It’s Tuesday and on Tuesdays we look at writing tools.
There’s an old saw that if your only tool is a hammer, every problem is a nail. So, the obvious solution is to have as big a toolbox as you possibly can, right?
When writing about his uncle’s toolbox, Stephen King writes an anecdote about his uncle hauling the entire toolbox out to a project when all that was needed was a screwdriver. He quotes his uncle, ” I didn’t know what else I might find to do once I got out here, did I? It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.” (From On Writing.)
King talks about the tools including vocabulary, grammar, elements of style, including paragraph length, dialogue, and pacing. But what I come back to time and time again is, if you don’t have your tools with you, you are apt to get discouraged. Not just be unable to do the thing, but to feel bad about it as well. To me, this seems a form of writer’s block (which does or doesn’t exist, depending on who you read.) To be on the page and not have what you need: knowledge of a character; a plot of some kind, or even the exact model of the Pratt Whitney engine you are writing about. But which comes first? The bigger toolbox or the work? Do you just go on about your creating with what you have, or do you wait and read a bunch of writing books? The perfectionist in me wants to know everything before I start, to have every tool in the box. But I am beginning to think I just need to toss that idea aside and just wing it with whatever hammer I have.