Tool 50 ~ Own the tools of your craft.

“Build a writing workbench to store your tools.”

This tool is Clark’s last, and it’s where he explains the magic behind magical writing. Clark says, “I thought great writing was the work of magicians. . . This was magic, the work of wizards–people different than you and me” (241).

But then, the teacher, Donald Murray, taught him back in 1983 about a workbench–the workbench. There is a method to the madness.

1. Idea — be curious. Find the stories happening in reality around me.

Explore — Be a modern-day explorer and see what’s out there.

2. Collect — I love doing this, and I think it is the reason I like being around people. They are so comical! Their quips of humor, bits of conversation, things they will say or won’t say, the cars they drive . . . so humorous! So “collect words, images, details, facts, quotes, dialogue, documents, scenes, expert testimony, eyewitness accounts, statistics, the brand of the beer, the color and make of the sports car, and, of course, the name of the dog” (242). I must learn to write beyond my fingers. I must learn to write with my feet.

3. Focus — “What is your essay about? No, what is it really about” (242)?

Select the best stuff — So I did all the research. Now I must only put in the facts that are necessary.

Recognize an order — A sonnet or epic? What form am I going to use?

4. Draft — Use whatever is my method to write. Some people draft and revise at the same time (mostly me!) while others draft and then revise. Either way, draft.

5. Clarify — Spend hours changing “the” to “a.” Get the words right so others can see them too.

For the hands-on writers like me, grab a huge piece of paper and “draw a diagram of your writing process. Use words, arrows, images, anything that helps open a window to your mind and method” (244). Organize this writing toolbox like a box of paint tools or car tools. Label them, lay them out, categorize your thinking.

Clark explains, “So in my focus box, I keep a set of questions the reader may ask about in the story. In my order box, I have story shapes such as the chronological narrative and the gold coins. In my  revision box, I keep my tools for cutting away useless words” (244).

So for you toolbox, why not start with Roy Peter Clark’s 50 tools?


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