago, when I was still in my early thirties rather than my late thirties, and still getting on planes, a very drunk man made me try on his Beats by Dre headphones. He was two red wines in on the tarmac and it was obvious he’d been drinking before he sat down.

Then he insisted, in that skeezy middle-aged man way, that I try on his headphones and listen to Jimi Hendrix. “You know Jimi Hendrix?” he asked me. (I should’ve snapped those headphones in half right then.) 

He pressed play and fuzzy sound flooded my ears in quality so bad, he wasn’t just doing a complete disservice to Jimi Hendrix, but to every single rock and roll musician who played at Woodstock. 

The disrespect. 

The audacity. 

I’m still mad about it. 

Buy Function, not Fashion

His $300 headphones didn’t hold a candle to my $60 pair of Urbanears. The pillow-soft cushions make them comfortable for a long time, and while they’re not noise canceling, they do a good job of keeping outside noises from interrupting you while you work.

I’ve bought three pairs of these headphones over the years–not because they stop working, but because I loved my first, wired pair so much that I leapt at the wireless ones when they came out, and then I got a pair for my husband one year as a gift. They hold a charge for a crazy amount of time and when you put them on, the world feels like it’s a million miles away. 

Coffee is…vital to my functioning. Critical. There was a time when I’d drink “three” coffees to get through the day, except the “three” weren’t reasonably sized mugs, but whatever size vessel I could get my hands on. A Starbucks Venti cold brew, which may as well be speed. When I economized, I’d make cold brew at home and take it to work in a quart-size mason jar, buckled into my passenger seat. Both of those would count as one.

I’m not bragging, because I don’t think it was healthy and it corresponded with a time in my life that was stressful and damaging for a bunch of other reasons.

I’m down to two actual cups of coffee now, around two 12-oz. mugs worth. But coffee is still my biggest vice. 

 

Real life footage of me before I’ve had coffee in the morning.

Dusting off my barista chops

So, October 2020, six months into the pandemic, crawling up my own walls, I asked for this coffee maker for my birthday. Yes, it’s expensive. I’m sorry. The thing is, it does everything. It brews hot coffee, by the cup, travel mug, half- or whole-carafe. And it brews instant iced coffee in any amount; plus it makes cold brew. You want an espresso drink? It makes “espresso,” and there’s a milk frother on the side. You can brew a cup or a pot of any kind of tea at the push of a button, hot or cold, loose leaf or bagged. 

We’ve used it every single day for a year and a half and it’s still going strong. Considering how tons of writers through history have been incorrigible alcoholics, I’m going to allow myself this much.

Sometimes inspiration alone isn’t enough to fuel a creative brain. But this does the trick well. 

Next up, a more practical post (I GUESS) about the programs and services I use that make writing, marketing and business a whole lot easier. 

In the meantime, what are your favorite tools, resources and enjoyments when it comes to writing? Or your business in general? Let me know in the comments below. I want to see all your recommendations.


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Hi, I'm Lana.

I’ve spent 16 years in advertising, and now I’m using that knowledge to help creatives grow their own small businesses. Will that include you this year? 


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