"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:
Vocabulary...grammar...active 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?