Advice for Writers–Tools and Techniques of the Trade

Regular readers of this blog will probably be glad to know this will be the last post on carpentry and writing. Until I think of another one using that metaphor.

Ironically, I finished my big fence project and the first draft of my novel the same day. I thought some more about the similarities involved in producing both.

Obviously I had to use tools–hammer, cordless drill, screws, level, square, pencil, cord, nails–to build the fence. Or I should say to build it so it looked right. If I hadn’t used a level, for example, it would have been one crooked fence.

There are tools for writing. I am not going to say thesaurus, dictionary, pen, paper because those are shopworn. I never had much use for a thesaurus anyhow. It’s no substitute for having an adequate vocabulary and knowing when to use the right word. One writer said to get a thesaurus and put it in the shed. Sounds like a plan to me.

So, the tools I would suggest having include a word processor. You can use what you like, but writing with a computer is so much easier.

The second tool I think you need is a knowledge of literature. See how it has been done before (pace, Bare Naked Ladies). Read. Read all you can. Then read some more. You’ll see how to do it and how not to do it.

As I mentioned already, a good vocabulary is a tool. To acquire one, read. Read all you can. Etc.

I also think you need a good sense of what is significant to put in your writing. If we wanted to read an endless series of non-events we’d read the phone book.

Cultivate a sense of exposition and description in your writing and learn how to balance them.

With my fence, I tried to make it plumb, level and square. It looks better that way, but in truth, with most constructions, it’s not. It only looks that way, and you want to make sure your writing is plumb, level and square–or that it seems like it is. That means it should be, in some way, true. There’s a lot more to say about this and I’ll devote a post to it later.

The last tools are patience and perseverance. When you think you’ve been over your writing enough, go over it again. My brother refinishes guitars. He devotes hours to hand sanding with progressively finer grits of sandpaper. That is the only way that the instrument will have a smooth finish. The same thing for your writing. Going over and over and over it will produce a polished piece, one of truth and excellence.

That’s all I have to say about that for now. And so, have at it!

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