Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Writer's Tool Kit

Whatever their background, time frame, and point of origin, the people Brian Fagan writes his archaeological thrillers about--and these narratives are indeed a good deal like the mystery/suspense intrigues of the better novelists--are well described by the tools they use.

Tim O'Brien in his estimable The Things They Carried,brings the point home and up to date by detailing some of the items American soldiers carried with them during the Viet Nam campaign.

Clothes may make the person, but tools and implements describe the person.

Accordingly, what should the well-accoutered writer carry beyond the obvious basics of something (a Moleskine notebook, a stack of 3 x 5 index cards, a few folds of manuscript paper, a laptop computer) to write on and some instrument with which to execute the writing (a pencil, a ball-point pen, a fountain pen)?

a knowledge of how language works (and does not work)
enthusiasm for the work
a hunger for more than food
a sense of how story works (and does not work)
an intimate enough acquaintance with one's inner critic to allow one to tell said critic to buzz off (or worse)
a history of voracious reading
a willingness to practice (musicians and dancers practice why shouldn't writers?)
at east one event of having written beyond boundaries
Altoid mints (just for the hell of it)

These are not easy items to come by nor do they store easily in the writer's tool kit. With the possible exception of the Altoid mint tin, these elements would pass airport security because they are not easily seen or accounted for, but you can ever tell.

Writing is not safe nor should it be.

You cannot hate a character and hope to render that individual with any kind of artistry

Any one of the tools on this list is a potential alarm setter-offer. Any tool that teaches the need for abandoning safety is a welcome addition. Terrorists hide bombs; writers hide descriptions of unsafe persons, places, ideas, things. Writers have as much in common with terrorists as police have with criminals.

When we begin writing, our thoughts are set on achieving best-seller lists. As we mature and our craft enhances, our thoughts are more properly focused on achieving banned-books lists, not, mind you, out of perversity but rather from the desire to topple the harsh judges of convention.


Pod said...

mr l! have you read 'special topics in calamity physics' marisha pessl? i feel i should like it, but i'm not fully there.
hope you are well!

John Eaton said...

And at least 451 good reasons to keep on writing.

Altoids and ginger candy,


Anonymous said...

Shelly - Many thanks for this!

x said...

A daring list, particularly the Altoids in metal boxes!