Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What is your favorite writing tool? (03/15/13)

Featured writer: Theresa Sanders

Contributors this month:
Dave Dormer
Don Edgers
Kay Butzin
Sara Etgen-Baker
Susan Bono

More Jars

by Theresa Sanders

When I was growing up, one of my mom's countless tasks was something that's almost a lost art these days. Every summer, she canned produce from my dad's garden, and canning jars were her tools in trade. Many a steamy afternoon was spent with the hint of canning in the air: the clear-your-nose aroma of cucumbers pickling, the snap-snap-snap of green beans being prepared.

After Dad died nine years ago, Mom decided to relocate to St. Louis, where I live. When it came time to leave her home of forty years, there was much packing and downsizing to be done. Sorting through her attic, my husband and I found one thing stored there in profusion: box upon box of canning jars. It became an ongoing joke as we toiled away upstairs. "Jars," my husband would say, lifting a cardboard lid. "More jars!" he would grumble, tearing into another.

It appeared that Mom had saved every jar she'd ever owned! Some were old Miracle Whip jars, their wide mouths and squat bodies making them good candidates for housing plump red beets or the vine-kissed tomatoes we all so truly loved. Others were Mason jars, both old and new, perfect for swathing the peaches that no store-purchased can could equal. But what to do with all those jars?

After a bit of cajoling, Mom allowed us to take some to the recycling center, but others (several cases, in fact!) made it onto the moving van, much to my husband's dismay. Mom just couldn't seem to part with them. To her, they represented a way of life; they represented productivity, abundance. Though she no longer canned at all, they gave her comfort.

When we're passionate about our work, our tools of the trade mean more to us than perhaps they would have otherwise. My favorite tools are books. To an outsider, my home must seem wrecking-ball worthy; it probably looks like I've saved every book I've ever owned. Some are thick and voluminous, dog-eared and well-used. Others gleam with new promise. All give me comfort. Not only do they represent productivity, but caring for them honors the efforts of other writers. Books provide us continuity. They help us become better writers, and connect us, one wordsmith to another. They're part of our story, morning glory.

Tiny Lights too is part of my story. And even though this will be my last formal submission as a Tiny Lights columnist, I've so enjoyed my time here. It's been a great learning experience, a valuable tool in my writer's toolbox. I still plan on checking in regularly and maybe doing another submission or two. In the meantime, I wish you abundance in your writing life. I wish you "More Jars."

Theresa Sanders lives near St. Louis, Missouri, where, much to her husband's dismay, books have overtaken every room of her house. She would like to thank Susan Bono for her guidance and kindness, as well as fellow columnist and writing pal Becky Povich, who led her to Tiny Lights in the first place. Theresa would love to connect with you on Facebook. Please drop by her Facebook page: or email her


  by Dave Dormer

As a relative newcomer to fiction writing, I consistently use the features of creative writing software entitled Write It Now. The program contains many features that I consider useful, such as:
•Writing Targets
•Extensive Character, Event, and Location creation

It also allows Random creation ability. Each area allows the user to detail every facet of their tale, including adding photos for inspiration. I found these features instrumental, especially when you're farther along in the story and need quick reference about setting details or previous notes taken.

The program also features a Name generator which is nationality specific and offers a few optional time periods. You can assign each character, a Relationship with any other character involved. The detail that you can incorporate into your story tools is astounding.

Most of the tool settings are open for your personalization such as: Thesaurus, Dictionary and editorial settings. The export features offer RTF, PDF, HTML, and Text File. It contains a word frequency tool that allows the writer to view overused words. The writer can track their story submissions and references within the program. The tool that I use dependably throughout my revision is the Readability mode. This feature considers the number of syllables, words and sentences within a specific piece of text and applies it to the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level and Flesch Reading Ease. For example: this text, as it stands rates at 10.7 meaning readable by 16-17 Grade level and a Readability of 47.65 (Newsweek Magazine).

I enjoy using this program and continuously strive to improve my writing skills.

Dave Dormer
Dryden, Ontario, Canada

Tool Time

  by Don Edgers

It all started in kindergarten with an oversized blue pencil about the size of my thumb in thickness, and close to what seemed like the length of a Billy club. Along with our writing instrument we were issued a brown-colored eraser with an intriguing smell.

As we novice writers learned our ABC's, we practiced ciphering from the symbols over the blackboard. By the first grade we chugged along, learning that the symbols made words. Our pencils grew shorter and our odoriferous erasers diminished in size.

Once we had our words more or less under control, we were allowed to illustrate our printing with color crayons. We discovered there are no erasers for crayons, so a pencil sketch before laying down of the permanent-colored wax was a good technique.

By third grade we graduated to ink-pens and blotters. Mistakes had to be scratched out with ink, causing our compositions to look like the pits.

Fourth grade introduced us to cursive writing and version 1.0 in ballpoint pens. These interesting writing tools seemed like a good idea; however, blobs of ink were periodically inserted throughout our compositions, making our writings appear sloppy or avant-garde.

It wasn't until I was in college that I saw the need learn to use a manual typewriter, then electric, and eventually, a computer keyboard. Love the computer! No eraser, pencil sharpener, dictionary, thesaurus, etc.

But when doing compositions nowadays I find I constantly revert to the use of my first writing tool - a pencil! The large blue one with a separate eraser has been changed to a mechanical pencil with an attached eraser.

Don pencils out his writings in Port Orchard, WA.
His website is

Tools of the Trade

  by Kay Butzin

Most writers compose everything on the computer, but I prefer different writing tools for different stages of a project.

In the brainstorming phase, I choose plastic, jellybean-colored, Clickster® automatic pencils. My favorite is lemon yellow with grape accents, but the lime and blueberry combination runs a close second. The instruments always have a sharp point, and they satisfy my eraser addiction when I'm sketching out a new story or essay.

For lousy first drafts, I practice free writing, employing the vintage Pelikan fountain pen my son and daughter-in-law gave me. I set a timer and for thirty continuous minutes follow the trail of black ink across the page, getting down first thoughts without regard for spelling, grammar, and syntax.

I'll allow those raw scribbles to simmer for a few days in one of a dozen wide-ruled spiral notebooks I've purchased for nineteen cents each at the Wal-Mart end-of-school sale.

And finally, I'll transcribe them into a Microsoft Word document to delete, cut, paste, and rearrange countless times until they shine like my new peridot birthstone. I don't dare trust the words to the computer any earlier in the process. Without the ritual, I'll never get the first sentence written.

Kay Butzin basks in the charm of Rockport, TX.

Putting a Face to the Name

  by Sara Etgen-Baker

Characterization is the process in which we writers create our characters' physical attributes as well as their personalities. Compelling characters are crucial to the success or failure of our stories; for without effective characterization, our plot becomes a series of pointless situations that no reader will take the time to read.

So, I'd like to share two tools that help me in developing memorable characters.Monoface,,
is a fun Internet tool that allows us to focus on our characters' physical attributes—specifically their faces. The site begins with a randomly generated face; from there, a click changes the details of the eyes, nose, mouth, and hairstyle. Over 750,000 combinations are possible! Also, the Monoface gallery lets us see faces that other users have created. DISCLAIMER: This site can be addicting and distracting!

We all know that readers want to emotionally connect with our characters first-hand. So, we typically utilize dialogue as a means of connecting our readers to our characters' thoughts, beliefs, actions, speech, body language, and interaction with other characters. However, dialogue (verbal communication) in and of itself doesn't always deliver the deep emotional connection our readers desire.

That deeper connection is developed through our characters' non-verbal communication. The book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression, is a brainstorming tool that helps the writer master non-verbal writing. 75 emotions are described by definition, body language, internal body sensation, mental response, and cues. In addition to providing tips for using the book, the introductory chapters provide insight into the power of non-verbal communication.

After reading through the book you may just find yourself twisting those shallow, clichéd emotional expressions into deeper, more unique ones. DISCLAIMER: This book is a tool and should not be substituted for a writer's own life's experiences and observance of human behavior!

I hope both of these tools help you like they have me in putting a clearer face on the names of my characters.

Sara Etgen-Baker is a freelance writer who writes at a small laptop surrounded by piles of papers; her characters sometimes keep her awake at night. When not writing she snacks on too much chocolate and enjoys walking with her husband along the scenic trails adjacent to her condo in Allen, Texas. She may be contacted at

Time to Write

  by Susan Bono

Time is my favorite writing tool. What could I write without it? Time allows me opportunities to meander through my thoughts, sort piles of memories, dig around in themes, and put words to page. Time gives me the power to go back to the days of my greatest loneliness or leap forward in anticipation of future joy. "Now," I say, and the reader stands with me in the present moment. "Then" sends us back hours or eons. Time carries me on its tributaries, and with words I chart its currents.

Susan Bono is experiencing the miracle of time in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono


C. Larson, B. Povich, M. Petty, C. Crawford, T. Sanders

Columnists Emeriti: Christine Falcone, David S. Johnson, Betty Rodgers, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Betty Winslow

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer living in Petaluma, CA. She has published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at She conducts creative writing classes in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and co-hosts the quarterly Speakeasy Literary Saloon at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. She's on the boards of Petaluma Readers Theatre and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She is still writing a postcard a day. Her most recent publishing credits include Petaluma Readers Theatre, KRCB’s Mouthful, Milk and Ink, and Passager Magazine.

Marilyn Petty is a dyed-in-the wool Midwesterner, a long-ago émigré to California and a fortunate resident of Sonoma County, CA. She taught weaving through the SRJC for 8 years and was the reporter, essayist, editor and publisher of the Redwood Empire Handweavers and Spinners Guild for 10 years. When not tangling with yarns, she is unknotting words, writing poetry and personal essays. She putters in the garden when words fail her.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email:

Claudia Larson, in her childhood, wrote long letters to her best-friend cousin and enthralled herself by writing a heart-rending story of two orphans. She writes fewer letters nowadays and prefers writing poetry and memoirs of her North Dakotan farm girl days. She is not yet an orphan, has six siblings and lives in Sebastopol, CA.

Becky Povich lives near St. Louis, Missouri. Although not young in "people years," she's only been writing for ten of those. Getting her first book completed, a memoir, is her current short-term goal. She can be reached at, or visit her blog at

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is completing a novel. A former award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Theresa welcomes email and would love to hear from you. Contact her at:

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