Monday, September 27, 2010

Toolbox Treasure

"I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work." --Stephen King

I've been slow in getting to Stephen King's classic On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, but finally finished it yesterday. One impression that stayed with me is that of Uncle Oren's toolbox, a huge homemade box with leather straps. It contained construction and repair implements that stood the test of time. It also contained a surprise treasure at the bottom--a brass etching hidden away. Once discovered and valued, the etching was found to be of significant worth. Who would have thought?

From the carpenter's toolbox, King draws an analogy to a writer's toolbox, and the tools there that serve us well. His list includes: verbs (and few adverbs!)...elements of style (aka Strunk and White's The Elements of Style)...good description, dialogue, narrative...symbolism...theme.

Reading is also important. "Can I be blunt on the subject?" King writes. "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

All these things are good. But as in any terrific story, the heart of the matter comes in the last few pages. Many know that King suffered a horrifying--and life-threatening--accident in 1999. At the time he was working on On Writing, and the manuscript was not yet complete. Just to read about his massive injuries and long months of therapy made me cringe. How can a person even think about writing, let alone finish a book, after suffering such a nightmare?

"I didn't want to go back to work," he writes. "I was in a lot of pain...(and) couldn't imagine sitting behind a desk for long...Yet I felt I'd reached one of those crossroads moments when you're all out of choices." Writing had helped before, he says. "Perhaps it would help me again."

And it did. He eventually found that writing continued to do what it always had done--make his life "a brighter and more pleasant place." He had found treasure at the bottom of the box.

He concludes by saying the book is not only about how he learned to write, and about how others can write better, but that with it he offers a permission slip. "You can (write)," he says, "you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will."

Of course we don't really need permission, but encouragement sure helps. And that's the treasure I found in this little book. Persevere. Remember the joy. Go back to the basics. Continue to learn. Grow stronger from the struggle. I've enjoyed a great degree of encouragement on my journey--in my writer's group, at conferences, from family, and with the great community of writer/bloggers.

Yep, I've collected some super treasures in my toolbox. What favorite tools/treasures are in yours?


  1. He's not my favorite to read but he seems to know what he's doing and has great advice. :O)

  2. Ah, I must give this some thought. I appreciate you sharing his advice! Good topic:)

  3. Okay, this gives me goosebumps! Isn't it ironic, how, after not blogging or checking in on blogs for a whole month, I log in today and find this post...after *just reading* about the toolbox in the King book yesterday! (And that was after I'd put down the book for about a week). I only got to the vocabulary part, but the metaphor had already struck a huge chord with me. I kept going back to his words "Whatever you do, don't come to the process of writing...*lightly*." I took incredible encouragement from that. For as little writing as I can etch out, I never come to the process lightly. I always come with a burden that I have to do it. I felt like that's what he was getting at...and then to read how you've pieced together the important facts of his accident and how writing got him through it, wow, that leaves me speechless. I'm going to cling to my own toolbox, even when I berate myself for not opening it and getting dirty more often. The thing is, I write when I can and for now that has to be enough. It's helping me too.

  4. It has been awhile since I read Stephen King's book but I remember being inspired by it. It was nice to be reminded of some of the things he wrote that made me want to write even more :)

  5. Thanks Diane, Karen and Catherine for stopping in. King does give inspiration and good advice on the subject of writing. As to reading his genre--well, I have one of his books (thanks to a birthday gift) on deck to read, the first for me. We'll see what we think...

    And to supermom (my wonderful daughter!)--I hope I didn't spoil the ending for you :-) I also hope you are continually encouraged in your writing. Even when--especially when--you aren't able to fit it in at the moment. It's there, working its magic, and will come out when the time's right. It's a friend, not a burden! Thanks for sharing.

  6. I need to read this book. And I so totally agree about the encouragement. I don't think I'd have the courage to go on without it.

  7. I want to read On Writing. I need to buy it, everyone has been saying such good things about it. So glad you came away with something for your writing. I love books like that. I also love what was said about to write, one must read. I agree 100%! It's part of a writers job!

  8. I have heard such wonderful things about this book. Why don't I just buy that thing? Sheesh.

    Great post, Kenda. Active verbs always so important. I gotta get this book. :)