One thing that’s a returning topic in many books about a writer’s journey, is that of the toolbox. I don’t know who was the first one to coin the term, but it works. I found the toolbox first mentioned in Stephen King’s On Writing and now I see it again in my current read, Tobias S. Buckell’s It’s All Just A Draft. Both books are comparable in that the writer talks about their writing career, how they’re shaped as writers through their life experiences, and what’s inside their toolbox.
What’s inside a writer’s toolbox? Stephen King mentions good grammar and knowledge of the language. Tobias S. Buckell also mentions dialogue, characters and structure. You can name each part of a story and think of it as a tool to tell your stories. This also means that each tool can be worked with.
Let’s take the opening page, one that will be read and judged by many. If you don’t pull the reader in, they’re gone. Some might give you the benefit of the doubt and read a few more pages, but the beginning still has to be strong. This is a tool and one that you can work on. Learn how to use it and make the best use out of it.
Use your toolbox
Your toolbox is different than mine. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and we value different things. I might focus on polishing dialogue while you work on subplots. All our toolboxes look different, and that’s why no story will be the same even when we start with the same premise. That’s something to remember when you come up with a story idea and you think it’s been done already.
Maybe, but your story will be different. There are so many things in your toolbox that you’re going to use to tell a unique story. A story only you can tell. With your own voice and writing style.
Another thing to remember is that you have to maintain your tools. Don’t forget to practice or experiment with something new. Use flash fiction or short stories to explore another point of view, challenge yourself to create a thrilling dialogue between a man and his coffee cup. Try a writing exercise from a writing course or use writing prompts to get started.
Expanding your toolbox
You’re constantly expanding your toolbox and polishing tools as you write. Every writing session is another exercise, but guided practice will help you to get better more quickly. Sign up for a writing course (Neil Gaiman has his own course now at Masterclass), find a writing group, or challenge yourself by creating your own exercises. You know what you want to work on and which aspects of your writing need work.
Reading more books is another way to expand your toolbox. Read lots and read widely. Try reading your favourite book and pay extra attention to dialogue or exposition. Compare it with your own writing. Do you see a difference? How do other writers tackle this?
Working on your toolbox might not be a fun activity, but it’ll surely help you to hone your craft. Find an exercise that works for you, that helps you grow and is still fun.
What is your favourite tool in your toolbox? And which one do you think is the most important for any writer? Leave your answers in the comments below!