Apprentice Lesson 1: Pick up your Hammer
Updated: Feb 2
I am by no means a great blacksmith. I can barely call myself a blacksmith at all. I haven’t raised a hammer or struck steel in over a year and a half, and though I may love to do it, and thoroughly enjoy the craft – if I don’t pick up my hammer, am I a blacksmith?
The same goes for writing. You cannot be a writer if you don’t pick up the tool of your craft – whether that’s an old laptop, a legal pad and a mechanical pencil, or a fountain pen and a journal bound in supple Corinthian leather. Not everything you put down there will be good. Most of it won’t be in-fact, especially at first. You will struggle with how to best use the tools at your disposal, but ultimately to be a writer you must write.
Words, like fresh-fired steel, are living things, ready to be shaped, but they will only move in the ways you strike them. They do not answer to your whims or wishes. Words answer to your skill, your inspiration, and your diligence in the craft. There is no such thing as a lazy writer.
Many reading this may once have been writers, pouring yourselves out into paper and ink and wrestling with your words as Jacob once wrestled with God Himself, but you do not wrestle any longer. You have stopped picking up your hammer. You are no longer a writer. You’ve lost the right to say of yourself, this is a thing that defines me because you have not dedicated yourself to the craft. You have merely dabbled in it. You have once written, but you are not a writer.
If you feel a twinge of anger or resentment at having read that, good. It means the spark of the writer is still smouldering inside of you – the fire needed to heat the steel. It means that there is still the chance, the desire, and the impulse to become that thing you want to be, but you must pick up your hammer.
Still, a hammer without an anvil is useless to a blacksmith. Possibly minor tweaks can be made to an existing work, but to make something new the blacksmith will be powerless. She needs the weight and backing of the anvil, larger, ten times larger at least, than the piece of steel she desires to work on in order to make great progress.
A writer’s anvil is the solid foundation of reading they have done and continue to do. You cannot be a writer if you do not read. You can write, certainly, but you cannot claim to be this thing, this craftsman if you do not have the weighty foundation of steady reading beneath you as you work. Just as the recommendation for a blacksmith is to have an anvil at least ten times the weight of your piece of steel, a great writer should be reading ten times more than they are writing. Just as an even heavier anvil will make it easier to forge, creating a sturdy and powerful base which returns the hammer strokes without loss of momentum, the more reading beneath a writer, the more capable the craftsman becomes.
So, if you aspire to be this thing, this craftsman called a writer, start building up your anvil, and pick up your hammer. Let’s get to work.