LISTED – Things in the Writer’s Toolbox

It’s been a while since I made a list here. I’ll try not to make this one too preachy or ranty. I will preface this list by saying it’s all been said before and you probably already know it all if you’re a writer. We should often remind ourselves of the important tools we have…because it’s so easy to forget the obvious.

What should every writer be equipped with? What are the necessary accoutrements to the handy box of tools they should always carry around with them?

  1. Vocal Cords – Seriously, this one cannot be stressed enough. What is one of the best things you could do for your writing? READ IT OUT LOUD. Where you hitch, fall, slumber, stall, falter, or stumble is where the reader will do the same. However you want to name it, if the flow derails while you’re reading aloud…there’s a good chance the same thing is going to happen with your reader. More than anything else, reading out loud allowed the writer to ensure that they are saying what they mean and meaning what they say. This is true of whatever you write…be it poetry, articles, plays, novels, short stories…what have you. It’s especially useful with dialogue…but don’t discount it with narrative. READ OUT LOUD.
  2. Always carry SOMETHING with you for note taking. When I first started out, the something was a pocket sized notebook and a pen. Now, it’s my Smartphone. I can just haul it out and jot a quick note for later. It’s not just for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Use your phone as a writer. If, that is, you would prefer it to the good ole notepad. Whatever works…just don’t be without SOMETHING. Sometimes you only get one chance at grabbing a fleeting idea. I know this because I have lost a few in my time. “Oh, I’ll remember it!” has so often become, “Shit! What was that great idea I had for my next novel. It was SO good. What the hell was it?”
  3. READ. READ. READ. Be inspired by the work of others. Read in the genre/market you like to write in. THEN…read in genres/markets you don’t particularly care for. All good stories are fundamentally the same when you look at them through the eyes of a writer. You can get from them craft and style and wisdom. Don’t discount whole genres…if the story is well written it will be elevated from the genre in which it sits. It will teach you how to be a better writer.
  4. See 1. BUT find a way to do this in front of an audience. Find an open mic for writers in your area. Once you have read the work aloud to yourself–and made necessary edits based on how the words sounded to your ear–read it aloud to others. If there are no venues supporting open mic for writers in your area…organize one. Or read in front of volunteers. Another idea would be to have others read your work aloud TO YOU. That way, you can follow along with a second copy and see where they stumble. Edit as you go. I can’t say enough how important a step it is to HEAR what you write.
  5. Keep a file somewhere (either in the back of a notebook, or on your computer or some other device) called POSSIBLE TITLES. Dump your spur of the moment nuggets into this file. I don’t know about other writers, but for me…I ALWAYS have titles come to me randomly. Maybe in passing dialogue, or ads, or newspapers or websites…you see a string of words or hear a string of words and think, “Hmmm…that would make a great title.” Or, out of the blue silence of your interior monologue will come up a title fully formed. Latch onto it…jot it down. Use this file as jumping off points. If you’re struggling to begin something, read the titles and see if any of them speak to you. They could be novel titles, poem titles, article titles…what have you. The point is, they rose up to the surface and you had an aha moment. Save it for later. Use it. That’s what writers do.
  6. THE GOLDEN HOUR – Have a golden hour in every single day of the year. Dedicate this hour to WRITING. Don’t deviate. Sure, find a seven hour period one day in the fall where you write non-stop and amaze yourself with that day’s word count. But still…always have that one dedicated sacred hour. You will understand the need for it once you’ve been doing it for a number of weeks, months, years.
  7. See 3. Only this one is perhaps a bit more fun. GO TO THE MOVIES. Enjoy the movie with popcorn or nachos or whatever it is you gorge on when you’re at the movies. But go! And truly, enjoy it…but also bring your analytical writer mind with you. Have it sit in the seat beside you. Share your munchies with it. Make sure it is paying attention to the dialogue and the space between the dialogue while you’re laughing or crying or whatever it is the words are making you do. Every story has a story to tell the writer. If you pay attention, you will receive it. It could be what to do or what not to do. It could be megalithic or it could be subtle. PAY ATTENTION. Writer mind will watch the movie with a critical eye, even as you are busy filling your face with popcorn.
  8. Be aware of who you are. Know thyself. I say this because only when you know yourself will you be ready to hear WRITING ADVICE. When you just aren’t sure…you will attempt to follow ALL WRITERLY ADVICE blindly. And, my friend, you will drive yourself batty in the process. Do this, don’t do that…the advice is rampant and most of the time it comes across as absolute. THIS IS THE ONLY WAY is the ugly trapping of quite a lot of the advice for writers floating around out there. ONLY WHEN YOU KNOW YOURSELF can you call bullshit to the advice that doesn’t work for you. AND NO MATTER HOW SUCCESSFUL THE WRITER GIVING IT IS…DON’T LISTEN TO IT IF IT DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU. Don’t discard it as bad advice…don’t ever do that. If someone is considerate enough to give advice, it probably comes from a place of good intention…it is probably something that has proven to work for them. BUT writing advice is a tricky thing. Not all advice works for all writers. You have to find your way. It’s great to read how-tos or, say, lists like this one…BUT there is no BIBLE OF ALL THE RIGHT ADVICE THAT YOU MUST FOLLOW OR DIE. There is only YOU…and your words. So be kind to yourself when you are seeking writerly advice. Try it all if you want, but do not be rigid in your stubbornness to follow it all. That would just be impossible. KNOW THYSELF.

That’s enough ranting for now. Just write…

I leave you with my favourite WRITER SONG…

By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright. Author of The Camino Club, Billions of Beautiful Hearts, and Book of Dreams, all from Duet Books, the LGBTQ Young Adult imprint of Chicago Review Press. Other books: Pride Must Be A Place, Half Dead & Fully Broken, Burn Baby Burn Baby, The Reasons, Sebastian's Poet, and Summer on Fire.

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