It feels like that some days, doesn’t it? Yeah. Bastards.
But that’s not the kind of tool I mean. I’m talking about the word in its most literal usage: anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose. Some actors say that their bodies are the tools of their craft. But for a writer, everything can serve the purpose of helping you tell your story more powerfully. Your body. Their body. Everything you’ve ever seen or learned or read about bodies. It’s all right there, grist for your mill.
All the crappy things that ever happened to you? Those are tools. All the good ones, and everything in between? Those too. Everything you’ve ever done, experienced, observed, learned about – it’s all available to you to draw upon.
Sometimes, the thought of how one day this can be put to creative use is the only thing that gets a writer through the hardest times. You can find emotional processing, healing, and closure through your writing. It’s one of creativity’s best miracles.
Your own powers of observations are one of your most valuable tools. They keep you present and awake for not just the big moments but also all the small ones that, when written about, ping the reader and create emotional connection through recognition. The electronic tick of the oven after it’s been turned off. The way boxwood shrubs smell inexplicably like cat pee. The wild, instantaneous rage we feel when the handle of our bag catches on the knob every time we’re in a hurry and trying to get out the door.
Writers are watchers, listeners, and, most obviously, readers. They save up little shiny bits and pieces like a magpie, hoarding them until there’s an opportunity to bring them out and reshape them for a different purpose. It might be something seemingly ordinary – you might borrow the peculiar orange-red of canned tomato soup for the shade of a character’s unfortunate home dye job – or something quietly profound: the sacred hills and hollows formed by a beloved’s collarbone. Ah, says your reader. I know just what you mean.
You feel seen and heard in your creative expression. And in the resonance of the truth of your words, your readers feel seen and heard too.
You may, from time to time, think you don’t have anything to say or don’t know what to write about. I say, use your tools. Your stories await within.