Essential writing tools: the ball-peen hammer

Today, I'm going to talk about one of the most important tools any writer can possess: the ball-peen hammer.

It may come as a surprise that many beginning writers are unaware of the value of a ball-peen hammer in producing volumes of high-quality prose on demand. This may be a result of confusing the ball-peen hammer's literary uses with its traditional uses in shaping (or "peening") metal, sealing welds and seams, and spread-locking rivets.

This post, then, is presented as a public service to inexperienced writers. Use the ball-peen hammer properly, and it will pay for itself many times over.

Although there are many ways the ball-peen hammer will help you write, I present here five of the most important. Begin by mastering these basic uses before going on to more advanced techniques.

1. Write another thousand words by sundown or I'll hit you with this hammer. The first use, and perhaps the most obvious, is as a motivational device. For this usage, imagine the ball-peen hammer in the hand of the person who is waiting for your prose. It could be an editor, a collaborator, an agent, a devoted reader, or someone else with a comparable investment in your output. Now, imagine this person to be very, very angry with you, and your writing is the only thing that can assuage their anger. (Note: if there is no one waiting for your prose, go find someone and promise to write something for them. Tell them it will be the best thing they've ever read. Make them WANT to read your work. Then give them a ball-peen hammer.)

2. Write with the face, edit with the ball. Getting the words almost right, mostly right, or nearly right takes brute force. For this, use the flat face of the hammer. However, for getting the words exactly right, precisely right, dead nuts right, use the ball. It concentrates your force in a much tighter area, allowing you to focus on the 1/64" that is ever so slightly out of place. Attention to detail separates good prose from great prose. Use the right tool for the right job.

3. Don't work copper with a carbon-steel hammer. As we all know, ball-peen hammers can be made from a variety of materials, with different intended uses. Forged high carbon steel hammers are extremely hard and will deform even the most recalcitrant, least malleable materials. These hammers are excellent for writing literary fiction. On the other hand, hammers made of soft iron or brass can provide comparable striking force and shaping power with less risk of gouging, marring or other damage to more easily shaped materials. Science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, horror or other genre writing are suitable writing styles for use with these hammers. Specialty hammers may be made of tightly wrapped leather, wood or plastics. These provide the lightest touch, and are excellent for subtle enhancements of shape without changes to the underlying form. They should be reserved for writing memoirs, essays and other non-fiction.

4. If your arm hurts, you don't use the hammer enough. Writing takes practice and skill, but above all else, writing takes endurance. If your arm starts to hurt after you've been swinging the hammer for five minutes, this means your arm isn't strong enough yet. Fortunately, the method for getting strong enough to wield the hammer for hours on end is to begin by wielding the hammer for minutes on end. Write until your eyes hurt and your backside is numb. Write until your brain is tired and you have no more words left in you. The pain you feel is the sensation of your writing muscles growing stronger. (Note: the beginner may want to start writing by using the same 32 oz. machinist's hammer used by the professionals. It is a rare beginner who can use a heavy hammer without producing poor quality work and risking career-ending personal injury. There is no shame in starting with an 8 oz. or even a 4 oz. ball-peen hammer. Work with it and grow your skill until your work is limited by the hammer you use, then move up. Your tools will evolve as your skill develops.)

5. A rusty hammer is still a hammer. In working out your best writing process, you may find your writing set aside in order to deal with concerns of family, day job, health or other matters. The ball-peen hammer, of whatever material, of whatever weight, sits on the shelf, untouched. Days may turn to weeks, weeks to months or even years. Know this: though the hammer may grow cobwebbed and dusty, though the head may rust and the handle split and rot, it is still a hammer. When you are ready to pick it up again, it will be there for you. Whenever you wish, you can choose to swing the hammer. You can write. The only limitation is within you. Naturally, after long absences, skills atrophy, calluses fade and muscles weaken. These can be recovered. All that is required is for you to pick up the ball-peen hammer and wield it anew. (Note: the hammer you used back when you were younger - a teenager, in college, before you were married, etc. - will almost certainly not fit your hand now. This is to be expected. You will need to try out several different hammers before you find one that is right for you NOW, at your CURRENT stage of life. Fortunately, there are many, many hammers to choose from, readily available and all at reasonable prices.)

The ball-peen hammer... one of the most reliable tools any writer can possess, metaphorically speaking.

==== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Oh, this is very, very good, Tony.
    *going out to the garage to fetch me one*

  2. Nicely done, Tony - and I love the last sentence. Artful.

  3. I'm with Cathy. This is really good. I miss placed my hammer for a while. I am going to have to find it again.
    *cough...cough...cough...brushing away spiders and dust...cough* I think it is over here in this corner.

    Pamela Jo

  4. Rummaging through my husband's tool box as we speak! 6__^

  5. Thanks, guys! Grab them hammers and get to it!

  6. You can also use the thin side to chisel your prose into wood or stone. Some great examples of this type of prose are 'Chrissy loves Alex' and 'I Peed Here.'

  7. This is EXACTLY what I needed today. You raise very good points, sir; you should turn this into a poster and I'll hang it in my office!


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