Columns > Published on September 18th, 2019

8 Writing and Researching Tools You Might be Ignoring

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You sit down to write and—usually, at some point—you have to stop and do some research because you don't know what comes next. Similarly, I know a lot of writers enjoy writing prompts because they can help get the creative juices flowing. Whatever the case, there are tools out there that can help you improve your writing, put ideas in your head, or help you get out of a mental slump. Here are some of my favorites. 

Google Maps 

Oh, I wish I had enough money to go to all the places I write about. Sadly, I don't. That said, I can "go" there with Google Maps. I can walk the streets digitally. I can look at dilapidated houses and bars and buildings. I can see what things look like where important streets intersect. I can find good spots to hide the bodies. This is something truly invaluable for those who want to write confidently about a place they've only visited briefly or, in some cases, have never been to.

Peer-reviewed medical journals 

Listen, I like to read about science and medicine from time to time, and sometimes reading stuff I can barely comprehend puts new ideas in my head. Strange diseases, freak accidents, bizarre medical conditions, and innovative treatments for old ailments are all things you'll find out about in peer-reviewed medical journals. For folks trying to push the envelope while writing science fiction and body horror, these journals should be regular tools they turn to for inspiration.

Public transportation 

I rode the bus in Austin for half a decade. I've ridden public transportation is Florida, Barcelona, New York, and the Dominican Republic. The one thing that brings them all together? Crazy shit happens when you ride public transportation. I even started writing a series of essays called The Bus Chronicles. There was the gigantic cross dresser, a lady who always carried a plant she'd talk to, the dude with no padding between his vertebrae who had the funky spring shoes, the masturbating homeless folk, the Asian bag lady who always asked me "Where do you think minutes go after we use them?," the drunk fights on the weekends, the insane woman who always talked about having to get home to "shave the baby"... I could go on and on. Some stuff will never make it into one of my stories. Some of it will. Regardless of how much I use, those experiences helped me see the world from different perspectives, and that always helps you grow as a writer. 


With Google Maps...
I can find good spots to hide the bodies.

I know almost no one reads newspapers any more, but you can do so online and it still counts. Every crazy story I've read this year has come from a newspaper. I've been keeping an eye on crazy crime stories because I'm starting to work on a novel set in Puerto Rico. This week, for example, I read about a couple of junkies who robbed a pharmacy with infected needles they'd used on themselves. They stole 10 packs of batteries and 24 boxes of hair dye. Yeah, that stuck with me. Want crazy? Read newspapers. You might end up putting some real stuff in a book even if it's just for comedic relief. 


Twitter is an incredible place. You get a bit of everything on there. Some days are so great I don't even mind the racist assholes trying to ruin everyone's mood. I know telling you to get on social media when you want to write sounds like the most counterproductive thing in the world, so only go on there when you can't write. Some wild thing will pop up and you'll get back to it sooner rather than later. Oh, and there is a lot of support on there. If all you need is a push, Twitter has your back. 

Reading out loud 

I know some folks cringe at the thought of reading their own work out loud, but it's an incredibly useful tool that can help you weed out weird phrasing, odd dialogue, and lines that just don't flow. It's also free and you can do it whenever you want, so stop with the excuses and try it out. If you really want a trial by fire, read from a brand new story at your next event. If anything doesn't work, it'll jump out of the page and smack you in the face right then and there. 


Want to research something but don't feel like going through the bullshit results Google is going to give you? Visit your local library and talk to a librarian. They will hook you up. That obscure tome about whatever it is you're researching that you never even knew existed? Yeah, they'll point you to it. 

Strange websites 

No, not that kind of site, you twisted creature. I'm talking about conspiracy theory sites, cryptozoology sites, and places like Atlas Obscura. Those places can get your brain jumping around without the aid of chemicals. Try them out. One day I'll edit a horror anthology about strange creatures caught on tape...

Each one of these tools can help you write better, or at least give your imagination a kickstart. Try them out. Also, please share any other free tools you use. We're all ears...

About the author

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS, HUNGRY DARKNESS, and GUTMOUTH. His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist, Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbicide, and many other print and online venues. Y

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