A Writer’s Toolbox

All writers need a toolbox of skills.  I like to think of my toolbox as being one of those multi-level, multi-drawer deals that tradesmen have.  In the top drawer, there are things like creativity, curiosity and imagination.  These are the things that start stories.

Next drawer down, there are craft skills.  When I say craft skills, I’m thinking about characterisation, world building, plot and character arcs, all those things that give our stories structure and enable readers to imagine alongside us.

Lastly, on the bottom drawer, there are all the things people love to hate; spelling, punctuation and grammar.  Before you start wincing and groaning, imagine for a moment, a world without any of these things.  Envision a page from a book.  There would be long pages of continuous text with not a capital letter in sight.

Spelling is an obvious necessity.  If we’re guessing and sounding out words instead of instantly recognising them, we’ve regressed to ‘learner’ status, when reading was no fun at all.  For writers, spelling well does not simply mean knowing how to spell the word.  Nowadays spelling also means a wrestle with the spellchecker.  There are differences between American and UK english, and a writer should know them.

While I am not a grammarian, I do appreciate how much neater it is to read “Why are we waiting?” rather than “What are we waiting for?”.  I also like to see that a writer knows when to use ‘I’ instead of ‘me’.  Even though we may not always speak correctly, somehow, writing correctly smoothes out the whole reading experience.

Punctuation is something with which I’ve always struggled.  Anything above the line, I’m fine.  I dig apostrophes, inverted commas and question marks.  Get down onto the line though, and I’m lost.  Commas confuse me, and now I’ve worked with journalists, I seek always, to place full stops in their stead. Lord knows where a semi-colon is appropriate.  I’m embarrassed by my ignorance.

To remedy my humiliating lack of punctuatability, I’ve recently revisited Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach To Punctuation, by Lyn Truss.  I read it once, when I was in university, but somehow over the years, forgot what I should have learned.  So I re-read.  Sounds nerdy, right?  Well, I have to say, nerdy as I am, I giggled all the way through.  I read bits out aloud to hubby and I greatly enjoyed the entire thing.   Better still, I learned something!

My punctuation is still not perfect (as is probably evidenced by this blog) but it’s improving, and now I have a trustworthy, understandable reference, to consult when I’m confused.  I’m really quite happy with this new tool in my kit.  In fact, I think punctuation might be the allen key of the writer’s toolbox.  It’s not particularly attractive, but when assembling anything, it’s pretty much essential.

Have you ever discovered things either stolen or missing from your toolbox?  How did you remedy the situation?



~ by bloowillbooks on September 18, 2011.

4 Responses to “A Writer’s Toolbox”

  1. A teacher once told me (no kidding) Grammar is important! Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.
    I have also heard this one: The comma is important too, it can mean life or death! Let’s eat, Grandpa or let’s eat Grandpa!

  2. Thank you, Rebecca. You write an enjoyable blog.
    My children used to ride in my car every afternoon as I made deliveries for my business. We would Listen to audio books when we were not conversing. “Eats Shoots & Leaves” was one of their favorites — we all laughed out loud.
    So that bottom drawer of the toolbox can store tools that are a pleasure to hold and to use.

    • Thanks for the compliment normanlgreen. Yes, I think that some of the tools in the bottom drawer are the most satisfying. They’re not only satisfying to use, they’re what gives the reader a true sense of a writer’s intentions. I think that bottom drawer might be the most useful of all and I’m really enjoying the process of getting reacquainted.

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