Jason Gurley

By day, I'm a user experience designer; by evenings/weekends, I write novels from my home in Scappoose, Ore. My newest is Awake in the World, published February 2019 by Roaring Brook Press; my previous novel, Eleanor, was published by Crown in 2016 and has since been translated into German, Portuguese, and Turkish. I’m currently working on a new project.

The tools don't matter


I've written a lot lately about tools: my search for a notebook that satisfies me in every way, for a pencil that leaves a rich mark and doesn't dull quickly. In that photo above are two favorites: the Life Stationery Noble Note A5 notebook, and the Blackwing Volume 24 (the "Steinbeck" Blackwing). The notebook is pure magic: it lays flat, the paper is slippery yet still a joy for pencil marks, the cover is ornate and lovely. The pencil has the firmest Blackwing core yet, holds a point for pages, and looks writerly. 

And yet. 

These tools don't really matter. The paper quality of the notebook doesn't matter. The sturdiness of that pencil core doesn't matter. 

This is important, I think: Once the marks are on the page, it doesn't matter what instrument made them. Nobody's likely to look at your pencil marks and think, Ah, this writer used the decadent Blackwing #24. They'll see the words, not the tool. 

So: use what you have. Emily Dickinson wrote poems on envelope scraps. The work is what matters, not the tools. In fact, it's important, too, to acknowledge that high-quality tools often discourage the work. It's easy to feel like you can't make a mark on that beautiful paper, can't sharpen away the perfect core of that pencil, because whatever you'd use it for isn't worth as much as those tools. 

Well, that's bullshit, and intellectually, we all know it, but it's worth reiterating. That's bullshit. I've heard of writers who immediately scribble all over the first beautiful page of an expensive notebook, thereby claiming the book as theirs, and disappearing the pressure to create perfection within its pages. 

The work is what matters, and the only thing that has to show up to do the work is you. The tools don't really matter, and you shouldn't wait for the best tools to do your work, and you shouldn't agonize over using the best tools once you've got them. 

Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece
on the back of a deli menu would not surprise
me. Meeting a person who wrote a
masterpiece with a silver Cartier fountain
pen on an antique writing table in an airy
SoHo loft would seriously surprise me.
— Hugh MacLeod, "How to Be Creative"

Do the work with whatever tools you have handy. That's it. Just do the work. 

Of course, if you can afford the best tools, and you don't let them stifle your work, use them. Enjoy them. They're there to make the act of the work more pleasurable—but you still have to do the work. It's work either way. It's what we're all here for. 

(A footnote: The quote from Hugh MacLeod comes from his manifesto, "How to Be Creative," which is worth a read for anyone who makes things, or wants to.)

Everything feeds everything else

Hearing voices