Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What Would You Pack in a Writer's Toolkit? (04/15/04)



Featured writer: Christine Falcone



Contributors this month:
Betty Winslow
Christine Falcone
Claudia Larson
D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards
Gregory Gerard
Jane Merryman
Kathleen Lynch
Marlene Cullen
Susan Bono


What do you pack in your writer's toolkit?

by Christine Falcone

Packed in my writer¹s toolkit are ample amounts of paper, at least four or five notebooks, pens with different colored ink to denote the various stages of a draft. A good chair and a proper writing surface—though a lap will work in a bind—is imperative. The more ergonomically correct your writing station, the better. (Trust me; I¹ve had more pinched nerves and stiff necks than you can imagine.) A computer is, for me, a must but I know many a fine writer who does without.

Now (and pay attention because those are the nuts and bolts to get the thing going, but these are the staples) the things that sustain: early morning light; sunsets; the smell after the first rain of the season; the silence of snow falling; fireflies and shooting stars; the crackle of a good old-fashioned campfire and the hypnotic gaze of those faces sitting around it; the laughter of children at the park; the way your 101-year-old grandfather's age-spotted hands looked touching the new skin of your six-month-old baby—the way he smiled and, now totally blind, said, "So soft."

The staples include things like fresh fruit, clean water—okay, maybe the occasional pot of black coffee and hand-rolled cigarette for the smoker in you—a freshly ironed shirt, line-dried of course so that it, like sun tea, like you, like the words you put on the page, becomes infused with light. It always comes back to light. In fact, when you open your writer's toolkit, if it doesn't blind you in a flash of white, dig around a little. It¹s not always visible at first, but the more you look, the deeper you dig, you¹ll find it, if only as the glint of sun off a dirty copper penny stuck in one of the bag's forgotten corners.

Christine Falcone writes in Novato, CA

Betty Winslow



A Writer's Dozen

(As you read these, guess which ones I would have a hard time living without and which ones I'm daydreaming about...)

1. A thick skin: rejections would then be easier to handle

2. A healthy body: to withstand the wear and tear of hours spent hunched over a keyboard or notebook

3. A massage therapist: for times when the healthy body gives out anyway

4. Talent: without it, you're wasting your time

5. A Rolodex full of contacts: editors, fellow writers, markets, and whatever else might come in handy

5. An up-to-date computer with all the trimmings and a dedicated DSL line

6. An extra twelve hours a day for deadline weeks

7. A library filled with reference books, writing how-to books, fun reading, and at least one version of the Bible (I have four)

8. A dorm refrigerator: for bottled water, sandwiches, and ice packs (for headaches from spending too many hours staring at the screen)

9. A faithful friend or family member to drag you away from your desk from time to time to just have fun: if you aren't living, what are you writing about?

10. A rock-solid sense of mission: for those times when it seems no one else in the entire world cares if you write one more word, but you know you need to anyway

11. A crate full of ideas: for the inevitable days when you can't think of a thing to write about

12. A source of independent wealth, so you can concentrate on writing, while paying others to clean, pay your bills, cook, and do all the other schlock that takes you away from your desk and wastes your precious time

13. (OK, I said a dozen, but it's my word count...) A really good office chair!

Ones I'd have a hard time giving up: 1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, & 13

Ones I'm daydreaming about: 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 11 & 12!

Betty Winslow, writing and daydreaming in Bowling Green, Ohio. She invites you to check out a current essay published online at: http://www.absolutewrite.com/freelance_writing/hardest_thing.htm

What do you pack in your writer's toolkit?

  by Christine Falcone

Packed in my writer¹s toolkit are ample amounts of paper, at least four or five notebooks, pens with different colored ink to denote the various stages of a draft. A good chair and a proper writing surface—though a lap will work in a bind—is imperative. The more ergonomically correct your writing station, the better. (Trust me; I¹ve had more pinched nerves and stiff necks than you can imagine.) A computer is, for me, a must but I know many a fine writer who does without.

Now (and pay attention because those are the nuts and bolts to get the thing going, but these are the staples) the things that sustain: early morning light; sunsets; the smell after the first rain of the season; the silence of snow falling; fireflies and shooting stars; the crackle of a good old-fashioned campfire and the hypnotic gaze of those faces sitting around it; the laughter of children at the park; the way your 101-year-old grandfather's age-spotted hands looked touching the new skin of your six-month-old baby—the way he smiled and, now totally blind, said, "So soft."

The staples include things like fresh fruit, clean water—okay, maybe the occasional pot of black coffee and hand-rolled cigarette for the smoker in you—a freshly ironed shirt, line-dried of course so that it, like sun tea, like you, like the words you put on the page, becomes infused with light. It always comes back to light. In fact, when you open your writer's toolkit, if it doesn't blind you in a flash of white, dig around a little. It¹s not always visible at first, but the more you look, the deeper you dig, you¹ll find it, if only as the glint of sun off a dirty copper penny stuck in one of the bag's forgotten corners.

Christine Falcone writes in Novato, CA

What would I pack in a writer's toolkit?

  by Claudia Larson

Of course there are the obvious items to include in that kitbag. There's paper: lined, bound, plain, colored, white. Tender to the receipt of ink, stark in contrast to the words written, shouting out the surfacing honesty.

And there's the pen. Or pencil. Or crayon. Or marker. Or the blood. Choose the pen that scribbles freely. Or the pencil that carefully constructs the pictures, the marker that draws your voice. Or the crayon that connects you with every color of your emotions. The blood words of your life.

Beyond those implements, I'd include the cape of stillness, the one that draws you into yourself, into your language. There would be the specific eyeglasses that turn your vision inward and beyond the thoughts of traffic, phone bills and gastric distress.

The kit would certainly include a brown herbal bottle of self compassion and a soothing poultice for the pain. There'd be a bubble bottle for the joy and a picnic blanket for companionship. And for word motility, a laxative that unbinds the constipation of judgment.

Finally, a flower of remembrance, reminding of the complexity, the beauty, the shared experience of being human, translating from one to another.

Claudia Larson lives in Sonoma County, California.

WHAT WOULD I PACK IN A WRITER'S TOOLKIT?

  by D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards

BOOKS (some of which will add a touch of class to what you write):

"The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate," by Eugene Ehrlich.

"The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate," by the same author.

Plus: Notebook computer (for writing during the unexpected gift of moments in time).

Plus: Blank lined notebook (for making note of spontaneous words, phrases, or ideas), to be carried everywhere.

WARDROBE:

Slippers, loose and comfortable, to wear with

Bathrobe, warm and shaggy, for working in the chill of late nights.

For the light of day--jammies,... swimsuit,....or bib overalls? Whatever works!

Night or day---a favorite hat or cap to pamper that source of all the wonderful words you plan to write.

SUSTENANCE:

Whatever you can snack on, that isn't either sticky or greasy. Sticky or greasy means having to take a break to clean off your hands. That means no Fritos, pizza, ....... Oh, heck, maybe you can just include one towel, fingertip-size, moistened slightly, and eat what you want!

A heavy, non-tip container to hold your "cuppa" tea, coffee, hot chocolate. Floods are not very friendly toward manuscripts.

MISCELLANEOUS TOOLS:

One of those round-your-neck pens so you can be prepared to jot down your thoughts at any time or place.

Flashlight (small), or battery-powered light, so you can keep going in the event of a power blackout.

Telephone number of PG & E that you can dial in case of the above.

Cell phone, a must for cordless ‘phone users--cordless ‘phones do not work without power. (Make sure to keep it charged up.)

And, OMIGOD, paper--I almost forgot the PAPER!

AROMATHERAPY:

One large, aromatic candle, available in all sorts of exotic flavors, even grape preserves and blueberry cobbler. They're now so expensive you will have to sell a piece soon, or you won't be able to afford more candles!

D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards, lives in Santa Rosa, Calif., and is looking for ways to change her style. Her email: djayhne@ev1.net

My Writer's Toolkit

  by Gregory Gerard

I have no need to pack my writer's toolkit with yellow legal pads and sharpened number-two pencils. It has the power to gather what it needs, a craft it wields with impunity.

It captures the random thoughts that flit across my day, when I'm showering, half-awake, or driving through the sun-soaked city, feeling the warmth.

It filters all that I read, critiquing the earnest efforts of others, for voice and plot and pleasure.

It appeases me with bits of nuts and chips as my fingers jump from keyboard to dish to mouth (and occasionally to the martini glass perched an honest distance from the screen.)

Mostly, it massages the incessant itch in the folds of my mind, the one that drives me back to my writing area after the late news is reported and wiser people have gone to sleep.



What Would You Pack in Your Writer's Toolkit?

  by Jane Merryman

A Writer's Toolkit:

- a lifetime of experience
- forty lashes of discipline
- a heart as big as an elephant
- an eye for microscopic detail
- a nose for news of the universe
- an ear for the melody and rhythm of language
- a penchant for the ironic, the satiric, the outré
- skin as tough as an armadillo's
- a smattering of techno-savvy
- a caring writer's group
- an energetic agent
- a respectful editor
- adoring readers

Jane Merryman sporadically searches through her toolkit in Petaluma, California.

A writer's toolkit

  by Kathleen Lynch

I would imagine there would need to be a hammer to pound the resistant words from the keys. A screwdriver to turn the thought to metaphor. A tape measure with the inches marked as nouns and feet as verbs. A sawzall to rip words to shreds (before anyone else does), and tape to piece them together again. A router to cut and fit them to their perfect spots, and a planer to smooth them to perfection. Band aids for the cut fingers and bruised ego. Most of all, there would need to be lots of those fat, nubby, triangle pencils for obvious reasons. It never hurts to have muse, scotch, and vision tucked in there. Just for good luck.

Kathleen Lynch

Farmington, Maine klbmaine@netscape.net


Marlene Cullen



I would have the usual in the top of my writer's toolkit: paper, pen, dictionary, thesaurus and computer. Next layer down I would have cups of steaming mochas, gum, tissues and a good chair. I would have a stepladder for when I'm feeling two inches tall, several Steve Martin movies to remind myself to lighten up (especially The Jerk and Bowfinger). By now my writer's toolkit is a Mary Poppins type bag. I can reach far down and pull out impossible things, or people. The last layer (maybe it should be the first) would be a maid, butler and personal assistant. There now, bag is just about empty. Lastly, I would pull myself out. Because, after all, it's really me who does all these things!

Marlene Cullen packs her bag with joyful glee and shares her bag of tricks in the writing group she facilitates. mcullen@comcast.net

Susan Bono



First, start with an idea. Always make sure you have one, or better yet, an envelope of ideas that you can shake out onto the table in front of you. Feel free to choose, knowing there's always more where that came from.

Don't forget to pack enough time. Include those moments that expand and double back on themselves like facing mirrors, so you feel relaxed and unpressured as you work.

If you bring along enough curiosity and enthusiasms, you won't need so much in the way of coffee, cigarettes, chocolate, booze. Your own excitement will carry you over the rough spots and keep you moving toward what's next.

It never hurts to have the literary equivalent of WD-40 to use when those cogs in your brain seize up. Some Teflon coating is also handy when fending off the slings and arrows of outrageous rejection as well as the criticism that will come your way anytime you say what you think.

No one needs a critic, but everyone needs a Good Ear. Find one who can give you constructive feedback. Knowing there's someone out there (and in there) listening can keep you on track on these journeys for which there are no maps.

Susan Bono is traveling light in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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