The Writer’s Toolbox

When I was younger, I was volunteered to help with home improvement. This ranged from framing to decking to landscaping, et cetera. I was the cheap labor, and am under the impression this was true for many middle-class Americans who didn’t quite have the cash to hire it done. It’s expensive.

The weekend festivities usually took place about 9:00 AM with intermittent breaks throughout the day. Breaks all depended on how quickly my father tired out. We’d grab our tool belt and head toward the direction of the problem, be it inside or out. Saturday mornings often had an unusual crispness in the summer months. The grass had a few hours of not being burnt and it was too early for the heat and haze of the day to distort anything. It was a rather pleasant experience.

An electric screwgun used by drywall mechanics...

Pew! Pew! Pew! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As time progressed, we’d often find ourselves going back to the garage for a tool we forgot. Sometimes we didn’t have what was needed, and that resulted in a trip (or two… or three…) to the hardware store. Whether we were creating concrete forms or hanging drywall, there were always tools to make the job easier. That is to say easier than through alternative methods. For example, there is a screwdriver specifically made for hanging drywall. This is much more effective than using a regular screwdriver.

There is an expression to identify when an object is associated with a particular profession. When one is presented with an item related to a specific industry, we often hear the phrase “the tools of the trade.” After living so many years of my life, I’ve noticed this similarity with all professions. Trades will have uniquely identifiable sets of accoutrements. They even get nicknames by people who use them the most (i.e. “dikes” for diagonal pliers).

After a few months of semi-serious work in literature, it has occurred to me the writer is no different. Aside from the pens, pencils, paper and word processors, there are writing techniques that serve as tools of the profession. Need to create a pause? Understand the different types of punctuation. Need to be specific in a description? Use commas, or occasionally, the hyphenated chain of words. All of this is neatly (or not so neatly) stored in a writer’s toolbox.

The tricky part is knowing when you have a tool. It’s not like running to Lowe’s and dropping money on a brad nailer or bastard file. Identification is settled at that point, and you understand its function and value. With writing, a tool is intangible and initially undefined. A novice writer may not know what tools they have at their disposal to convey a point.

English: A profession shot of the Maestro Will...

Maestro Williams knows when a colleague is blowing smoke out their ass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I separate this idea of “tools” from “techniques,” as techniques are more about style. Techniques are what distinguish writers from each other. Basic sentence structure, grammar, and word choice all have a more constructive feel to them. It’s like making a stud wall. The hammer and nails form the frame, the drywall and mud make the surface, but the paint and paper give it style.

When properly identified, that tool becomes an indelible part of your writing toolbox. It may never be employed in your writing, but you’ll be aware of its existence. Other professionals will suggest the removal or replacement of certain tools. This happens in any profession. I can remember the difference in opinion on using 10-keys (adding machines) or the calculator provided by Microsoft Windows. In that regard, I’m not here to tell you what should be done with your tools. Every writer has the right to use the tools they have at their disposal. What I am suggesting though is to keep an eye out for anything that looks like a literary tool. Unlike the ones in your garage, these won’t take up any space at all. The more tools you have at your disposal, the better the chances of creating better pieces. After all, it takes more than a chisel and hammer to sculpt marble.

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2 thoughts on “The Writer’s Toolbox

  1. I love how you wove this into a story about time with your dad. What is the best writing tool you’ve discovered?

    • I probably hyphenate more than good form permits, because I like using it. When I was in grade school, it was really frowned upon and I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe now that I have a little less regulation, I’m sticking it to my English teachers over the years. On a practical side, I often tie adjectives together like a daisy chain. It’s fun, because it looks like a little rope bridge in my work. All of that, and I dislike boiling down my descriptors to one or two words.

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