I wrote this a few years ago. It was originally published in the WCDR Wordweaver Newsletter. I think it’s a good reminder for writers everywhere…
Filling Your Writerly Toolbox
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the writer’s toolbox could include such a thing as a hammer! We could smash those uncooperative words to bits and smithereens whenever they decide not to mold to the articulations of our wandering thoughts. Sadly, this is not a very helpful tool to the creative force behind writing. We would tend to think of the hammer as Home Depot’s answer to that nagging internal editor… not very practical when creating. Perhaps we should leave it where it belongs… in the editor’s toolbox. They are more apt to use it with the care, precision and respect the weapon, er, tool demands.
What the writer should be able to find in their toolbox are flowers. And trees. And memories. And people. And voices. And birds. We should be able to open that box every day and walk into another world. Picture Narnia without the bulky wardrobe, Neverland without the hassle of learning the leap of faith needed to fly or even Wonderland without the bumps and scrapes accumulated from the fall that takes you there. We should be able to open our toolboxes and look in, reach in and grab out imagination itself. Whether we crack it open for a creative session of poetry or to write the latest freelance article on sleep apnea, we should be able to find helpful gadgets inside that will help us reach our eventual goal.
Writers should realize that the world around them is their toolbox. They should remember to take long walks in conservation areas, memorizing the texture of bark and the names of plants, trees and flowers. (Or even the taste and grit of dirt on their tongues, if they are so inclined.) They should sit on benches in malls and stare into the faces of strangers. They should collect scars, hairstyles and peculiarities from these people… write them down in notepads for future use. They should be in the business of accumulation, swallowing whole the world around them and spewing it back into their neat little toolbox for future excavations into the world of words.
Alongside daisies, alders and people–pictures that can be freely amassed–writers should also find at least one dictionary and an accompanying thesaurus. (We are never too old to learn new words and strengthen our vocabularies.) Leaning against their collected sounds of the ocean, and insects and wind, they should find a good reliable style guide. These things help to curb our tendencies to ramble, suggest to us the best possible way to present our thoughts. These are all good things, just as necessary to the process of writing as jumping off the edges of our imaginations to discover other more tantalizing worlds than our own.
Whatever you choose to arm your own toolbox with, you should make sure it contains a healthy balance. It should be two parts imagination, one-part reference books and maybe even one-part bravado… borrowed or genuine. If this is not enough, if capturing the world and squeezing it into the small confines of an imaginary toolbox is not quite enough to get you to where you need to go…take courses. Attend workshops in the areas that interest you. Never forget to squeeze mentors and teachers into that bustling box. Never underestimate the amount you still need to learn to improve upon what you already know about this thing called writing… this beautiful gift that is yours for the taking. Cultivating your gift with a well-stocked toolbox is the only way to show it the respect it deserves.