My Writer's Toolbox (Melissa Robbins)

      Every person wanting to improve his or her craft must have the right tools. A painter needs the right brushes to paint his masterpiece and yes I spend $6.99 a piece on the really nice markers at the craft store. There is a difference between coloring with those than the Crayola ones. The same applies to writers. Let’s open my writer’s toolbox and find out what helps me.
   My library (looking rather tidied up at the moment): Of course it fits in my toolbox. My box is bigger on the inside. ;0) The library is my favorite room in the house which makes it ideal to create stories. Along with my desk and computer, my library shelves are full of books to fuel my creativity and for research purposes. Don’t forget the comfortable chair for reading. Since I burned up the laptop, my husband insisted that our next PC be a professional computer, one designed for staying on for long periods of time. I LOVE it.

   My plotting board: Also in the library, it’s on the right just out of the picture. I would be lost without it. Scenes are on cards and I pinned them to my bulletin board. I know what scenes I have to write and where I’m going, like a road map.

   The Internet opened so many doorways into worlds that some people would never experience. One day, I hit the jackpot. Some wonderful souls imputed for a digital diary ALL the incidents in Northeast England during World War Two. I know when the blackout times were for each day. What areas were hit. Damage reports. Times when the sirens went on and off. Everything.

    Photographs: I collected photographs for people, uniform and clothing references. What houses looked like in the 40’s. Speaking of tools, there are photographs for items that we just don’t use anymore with technology. My fourteen year old boy can’t just throw a shirt in the front loading washer, not that he would do that if he could.

   My notebooks: I need a place to put all the items I found for my stories. My toolbox may be ever expanding, but my brain can only remember so much. The leather bound ones are my favorite. I write ideas and scenes in them. Stuff in photographs of people, planes, and houses, maps, and sketches I’ve drawn. They are novel scrapbooks.

    Music: I can’t write in silence. I HAVE to have music playing softly in the background. When I sit down at my computer to start writing, I click on Itunes, Word, and Excel in that order. Lately, I play soundtracks like Transformers 4: Age of Extinction and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Both epic soundtracks, the songs inspire me and my characters. Some songs are soft when my hero is contemplating the world and other songs when he and his mates are taking on the bad guys. Drago’s Coming is my favorite one from HTTYD2. It’s a “let’s ban to together and kick some villain butt” song. With its mournful pipes and trumpet, Stoick’s Ship makes a great song for a fallen comrade.

   That’s just some of the items in my writer’s toolbox. Do you have any like these in yours?

My Writer’s Toolbox (The Hairy One)

 That’s right, the hairy one. That’s the one I rely on the most. Without it, the others fail me. The hairy one is my head. I do have to clean it out, polish it up, and label things occasionally.

Quite often in the sands in the hourglass counting the minutes of the days of my life, my writer label gets a little stained and peels off easy. My hairy little head sports other labels too. I’m a mother, grandmother, wife, farmwife, sibling, daughter, woman over fifty and therefore a resource as well as in charge of a lot of the community and family things that goes on or it wouldn’t happen, bookkeeper, friend, veterinarian, doctor, nurse, psychologist, therapist, wardrobe mistress, financial planner, treasurer, secretary, lobbyist, advocate, school bus driver, IRS as well as UPS as well as Social Security wrangler, historian, outstanding debt collector, truck driver, purchasing and procurement department head, general handywoman and maintenance worker, light mechanic, inventory controller, quality inspector, teacher, tutor, student, groundskeeper, pest control agent, designated driver, and curator.  You can see why occasionally, I come a little unstuck. If you were to examine your labels you’d find you might be a bit overbooked too.

To help my hairy little head with the control box in it, I am trying to keep the general atmosphere and climate it works in positive. The heavy cloud of guilt of things undone under those other labels can wipe out off the creativity board and nothing can go forward—at least not so much for me. Clearing out this miasmic fog of guilt took on a life of its own recently.

After the turn of the new year, I had numerous very important projects and tasks to accomplish. After they were finished, I turned my attention to the guilt fog. It consisted of promises made or tasks expected to get done that had not. To exacerbate the problem, I have a horrible life-scarring habit—yes, I’m embarrassed to say—note writing.

Ah, my know-it-all-seeing eye sees your puzzlement. When I write notes, I can be anywhere doing anything and any piece of paper can be used—ANY! I have a government diagram on how government works on a dinner napkin. It really is nice so I brought it home and scanned it into the bottomless, multi-copied, now-backed-up-to-the-cloud computer. (Aside note: It took ten continuous 24 hours days to back up my computer to the cloud the first time.) When I run out of paper, the note takes off around the margins. As a thing gets done on a large piece of paper, I rip it out. The long term consequences of these two practices are thus. One—I have some really long (read old) notes not taken care of. Two—I have enough of these little pieces of paper are like little critters. That they fall out of everywhere like an infestation of cockroaches.

To Stop the Crazy of these little critters, I decided to focus on them. Finding them where ever they hid and dealing with them. By concentrating my usable time on them, I have eradicated the oldest-8 years old to some of the newest--last week. With any hope at all, I will banish the infestation by using my other writerly tools on them—a calendar planner, a monthly set of files, a two scanners, two printers, one all in one FAX, Printer, Scanner, Copier with a document feeder. Actually, three of the herd have feeders.

The first thing was to get my Dell Optiplex 7010 to working well. It was having mini-strokes and black-outs.  I called Dell service and had the guy fix it. The Dell Optiplex 7010 is a super fast, very capable machine because I have software programs that require me to have three or four of them open at a time to manipulate data between them or get interrupted and have to find stuff in one while the others are waiting on me to get back. I live very rurally in SW Kansas several hundred miles from a computer store. Because I needed something reliable, I went to the Dell section that deals with business, explained my needs, and got them met. The other need was for service—immediate service. Dell sold me a service that is sooooo awesome I wouldn’t be without it if all I had was a computer to read e-mail! This service guarantees that I’ll be up and running—with a tech to come to my door if necessary within twenty-four hours. And they keep that promise. My Dell and my Dell techs are lifelines and support for everything that I do under all of my labels.

Beware of past tools that you thought needed an upgrade. I started my first novel with a Tandy word-processor laptop that my mom found at a garage sale. At the turn of the century with Y-2K and issue, I purchased my first laptop and worked exclusively with that. It never left the desk in my office. Then its hard drive died when it was two weeks old—bad bearings and I learned about backing up. Then I bought a tower computer system. Wanting some mobility, during a stretch of bountifulness, I bought another laptop and had wonderful days writing in local cafes once a week. Ah, those were wonderful times. The cafĂ© closed. College kid needed laptop. Then four years ago we had another spurt of prosperity and I went and bought a wonderful Dell laptop—and it is too heavy to lug anywhere. Beware of equipping one’s self with tools of a bygone utopia.

My writer label is the one that insisted there be almost instant backup and that data could not be lost. Last year I discovered my backups had made multiples of my work in progress—when it was discovered, I had several different copies of the work I was editing—all different. That took the starch out of my writing as I had to coax myself out of a fetal position before doing anything.

I took a hammer to the treacherous backup, the one the size of a pack of cigarettes or the size of the portion of steak we’re supposed to eat. Ok, I didn’t take a hammer to it, I gave to an eager idiot. Ok, that’s not fair either. It isn’t his fault I flicker between a two watt brain and a half watt one. Either way, a backup thingy was NOT for ME. After spending WEEKS straightening out the work-in-progress multiple copy problem and merging all of the edits, I went on-line for an auto-backup system. I used mybackupPC. It worked very well. But it turns out those mini-blackouts? They were caused by incompatibility between the backupPC and another program I used for the farm. Both had to go. Now I use Carbonite. It is awesome as I deleted something I needed to find. Retrieving it was as easy as using a thumb (travel) drive. Easy helps my hairy little head function at the working wattage.

The monthly file folders are for follow-ups to make sure things got done that were supposed to have. For example; my driver’s license is a CDL with all of the endorsements including hazardous materials –although why Homeland security would let me haul dynamite I’m not sure….anyway, my medical card had been signed by the doctor with the expire date as the same as the date he issued it—small error—big consequences. My license was downgraded until an un-expired med card was sent in. New one issued by doctor sent in. The follow up date came up where it was filed in March and I checked to see if my license was re-upgraded. It was. The folders also include a note and a copy of this year’s tax return for a seed cleaning business for next year. I’m going to give it a go myself. EVERYTHING goes through those folders if necessary—a note on where I’ve sent a manuscript, a copy of an invoice of something I’m evaluating, a ticket to an event.

There is a calendar notebook with a pouch in the front as well as a very large clip. This calendar notebook stays on the corner of my desk. As each month rolls around, I read the notes of what I’m supposed to accomplish this month. For example; buy the weed preventer for the acres around the house and have it ready to put out next month. In next month there is a note to spread it.  The clip is for on-going stuff—like the number to my dad’s hospital room where he currently resides. The clip also has the type of timer I use for watering. I could have put it in the folder for April and should have—Ooopsie.

Scanners and printers. When I work on the websites, I need the color scanner for pictures.  When doing ad work ups, I need the scanner that allows me to take an image of writing and then scan and put into Word to manipulate the words. I need a printer/copier that is economical for printing off copies of the novels because I keep those to edit while waiting in line or in the pickup while my farmer husband is admiring equipment somewhere. Lots of editing gets done then.

Paper, pencils, pens, folders, totes, and cell phones. I use a lot of paper pads and have them tucked into every vehicle and room in the house. I love dark soft pencil lead. I write boldly and like to see it. Same for pens. I also make enough changes with the pencil work that I have separate and wonderful erasers. The totes are for toting the current work-in-progress, the something else I’m editing, or for a book or magazine like RWA’s.  Cell phones aren’t just for calling. They’re for research on the go or pictures on the go.

A simple Kindle really helps with reading for fun, reading for craft, and reading my work to see if it has true readability. Love that thing. I’m currently reading three, a romance, Financial Peace, and a very in depth book on cutting out extra words by learning how to do screen plays.

I am a tool too. My health, my rest, my attitude are all parts of me that help or hinder my abilities to function. Best recent things? 1000Vitamin B-12. Oh my. It has cleared the sludge out of my brain. Love it! Sleep—I don’t feel guilty about naps and I try to get at least six hours a day—more if I can.  Attitude—it needed adjusted. I have to remember “Progress not Perfection”. Done ok is better than not done at all because I’m still working on it. That includes dishes, bed-making, writing, and a host of other items. I have a timer and no matter how overwhelmed I am, I give myself fifteen minutes out of every hour to relax and regroup and un-whelm. My attitude has gone from on-the-cross martyr to one of actual bounce and fun. Everyone lives better with themselves when they aren’t making grouches of the people they love by biting them.

A recap.
            Dell Computer Otiplex 7010
            Dell computer ProSupport on call
            Dell laptop as a chair ornament
            Carbonite cloud backup
                        Windows 7 professional
                        Microsoft Office Suite with Word
                        CCleaner, Recuva, Defragler, Speccy—all used to keep computer health well
                        McAfee subscription to keep me from the viral side of the internet world
                        Pintrest for fun and shopping
                        Chrome for a browser with Google for info. My google is trained to find an amazing amount of things I need faster than any other search engine—from car parts to instructions on how to build a kite large enough for a person to ride—writerly thing.
            Scansnap S1500—scanner with document feeder—amazing tool. We have one on everyone’s desk. It has OCR so we can scan and then change wording. Love it!
            HPhotosmartC8180 All-in-one—Color printer, scanner
            HP LaserJet P2030 printer for excellent quality black printing
            Brother 4-In-One for economic printing, faxing, scanning, copying
            Coffee Pot Carafe—hot coffee whenever I want it—exercise to go get coffee
            Robot vacuum—says it all
            Timer—because I have absolutely NO concept of time. Need those 15 minute breaks.
            Labeler—to label how to load each machine whether it is face down, feet first or face down, head first or whatever. The danged things all load paper differently.  I also label all of the cables and wires so re-placing stuff is easier. I have two phone lines, modem, wireless router, TV router, and other assorted techno-pets—all with labels on the suckers. Life is easier under the desk after that. Bread tags work well to for labels on wires. Also have a laminator—works great on name tags for conferences.
            All of these are to make life go quicker on things I don’t want to do so that I can get to my worlds and people in my hairy little head tool box and play with the writerly tools that are in it.


The Recycled Tech Writer’s Toolbox. (Kate O'Hara)

I worked in a construction area for a time and was required to wear a hard hat. Mine was labeled “Recycled Tech Writer.”  I’m a techie – a true geek. I learned to compose on a manual typewriter keyboard with my first full-time writing job in 1964. I kept a notebook and pencil by my bedside to write down dream induced ideas, but any actual writing was done at the keyboard. That same year I wrote my first computer program in an obscure language you’d now call assembler. I bought my first home PC, a TRS-80 Color Computer (affectionately called a CoCo), in 1980. Since it didn’t have a writing “app,” I programmed my own word processor in basic so I could do my freelance tech writing jobs on it. I have owned and worked with so many different computers, peripherals, devices and software over the years I can’t even remember all of them, much less list them. So, what’s in my writer’s techie toolbox today? A 2007 desktop computer with Windows.

Doesn’t sound too cutting edge to you? Well, I have to admit I rebuilt it 2 years ago and it has a few performance enhancements, but it was a multimedia monster at conception. Sure, I have a lot of current software for special purposes, but my primary one for writing is Microsoft Word (in Office 12). I know there are spiffier writer apps and newer versions of Office, but at my advanced age, having a trustworthy old friend I know intimately is a comfort ;-) I have used Word as my primary writing tool for decades (and decades before that) since it first became available. Learning the quirks and capabilities of this versatile software over the years has made composition easier for me in many ways, so I stick with it despite trials of newer software that try to lure me away. I’ve tried various laptops, notebooks, tablets and countless software, but have slowly abandoned them as adding more trouble than value. So, I am now reduced to composing on one old desktop computer with an old version of the oldest graphical interface word processor software. Some geek, right?

I did grudgingly add a new piece of software last fall that I like a lot, Scrivener from Literature & Latte. I wasn’t won over to their word processor, but the organizing tools are terrific for someone like me. Being a techie, I admit to still being a plotter now that fiction is my passion. Scrivener can organize my writing projects by a variety of types: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Miscellaneous (like poetry) and even Scriptwriting with appropriate tools and layouts for each. The project is then built of parts, chapters, scenes, etc. These can be displayed several ways, but I like to use the corkboard so I can see all my notes and rearrange scenes or plot points by simply dragging and dropping them. The tools I love best and use most are the character and setting descriptions. This is a reasonably priced piece of software for writers who might like to organize ideas all in one place instead of using multiple notebooks, file cards and whiteboards.

To be fair, I have a Kindle tablet and use it for proofing and markup away from home. I also get a lot of help from online technology like Google for quick research without a trip to the library plus dictionary, style and thesaurus sites. I can send files around the world for collaboration and loosely translate them into nearly every language instantly. The computer age has made writing both faster and more immediate, but not necessarily easier. You still have to do the tedious chore of putting words on paper—or at least on a screen. The motto for techie writers is “Save early, save often.”

What is in my Writer’s Toolbox? (Z. Minor)

Currently my writing office is equipped with a desk-top computer and a laptop, both computers have Microsoft 2013 and I use both of them. The desk top for writing my novels and the lap-top for tracking what I’m writing. Confusing - not to me, let me explain.

I use the lap-top to keep a timeline of my story as well as a master list of names and important events taking place throughout the story. This stops me from having to relook up the information I already used. An Excel spread sheet keeps track of chapter numbers, page count, and which characters are in the scene. This keeps me having to remember the who, what, and where as I write – especially important in rewrites - so I don’t forget some little detail; like eye or hair color, and names - especially spelling of names and places.

I use the Internet for my go to place for gathering historical information which I weave into my stories. Even for contemporary novels I find the Internet most helpful. Because I enjoy doing research I have found over the years I can spend way too much time on this portion of my writing process. Add the fact, I use only a small portion of any material I gather, otherwise my story would become nothing more than a history lesson. As I write I use the research I have collected as a backdrop for a scene or some tidbit to enhance the time period of the story. I actually do most of my research while I’m in the process of writing my first draft. If I find I need more information to help me paint a better word picture or to give more clarity when I am working on a second or third draft of the story – it’s back to the Internet and a little more research.

My favorite writing tool is a software program called Dragon. I speak into a microphone and my words are put on the page. This is most helpful when my hands get sore from typing. Sometimes the program and my voice come up with some interesting words, especially if it is not a very common word. The program updates after a voice session and there are ways to put favorite or special words into the program’s vocabulary. But when the same word has two different spellings and/or two different meanings it can get very interesting. One example – I said the word flower and Dragon printed flour.

What I really like about this program is when Dragon reads the story back to me. I catch a lot of mistakes, misspelled or missing words – my mind many times is ahead of what I am typing. I have found sentences with either too much punctuation or none at all. Many times I hear a sentence and think that is not what I meant to say or this needs to be reworded because it is confusing. It was the best investment I made to improve my writing.

I have a great imagination but thinking up characters, scenes, dialogue, and settings, and writing it down are very different tasks. So I write, rewrite and, rewrite until I have a solid story.

Z. Minor

Author of Historical Romantic & Contemporary Suspense Novels.

Writer's Toolbox (Katherine Pritchett)

Every job is easier with the right tools. Just ask a plumber trying to replace a faucet with kitchen tongs. Or try to pluck your brows with a pair of pliers. What’s in my toolbox? Oh, lots of bright green tools: reciprocating saw, drill, brad nailer. And a pole saw. Circular saw. Weed eater. Mower. Power painter. All kinds of drill bits—oh, wait, you mean my writer’s toolbox.

Well, there I have all kinds of neat tech toys: a new 10” Asus tablet with detachable keyboard (very solid) that came with Office 2013. Because I lack the hand/eye coordination of today’s generation that grew up with video games, I use a wireless mini-mouse. I would prefer a Bluetooth mouse to keep my single USB port free, but I just ordered a four-port USB 3.0 hub so I can plug in my mouse receiver, my 1TB portable hard drive and my still-wired old Brother laser printer. I also have a wireless Brother ink-jet color printer for when I need color (or am too lazy to get up from the recliner to print a page or two).

One of the toys I also have is a Bluetooth portable speaker (smaller than my mouse) so I can listen to my daughter’s music with better sound than the Asus speakers afford. And then there’s my digital recorder (not much bigger than my mouse) for when I get great ideas while driving or being walked by the dog. And for good measure, a USB battery charger for mouse, camera and recorder batteries.
I also still have my 15” Dell laptop that was beginning to develop issues after four years. Once I get my desk cleared, I’ll use it as a desktop, with the portable hard drive allowing me to work from either platform. After many years of carrying a full sized laptop from one side of the country to the other, the Asus is a delight. I’m learning to work moving between mouse, touchpad, or touchscreen, whichever is more convenient for the task at hand.

Though I have a nice, comfy, supportive desk chair, I usually work from my recliner or my bed. Or my kids’ couch. Or an airplane seat. Or my front porch. I also have a big desk with bookshelves and a bulletin board in front of me, printer stand with drawers for supplies beside it, and more file cabinets with a desktop on the other side. My office is bright and sunny with a stereo in the corner, and reference books at hand.

I bought a new thesaurus recently, and stayed up an extra hour or so just enjoying the words. Chicago Manual of Style, maps and a baby name book also stand ready nearby, though much of my research comes from internet searches.

But the single most important, useful tool in my writer’s toolbox is my writer’s mind. The artist who paused a moment to stare at something in the mall outside the shop while doing my makeover will become a Russian immigrant who spotted a hit man for the Russian mob in Convergence, my next novel in the Richard Matthews series. The friendly gray cat with the pink belled collar who showed up on my porch (and continues to do so every time I turn into the driveway) might become a messenger in another story. Or a means for two characters to meet. Geese flying south at the end of winter, probably trying to temporarily avoid the Arctic cold front rushing our way, might become a herald of impending doom in an apocalyptic novel.

The eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the skin: all are ways of experiencing the world that a writer uses words to share. In short, it doesn’t matter if you use the newest technology or a number two pencil and Big Chief tablet to communicate. It’s your unique way of experiencing the world that is the most important tool in your toolbox.

My Writing Toolbox by J Vincent

My first books in the late 1970’s were all written in longhand and then typed on a manual typewriter.  My first computer was an IBM PCjr which my husband gave to me for Christmas the year I went back to teaching--along with the payment schedule. It took him 24 hours during Christmas vacation to figure out the software he also bought so I could do my grades. Have we come a long way baby since then! I’ve had a variety of computers over time.  It took me awhile before I could compose on the computer but teaching got me over that.  When I was building the computer lab at school as well as teaching in it I often had to compose lessons, assignments, and quizzes on the fly.  Suddenly it didn’t seem so strange to do everything on the keyboard! I hated Word Perfect which I had to learn to teach the school secretary but it saved my bacon when it came to teaching my students word processing on Apple IIe’s.  When what you saw wasn’t what printed I knew exactly how to fix it due to WP. When I built a networked Windows lab I switched everyone to Microsoft Word which seemed easier in comparison.  So many versions of Windows and Word since then.  I’m on Word 13 now.  I also occasionally use Dragon Naturallyspeaking.  If I were more industrious in training my “dragon”--actually me--I’d use it much more. My present laptop (no more desktops since the last one died) is an HP Envy 17”. I bought this one a couple of years ago because of ongoing vision problems--simply needed a bigger screen although I did not like the increase in size and weight at first.  

Besides Word and Dragon I have other software that assists me in my writing.
·       Family Tree Maker helps me keep all my characters ages etc. straight in the series I am writing.  Quick Verse is what I use to find or refine all the bibilical quotes one of my character’s is well known to spout as well as vicars and other characters. 
·       Webster’s Ninth New (it really was new in 1989) Collegiate Dictionary is the only one I know of that included original date of use.  This is very helpful for a historical author! 
·       I have several “name” books both first and surname.  I especially use A Dictionary of English Surnames and wish I had a French one, too.
·       Roget’s Thesaurus which I originally found extremely frustrating to use and my well-worn Reader’s Digest Family Word Finder--a layman’ thesaurus if you will.
·       A to Z Georgian London and A to Z Regency London with large detailed street maps of the times.

Many of my resources are online these days.
· gives me insight into Nobility and Titles in France
· is for English Lovers and all things English
· lest me search archives of over 250 institutions across England
·       I access the London Times 1785-1825 and other historical London papers online is good for word use, thesaurus source etc.  An OED site would also be useful but free access to OED is difficult to find.  If you can't access the Oxford English Dictionary, you can search Google Books and limit the Search Tools time to whatever date you need. 
· is an interesting site for basic battle information as well as a birds-eye-view of the timeline
· is a more serious broader information source founded on a Napoleonic magazine for the Napoleonic times from the French Revolution onwards

I could go on and on--after all I have over 2000 books in my sister and my Georgian and Napoleonic research library. Internet sources are also endless.  If I had to pick one tool as the best writing tool I’d have to say myself.  My brain and all the processes within it that I don’t understand but which result in story ideas, characters, where to find the information I need and settings and all the rest amazes me still. When I read, be it fiction or nonfiction, I marvel at how diverse our minds are and what wonders to behold they all produce. Many items in our toolkits will be the same or very similar but what comes out in the written word will always be different.  Isn’t that a marvel as well as marvelous!?

The Writer's Tool Chest

Patricia Davids here. Our WARA blog this month is about writing tools.
What's in my writer's toolbox?
Interesting question. I don't think of my writing corner as a toolbox, but I guess it is. I'm a creature of habit when it comes to my writing. I write on a computer at my desk. In fine weather I may move to the back porch to enjoy the fresh air, but I'm really only productive in my office space. I have a touch-screen desktop monitor by HP. I don't have a laptop, but I have often thought about investing in one. My desktop still has Window's 7 on it. I also use Office 2010. I'm not really computer literate. I only know my way around the things I use often. I don't like to learn new things on the computer. KISS. Keep it simple stupid. That's what works for me.
 I will write longhand in a pinch. Usually when I'm trying to put together a plot or gathering research. I like to scribble in notes and cross out things until the story makes sense to me. I also have to talk it out. Out loud. I may talk it out to myself, to the dogs, to my daughter or to my critique partners, but I always talk it out. I have to have a plot before I can move forward. It may change as the book goes along. I have to say that 99 % of the time, it changes when I uncover my character's true motivation. That is the magic moment. Does talking out loud make me a writing tool?
No, but it makes my Dragon a tool. I use Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate when I'm writing my drafts, but I revise by manual typing. (I do love the software and highly recommend it.) I also use Natural Reader 10 to read my work back to me when a chapter is finished. It helps me catch typos, echo words and poor sentences. The software comes with several voices, but I use Paul's voice. I like the sound of a guy reading my work.
Another tool I have developed is a plotting guide that I use to get each of my books started. I begin with a name and a physical description. Next, Goal, Motivation and Conflict for each character as well as the character's arc type. Then I follow a series of steps through 16 chapters that includes the stages of attraction for each character, the major turning points, the goal changes, the increasing conflict, Black moment and resolution. Not all of my books follow the same path. Some are 14 chapters, some are 22, but I make sure I have all the elements I've listed in order to create a complex and satisfying story. No matter how interesting a plot or setting, it's really about the emotion in the story. Never short-change a romance reader on the emotion in your story. 
While all these things are aids to keep me churning out books, they can't replace my most valuable tool.
Good old-fashioned BICHOK.
Butt In Chair Hand On Keyboard. (Thank you, Roxann for teaching me this.)
BICHOK is the only way I have managed to complete 28 books since I first joined WARA way back in 1996. It will be the way I reach my ultimate writing goal of 100 books before I retire. I think I'll be around 95 years old by then, but who cares. I like telling love stories.
Aside from writing, my favorite tool is my cordless drill. What's your favorite non-writing tool? Rolling pin, sewing machine, jackhammer? Tools are cool.