What’s Tucked Away In Your Writer’s Toolbox by Shan Jeniah Burton

Do questions like this one make you feel a little twitchy? Like maybe I’m going to say that if you don’t have this or that in your writing go-tos, you’re not a real writer, or you’ll never be successful, or you’d better get a second mortgage or a fifth job to pay for this laptop or that program or the other seminar, because, obviously, NO ONE can be a writer without them?

Well, you can take a deep breath, because I don’t write (or even believe in!) that kind of post. In my opinion, what makes anyone a writer is WRITING. If you’re reading this, odds are really good that you are already a writing writer, or that you’re serious about becoming one.

So, instead, let’s talk about what you already have, tucked away and maybe forgotten in the corners of your tool box, your closet, your mind – anywhere you find the bits and pieces of unnoticed life that could feed your writing. Not sure you’ve got any? Maybe you do, but you haven’t ever thought about them that way.

What are these bits and pieces? Well, they’re different for each of us.

These tools don’t cost anything but our attention, and our willingness to be open to what they might offer. They’re all around us, and within us, in our experiences and memories.

To give you an idea, here’s just one of mine – the one that tickled my mind until this post came out.

My Accomplice has something of a man cave in our garage. He often goes there late at night, after the restaurant closes. He putters, and has time for his own thoughts. Sometimes he wants to be alone, and others, I join him for a while, if the kids are asleep, or busy with their own things. We talk about whatever, and connect, or listen to music together.

The other night, when I went out, he was playing a new local radio station. A song came on, and I knew that I knew it but couldn’t place it – until the chorus…and then I sang it word for word, and well. The next song? I could sing that, too.

I was into the third or fourth loved-but-forgotten tune when I began to imagine a scene in my current novella-in-progress, where I knew two people from very different backgrounds were going to dance and fall in love. I hadn’t known what music they would listen to, until I heard that station. I had envisioned a rather stuffy, lifeless scene – but this music, the playlist of their evening, had them laughing and clowning and clinging together- alive and lit up by the music and each other. They experience the music differently, but it binds them together.

The songs on the radio in my garage were a tool, for me. I could have listened, and enjoyed, and that could have been that. But because I noticed my imagination being triggered, and opened up to it, I have a scene that’s richer in detail, in life, in magic, and in music.

I needed to know the music. I needed to feel it, in myself, before I could feel it with them…

Once I did, the music became my tool to chisel into the soul of the scene, and this new love.
I hadn’t thought of most of these songs in years, but I remembered them as soon as I heard them. I could sing along word for word, note for note. I could remember school dances and skate parties, being a new mother, being newly in love…and those are the tiny, real details that unlocked what my characters were feeling, as they danced. More, that feeling led them down a path that’s not in my plotted outline, but which deepens and adds emotional impact to the story, so that this scene does more, and better, than I thought it would, during the planning phase.

Will I mention every song by name, in the final draft? Probably not. I don’t need to – what they listen to is less important to the scene than the way they’re transported by the music and each other, and what’s building between them. The names of the individual songs are more important for me than for them. 

The tools here are all part of my everyday life. I didn’t seek them out; they’re too common for that. It was my Accomplice’s need for a personal space, and both of our need for connection. It was an overlapping musical palette that allows for us to enjoy enough of the same music that we can listen to the radio happily, together. It’s that I love to sing, and he enjoys listening to me sing. It’s that he found that station, on the battered old boom box cast off from somewhere I’m not sure I ever knew, and the kids being otherwise occupied.

Just life, on that night.

These tools that are all around us, and usually free. The way the morning light shines through new spring leaves. The way evening shadows fall across the lawn; the scent of food cooked on the neighbors barbecue, or the scent of rain or snow on the way. The texture and curve of a baby’s cheek, or a curled cat. The sound of a favorite bird, or a sudden laugh. The taste of that first real kiss (I can still taste mine, as clearly as if I’m standing on the back steps of a library that isn’t a library anymore. Grape lip gloss – mine, not his! – and something indefinable that said ‘desire!’ in a way that was new, dangerous, and thrilling).

I’m sure you have a collection of your own, just waiting for you to dip into and explore.

So, I’ll ask you again – what’s tucked away in your writer’s toolbox?


Shan Jeniah Burton

2 thoughts on “What’s Tucked Away In Your Writer’s Toolbox by Shan Jeniah Burton

  1. Your words are so evocative Shan. I could picture the scene of them dancing and listening to the music. I can sing along with so many songs from the 70s and 80s and they really do transport me back in time. For me photos can do that as well. Loved your post this Monday!

  2. Photos can definitely do that for me…and smells….and so many other things…these are the tiny little pieces that can fill a toolbox with inspiration!

    Happy to have been able to offer you something you can use. =)

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