Back when I was struggling to write one or two books a year, I had an awful idea. I decided I would write a column for an online publication outside the Sudden Insight umbrella. It was a bad idea because I was writing so slow, and had too many other things to do. Also, the money was not worth mentioning; it makes more sense to offer something for free on our website than essentially give it away to someone else’s. Now that I’m doing a column of sorts, I’m even more relieved that it all fell through than I was when it first did. ‘Why I Love To Write’ is a better idea than ‘Norry’s Toolbox’ was. Of course, as a guy with many literal and metaphorical toolboxes, I still think it was pretty clever.
I was going to edit it; but I already did, multiple times. Rather than give you an updated version, I’ll let you know that this is an old post; when this all gets compiled, this section will change a bit. In the meantime, it’s a fine place to get started. I hope you enjoy it, the first article that never was from the column that never will be. (Well, never say never…)
Norry’s Toolbox #001
“Sometimes You’re the Hammer . . .”
“. . . and sometimes you’re the nail.” Bummer, huh? How about this one: “If all you have is a hammer, you will treat every problem like it’s a nail.” Philosophy and psychology love to come up with metaphors that bring an unthinking knuckle-dragger to mind when the hammer is mentioned, and I would like to do my part to balance out this imagery. Where’s the saying that goes “A toolbox without a hammer is not much of a toolbox”? I’ll tell you where: it’s right here.
This column is for writers, or would-be writers, or readers looking for a peek into the writer’s world. If there’s one thing you need to be any kind of writer, it’s definitely the proverbial hammer. One of the best ways to see if writing is in your heart and in your destiny is to write at least a few hundred pages. In writer talk, that’s advising you to write seventy-five thousand to a hundred thousand words. These words are for you, and they will serve a variety of functions:
First, this exercise will help you find your rhythm and your voice. Both of these things will evolve as you write, and will sometimes have to be specific to a piece. The last thing any of us want to do with our first book is burden the reader with clunky wording or sketchy imagery. This project will help get much of that out of the way, as well as making you aware of how you may need to customize your style to tell each story. The writer needs to set up a space in their mind for writing far more than they need to set up a space in the world to do it in. It might be different for you, but for me a lot of cobwebs had to be cleared before I could even sit down.
The other thing this exercise will do is forge your hammer. Having a bright mind and a lot to say are important, but realizing what kind of time you have to put into completing even a small stack of pages is vital. Writing is a solo activity that requires ridiculously long hours of hammering away before there is any content of note to edit. We all quietly go crazy when locked away alone and left to our own devices; writers are either blessed or cursed with the need to seek out that sweet insanity of solitude. We go into it and explore it and come out the other side with another inspiring or dark tale to tell, lighter and happier for the journey. Yet the journey is long, and only the writer knows just how much of themselves is required to make it. The only person who can decide whether that journey is for you or not is you, and the only way to find out is by undertaking it.
If you’re waiting for direction, or just being polite and finishing this before beginning to hammer away, I get it (and thank you). Telling you a little about my own journey might help with that. I became aware pretty early on that most adults were just winging it when it came to life, and that the vast majority of them were often barely pulling it off. As a young adult, I left behind science fiction and fantasy and horror novels for books about business and money and relationships and personal growth and philosophy. I felt like I needed to learn as much as possible about the underpinnings of this thing we call life before I could live it, and much of my twenties was about reading books by happy or successful or self-realized authors in search of my own unique calling.
I started writing to make sense of the jumbled cacophony of voices in my head. My first hundred thousand words were journal entries designed to peel back the layers of my own psyche, to see if I liked what I found there. If I didn’t, I aimed to change it; if I did, I needed to find a way to piece it together in a practical way to feed my soul and fulfill my destiny. I never meant to be a writer in the beginning; writing was a chore to be done every day as I made my way in the world.
It was pretty comical when the shift occurred, when writing started to be my favorite part of the day. The answer to my big question was literally staring me in the face, and I still didn’t see it for another thirty thousand words or so. Then a story came to me, one that only I could tell, and a tension started twisting inside of me in the most delightfully uncomfortable way.
Every time I wrote or typed or edited the story, I could breathe normally. Every day that I neglected it, the tension grew. The tension didn’t warn me that it was going to take sooooo long, or that editing would literally cause me nightmares, or that publishing it would make all that really hard stuff I just did seem ridiculously easy. The tension also didn’t tell me that a score of stories would be on my doorstep when the first was finished, each pleading their case and waiting their turn. I’m glad that’s how it worked out, though; there is nothing more interesting or satisfying or demanding than writing a book and bringing it to print for me.
I hate it when people call me stubborn; they are mistaken. Determination is an easy thing to mistake for stubbornness, but it’s the difference between putting in the time to dig deep and wishing that you had more time to write. Stubborn people react, and reacting does not fill up the pages. Picking up a hammer, setting your face in grim determination, and pounding away: that’s what fills the pages.
Thanks for reading!