I’ve been doing several renovation projects at my wife’s Carriage House, where she teaches music and runs a classical music contracting business. At the same time I’m refinishing an old bicycle, so I’ve had to buy a box full of tools for the projects.
The experience of outlining projects, buying supplies and getting the work done has been a big aid in helping me think about my main work of writing, and how I get it done.
Stephen King used the toolbox metaphor in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, which was recently reviewed on BlogCritics.
If I remember correctly, King talks about one of his uncles hauling a big bulky toolbox around, because he didn’t know what he’d need until he got face to face with the task.
I’m finding the same thing with my own handyman projects, and have also taken to carrying the toolbox with me whenever I set up. You never know when you’re going to need a hacksaw, even though you’re painting wood trim [in my case, taking telephone wire anchors out of the brick wall].
Since this is a new effort for me, I’m having to buy stuff as I go along — and learning how to use the tools to their best effect.
Having a toolbox full of implements is really like having a box of toys — something I’ve heard in the past but never thought would infect me. And I like thinking about the next tool, and what can get done with it.
As far as writing goes, it’s making me think about using as much of what I’ve acquired in every project. In terms of blogging, a new tool for me, it means linking to other people’s stories as well as my own, and always trying to come up with new angles on topics that other people are covering.
The delete button, an old tool, is one that can always be used to handsome effect. And I’ve also written about writing with a pencil, a retro-tool not unlike a handsaw opposed to a power tool. It gets the same thing done, but can produce a different finish.
Having the physical toolbox and working on the renovations is also making me approach writing more deliberately. I often spend one to four hours a day working on one of the phyiscal projects, having a specific outocme in mind.
Today for example, I’m going to paint a high wooden table, then plant three flats of seeds to get basil, parsley, cilantro and spearmint started. I’ve already sanded the table and will paint after a few posts. Then I’ve got to set up a planting station and get the seeds in.
This is a linear, step-by-step approach which is getting the job[s] done steadily.
The same goes for writing — I’ve got several projects working and plan each day to get one or more specific tasks completed. Nothing mystical or special about it. The novelist John Gregory Dunne has said writing is like laying pipe.
The physical toolbox is the resource which allows me to get the renovation projects done. I keep adding to it and keep adding to what I am able to accomplish. And I’m finding this definite, almost mechanical approach is helping with the writing.
Not that the writing tools are the point. When you buy a quarter-inch drill bit, what you’re really acquiring is the ability to make the hole.