Monday, November 18, 2013

Tool # 50: Own the tools of your craft.

. . .Build a writing workbench to store your tools.

We now come to the last chapter in "Writing Tools" by Roy Peter Clark. A very helpful summary, but difficult to condense!  Here we go:

"I've designed this final chapter as a guide for you to build a workbench to store your writing tools. So far, I have organized these tools into four parts. We began with nuts and bolts, things like the power of subject and verb, emphatic word order, and the difference between stronger and weaker elements in prose.

     From there we moved to special effects, ways of using the language to create specific and intended cues for the reader. . . The next part offered sets of blueprints, plans for organizing written work to help bothe the writer and the reader. . .This last part coalesced earlier strategies into reliable habits, routines that give you the courage and stamina to apply these tools. . .

     One final step requires you to store all of your tools on the shelves of a metaphorical writer's workbench. I began learning how to do this back in 1983 when Donald Murray, the teacher to whom this book is dedicated, stood in front of a tiny seminar room in St. Petersburg, Florida, and wrote on a chalkboard a blueprint that forever changed the way I taught and wrote. It was a modest description of how writers worked, five words that revealed the steps authors followed to build any piece of writing. As I remember them now, his words were:






In other words, the writer conceives an idea, collects things to support it, discovers what the work is really about, attempts a first draft, and revises it in the quest for greater clarity.  .  . Here's my annotated version:

Sniff around. . .all good writers express a form of curiosity, a sense that something is going on out there, something that teases your attention, something in the air.

Explore ideas. The writers I admire most are the ones who see their world as a storehouse of story ideas.  They are explorers, traveling through their communities with their senses alert, connecting seemingly unrelated details into story patterns. . .

Collect evidence. I love the wisdom that the best writers write not just with their hands, heads, and hearts, but with their feet. . .The great Francis X. Clines of the New York Times once told me that he could always find a story if he could just get out of the office. . .

Find a focus. What is your essay about?. . .Get to the heart of the matter . . .Getting there requires careful research, sifting through evidence, experimentation, and critical thinking. . . 

Select the best stuff. One great difference stands between new writers and experienced ones. New writers often dump their research into a story or essay. . .Veterans use a fraction, sometimes half, sometimes one-tenth of what they've gathered. . . A sharp focus is like a laser. It helps the writer cut tempting material that does not contribute to the central meaning of the work.

Recognize an order.  .  . What is the scope of your work? . . .Working from a plan, the writer and the reader benefit from a vision of the global structure of the story. . .

Write a draft. Some writers write fast and free. . .other writers. . .work with meticulous precision. . .But here's the key: I once believed that writing began with drafting, the moment my rear hit the chair and my hands hit the keyboard. I now recognize that step as deep in the process, a step that becomes more fluid when I have taken other steps first.

Revise and clarify. Don Murray once gave me a precious gift, a book of photographed manuscript pages titled Authors at Work. In it you. . .watch as the novelist Honoré de Balzac write dozens upon dozens of revisions in the margins of a corrected proof. You can observe Henry James cross out twenty lines of a twenty-five line manuscript page. For these artists, writing is rewriting.

     Sniff. Explore. Collect. Focus. Select. Order. Draft. Revise.

     Don't think of these as tools. Think of them as tool shelves or toolboxes. . .

A blueprint of the writing process will have many uses over time. Not only will it give you confidence by demystifying the act of writing. . .provide you with big boxes in which to store your tool collection, but it will also help you diagnose problems in individual stories. . .account for your strengths and weaknesses. . . and build your critical vocabulary for talking about your craft, a language about language that will lead you to the next level.

We have now come to the last WORKSHOP:

-With some friends, take a big piece of chart paper and with colored markers, draw a diagram of your writing process. Use words, arrows, images, anything that helps open a window to your mind and method.

This is my final post focusing on the formal craft of writing. I hope you have found useful these chapter tidbits from Roy Peter Clark's book, "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer," published by Little, Brown and Company. You can find a copy here.

From time to time, I am inspired by an event, film or book that begs to be commented on. In future posts, I will share my insights, which I hope will prove to be meaningful. Until then, is there any topic that would resonate with you here on my blog? What would you like to see posted here?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel