A Writer’s Tools of Her Trade: The Importance of a Good Pencil Case and Calendar

When I turned thirteen, my Mom gave me a pencil case. I was starting junior high school (högstadiet) in the fall and would no longer have my own desk where I could keep my stuff. Instead I would be given a locker and carry everything I needed from class to class. I used that pencil case throughout junior high and high school (gymnasiet), as a university student and beyond until the summer of 2019 when the zipper broke irreparably.

I immediately set out to find a new pencil case. Since I am a historian and book critic of history and speculative fiction, I needed a pencil case that suited my professional needs in more ways than one.

First of all, the pencil case needed to be soft. When history and writing are your line of work, you are a writer, a scholar, and a teacher all at the same time. This means that your pencil case needs to hold a large amount of stuff of different shapes and sizes. In my case, this stuff consists of pens, pencils, whiteboard markers and highlighters of different colors, erasers, and small cases of 0.5 HB graphite rods (or “leads”) for my mechanical pencil.

Second, the pencil case needed to have a historical and/or speculative fiction theme. Museum gift shops are an often-overlooked resource for fun, innovative, and unique things, and after much searching among various online museum shops, I found what I was looking for at University of Oxfords’ Bodleian Library: a soft pencil case with a picture from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, painted by the author himself. The pencil case was part of the official Tolkien merchandise collection, and it was absolutely perfect. Because I had to order it from England, the postage cost nearly as much as the pencil case itself and the delivery took nearly six weeks.

After using this pencil case for a year now, I can tell you that it was time and money well spent.

Passion Planner and The Hobbit pencil case.

Around the same time that my old trusted pencil case kicked the bucket, I also realized that I needed to get a new calendar. When I became a university student, the pocket-sized calendars I’d used as a high school student didn’t suit my needs anymore. So I moved on to the professional calendar that was all the rage at the time–the Filofax.

The Filofax is a clever type of professional calendar in that you purchase a cover that doubles as a binder. Inside the cover, you fasten an annual paper calendar, which you at the end of the year remove and replace with the paper calendar of the next year. The cover and the paper calendars are available in different types. My Filofax was a medium-sized cover in green calf leather, and the calendar I used was the Swedish (sometimes pan-Scandinavian) weekly spread starting on Mondays that also came with a political world map, a time zone world map, national holidays for all countries in the world, an address book, and extra pages for note taking.

I continued using the Filofax after I moved to the US, but using a Swedish calendar when you no longer live in Sweden is actually not a good idea. But, when you are in the habit of doing something and that habit still works for you, why change it?

Last year, I realized that I hardly used my Filofax anymore. Instead, I used note pads for lists and appointments while the Filofax lay untouched for days. At the same time, I was writing articles and book reviews for magazines and online publications. Instead of writing down deadlines and other information I needed to keep track of in the Filofax, I used the Excel spread sheet I had originally created to keep track of my pitches and submissions.

Whereas finding a new pencil case proved tricky and required a couple of months of searching, finding a new calendar turned out to be easy. I remembered a conversation on the Slack channel hosted by an online book site where I used to be a Contributor where my fellow Contributors were raving about a calendar known as the Passion Planner. From experience I knew to trust the judgment of this particular group of people, so without further ado I got myself a Passion Planner.

The Passion Planner I ordered was the large-sized, black classic Passion Planner with one week per spread that starts on Sundays. It was a bit pricey, I thought, when I placed my order, but then again, I had just ordered a pencil case from England because it answered to my needs, so I decided to take a chance, despite the cost.

Reader, I am very happy that I took that chance. After one year with the Passion Planner, I no longer use note pads and the Excel spread sheet is only for tracking pitches (whatever few there are during the pandemic). Also, I find it easier to get an overview of what I need to do each week than I did with the Filofax. In fact, I am so happy with my Passion Planner that I ordered my Planner for 2021 already in September.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

The Astonishing Authorship of Aphra Behn

On July 23, 2015, I posted the following on Book Riot.

The Astonishing Authorship of Aphra Behn

B2002.15Aphra Behn (1640–1689) is the first woman in the Western world known to have made her living as a writer. In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf states that all women who earn their living writers owe a debt of gratitude to Aphra Behn.

If you would like to read the rest of the article, please click here.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

A Writer’s Resolution: I Shall Not Kill My Darlings

2013 is coming to an end. At this time of year it is customary to make some kind of New Year’s resolution. I usually don’t make such resolutions but this year I will. My New Year’s resolution for 2014 will be that I, when I write, will not kill my darlings. I will dismember them.

One of the most common pieces of advice hurled at any kind of writer is that you should Kill Your Darlings. This means that you should not be afraid to cut passages out of your text that don’t work. “Work” means here a passage that does not forward the narrative, is repetitive or redundant. These passages can consist of specific scenes or even chapters. Sometimes it is a character that needs to be removed.

As the name indicates, to Kill Your Darlings can be very painful. Removing a piece of the art you have created can be the equivalent of stabbing yourself in the heart.

Some of this pain comes from the fact that the phrase tells you to “kill” something you love. When something is killed it is removed as a living being from the realm of human consciousness. Therefore, it seems as if the phrase tells us that what you remove from your text cannot be used again.

What the phrase refers to is the editing process. The editing process is something that all writers do to improve their writing. When we edit, we take the text we have written, and we pick it apart to see what works and what does not. The parts that don’t work, we take out.

But when we edit, we don’t kill. We dismember.

If we were to discard completely the piece of writing that we just removed then we would be killing a darling. But we don’t. We keep it. We use it for the part of the backstory that will never be published, but that we need to know to be able to tell the story. We use it as the starting point for another story. We give it to fellow writers as writing prompts.

If we were actually to kill the piece of art that for the moment does not fit in, we would be doing ourselves a disservice. It would be a waste of time and effort and the world would perhaps we robbed of a profound experience.

Like Dr. Frankenstein we take the severed body part and put it in a jar of formaldehyde solution for future use when we create our next monster.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.