How to carry your bag of hammers

Word count: 720 words

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

A bag of hammers typically refers to something that’s dumb or stupid. But I prefer Michael J. Fox’s definition — he takes it to mean anything that makes our lives more difficult….

I’m not generally a star-struck kind of person but I’ve admired Michael J. Fox for years. For one thing, I find him funny. I also like that he’s really, really good at acting and producing. Plus, he’s candid and humble. And he puts his family first. All traits I value.

When I read recently that he’ll have a TV show making a debut this year, I let out a little woot woot. Despite Parkinson’s disease, he’s been able to create a brand new comedy. But a specific paragraph in the newspaper story on his new show caught my eye. Here’s what it said:

Some TV viewers might be shocked by the lightness of the humour about Parkinson’s on the show, but Mr. Fox is philosophical about the disease now, and he should know. “We all get our own bag of hammers,” [he said.] “We all get our own Parkinson’s. We all get our own thing.”

I loved the phrase, “We all get our own bag of hammers.” Isn’t that true – of life and of writing? Everyone has something that goes badly for them – that’s just part of being human. We might be short of money. Or short of time for writing. Or short of good health.

But isn’t it pointless to fixate on what’s wrong with our lives?

I can tell you my bag of hammers.

I was born poor. My family struggled to put food on the table when I was a kid. And even when we had a family business, a weekly newspaper (acquired for what then amounted to the cost of a broken down car), it barely kept the seven of us in groceries. When, in my mid-20s I got a job at a daily newspaper – at union wages – I suddenly had more money than I’d ever seen in my life.

These days, I’m lucky not to have to worry more than others about money but of course I have other concerns . I have a daughter with an unpredictable genetic disorder (neurofibromatosis). A son with severe dyslexiaMy own history of strokes, associated with surgery. And, a constantly sore back that makes sitting at a desk difficult.

Any one of these things could cause me to grind to a halt and never crank out another word. Yet, still, I write.

The thing about hammers is: you need to learn how to carry them.

If you’ve been letting hammers get you down, take Michael J. Fox’s example and figure out how you can create a writing practice that will work for you. In Fox’s case, he uses his own life and experience as the core material for his new show. He plays Mike Henry, a local New York TV news anchor who, years before, left his job to deal with Parkinson’s. Then he decides to return to work.

Isn’t that creative? Fox has given his character the same medical condition that he himself already faces.

If you’re not writing and you want to, then maybe you need to determine exactly what your hammers are. Then you can figure out ways to adapt to them.

For example, many people tell me they want to write a book but don’t have the time to do it.

For some, the solution may be as simple as waking up 15 minutes early and writing first thing in the morning before they head to their day jobs. (Even if you write only 250 words a day you’ll have 91,000 words — or the draft of a book — within a year.)

Or it may mean replacing TV watching with writing. Or replacing something else. (I suggest vacuuming.)

Others tell me they want to get a publishing deal but don’t know how to find an agent. The solution here is often self-publishing, but this requires some knowledge. So go out and get that knowledge!

Still others struggle with the feeling that they just don’t know how to write. This is probably the easiest hammer of all to carry. Bookstores and the public library are filled with books on writing (and if you can’t find one you like, consider mine, 8 1/2 steps to writing faster, better, or think about my year long, email based course, or some one-on-one coaching.)

The bottom line? Figure out how to carry the hammers. Don’t hit yourself on the head with them.

What are your hammers when it comes to writing? Do you find it difficult to carry them? We can all learn from each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me by commenting below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)