How Working in a Hardware Store Taught Me About Writing

I come from a family that loves to hone our do-it-yourself skills, analyze projects seen on HGTV shows, and critique how houses are built. Since childhood we often stopped by a local hardware store to gawk at some new lighting or the latest DeWalt gadget after dinner out. Asking if anyone needs anything from Home Depot is part of our daily vernacular.

For years I resisted partaking in those, “Well, it’d be better if they’d done this way” musings. My Libra nature doesn’t like hyper critical conversations. But when I started writing my novel, I realized I needed a mind like that. As a result, I’m slowly learning to look at my writing objectively, so I can set up any scene with the right details in mind.

Before 2019 I was a “pantser,” rarely finishing stories because they lacked plot and contained equally aimless scenes. There comes a time in a writer’s life when having too many ideas can completely ruin a story. Next time you’re in a hardware store, go down the nuts and bolts aisle. There’s 3/4 of this lock washer, or you can choose a 5/16ths lock washer. There’s flat screws, rounded screws, Phillips’ and everything else.

When the idea for THE FIREDAMP CHRONICLES was born, I had a few character names, a concept, and my chosen genre. I knew who my villain was, how he came to be, and what effect he’d have on the other main characters. Just like the nuts and bolts aisle. The problem was my research phase, and that continued until my concept became a jumbled mess of “what if’s” rather than a solid foundation for the rest of the story.

There comes a time in a writer’s life when having too many ideas can completely ruin a story.

There comes a time in a writer’s life when one good idea can help correct many bad ideas. After three years of research and “pantsing” through a shelved novella, I realized I had one too many screws. I had to let go of my original villain. I needed to embrace my hyper-critical Hartman genes and take a hard look at everything I’d researched and cut out what I knew truly wouldn’t work. Over-researching is a trap many historical fiction writers fall into, and to this day avoiding that rabbit hole is a full time job. Frustration made me want to give up many times, and that’s when I turned from “pantsing” to “plotting.” Having structure forces me to bring all those nuts and bolts and separate pieces together. It forces me to decide what truly works for plot advancement and what doesn’t.

#writetip: Take a look at your own work and start thinking how one step in the process affects the next, and even the next after that. Is there anything keeping you from writing a pivotal scene? Or some detail that just doesn’t fit a main character, but works perfectly with a secondary character? Don’t be afraid to play around with possibilities, so long as those new ideas add to, rather than detract from, your original concept.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop over-analyzing a contractor’s building choices – after all, I now work in a hardware store. Writers have multiple building blocks and tools at our fingertips, but it’s up to us to decide what we’re going to use and how we’re going to put the story together. You can choose to put a washer and a nut with a screw, or skip the washer and nut entirely. My point is, whether you’re a “pantser” or a “plotter,” whether you prefer a visual representation of your project or a detailed outline, all those nuts and bolts will eventually fall into place and you’ll have a story you can call your own.

Mine will come one day.

I just need some manpower to sort through it all!

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