books · creativity · On Writing

Writer Tools

My thumb is not green…

My hands are blistered, grimy hurt

That found good stories….

Common advice to writers includes stern warnings to clear your calendar, guard your writing time with unmistakeable boundaries, and get others to do your errands and chores.

As a blogger and novelist, I am completely on board with the first two rules of this three-part commandment. Of course, I will clear my calendar — all the better to mull over plots, listen to characters, and write the story. Naturally, writing time must be defended from all assailants, be they family (yes, dog, that means you), unexpected call, fascinating opportunity, worthy cause, or beautiful afternoon for savoring.

I cannot honor the third part of the sacred triad, to give up daily rounds in service of Art, Inspiration, and Creative Productivity. Without the boring, routine, virtually invisible (unless undone), and essential chores, I would lose my mind by spending all day banging around in it.

Dirt is great. Unruly shrubs, trespassing flowers, and shocking weeds get my hands into the earth — and remarkably, when my hands are busy, my mind roams over the work in progress. Free from brutal focus, the story cavorts, takes startling leaps, and dives into unknown caves.

Tending house is also great. Again, my mind gets to play — and there are no moldering delights in the refrigerator, lacy cobweb curtains, and tarnished silver (for a few years, I prowled flea markets for silver treasures needing cleaning, buffing, and polishing — all this fun for $5 or less). My 101-year old house obliges with remarkable problems and things that go crash in the night (because I didn’t hammer in the nails properly).

For me, running errands can provide dialogue, sudden realization, and the perfect glimpse of a house, car, view that can be worked into my story. Errands are also a chance to talk with another human being, to remind myself that I am a social person who loves to joke, tell stories, and hear what others are doing in their own lives. I am the crazy woman who holds up checkout lines by meeting the eyes of the clerk, by asking questions, and by complimenting them or thanking them for past advice.

Before a writer — or any artist — goes along with the big commandment to clear your life of chores, errands, and clutter, consider what these are to you, what can be dropped without regret — and what you want to hold close for its magnificent, faithful, rewarding gifts.


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