It's funny because I never use to carrying a sketch pad with me and now I do. I'm not the world's greatest artist but it helps me to write down ideas. I forget them later on so this is my alternative. It's easier this way for me to transfer it on cloth to cross-stitch it too.
Also, graph paper is great. I use that to work out lettering/etc. It's cheap too so you can always have a supply. :D
My sister likes to tease me about not having a pattern to work off of. I just see it in my head really and go from there. I don't use software/etc. to work out the colors.
I think the person that inspired me the most to get back into cross stitching was Sublime Stitching.
I started when I was about 7 years old. I use to go to a after school day care at my school and one of the options of things to do was sitting with a Hispanic lady that taught us cross-stitch. I do believe my Mom still has some of my pieces from back then. I worked at it up until about high school and then it wasn't "cool". Only a few people and family knew I did this. I have no idea WHY I thought crafting wasn't "cool". I was a stupid kid.
Later on I picked it up again after seeing Sublime Stitching. I could go out of the "loop" and make my own patterns. If Sublime Stitching could do it then I could. From then I had a few conversations with friends that suggested I sell my work and here I am. Pretty much in a nutshell.
I also have two women in my family that are great crafters: My Mom and Sister. When we get together there is a mess of craft items somewhere.
Now I leave you with a cute picture of one of my guinea pigs Ethie. My sweet girl has been with me for about 4 years now.
Oh! I will be setting up my furniture from IKEA this weekend. Hopefully I will have pictures of my new crafting room.