Thursday, May 29, 2014

How to Write a Novel - The writer’s best friend by Jim DeFelice

Jim DeFelice is the author of 14 New York Times best-sellers, including the recently published Code Name: Johnny Walker and American Sniper. He owns two chainsaws and a sharp axe.

Browsing around the web, I see lots of lists from writers I know about their favorite writing tools – laptop, pen, iMac, pocket notebook, that sort of thing. I’m always impressed: It’s amazing how eloquent people can be when extolling the virtues of a retractable 2B lead pencil. I love passion in writing.

But not once in any of these lists have I seen the most important writer’s tool mentioned. I’m talking about the chainsaw, of course, a tool no writer should be without.

I don’t mean this metaphorically. I’m talking about an honest, two-cycle, pull-to-start, chop your torso in two chainsaw. The louder the better.

I’m partial to the Echo professional series, but finding the proper chainsaw is like finding your writing voice – you have to work it a bit before you settle down.

Actually, I have two chainsaws, a 20-inch bruiser for the big trees, and a remarkably versatile 14-inch model that is the Shakespeare of saws, able to chop up everything from sonnets to Durham Wood.

I find the ideas flow like oil on the guide bar when I’m cutting; give me a nice study maple to chop up, and I’ll have six new plot twists in no time. Some writers burn incense for inspiration; the scent of spent gas and fresh sawdust does much more for me.

In fact, chainsaws are so important to my work I’ve started bringing them to New York for editorial meetings. There’s nothing like a rapidly rotating blade to keep an editorial discussion on track. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I have yet to lose an argument with an editor while carrying one of my saws. And just last week, the 14-incher helped me demonstrate what I thought of the job the copy editor had done on my last book.

As a side benefit, finding a seat in the subway has become a heck of lot easier.

Computers and pencils, notebooks and dictionaries, pens and erasers – they all have their place. In my office, that’s between the gas can and the chain sharpener.


  1. James O. Born5/29/2014 6:47 AM

    I couldn't agree more. Get away from your desk to think. Clear your head. Terrify your editors.


  2. Next time you come to LA I'll take you to Venice Beach to see the chainsaw juggler. That will get your creative juices flowing.

  3. from Jacqueline. Good timing on the post!!! My chainsaw is a horse. Well, there are two of them - first, the unpredictable Friesian, a breed once famous as Attila The Hun's warhorse. Nothing like a good bolt across a field to get you thinking about murder. And then there's Her Imperial Highness, The Princess Wolke, a rather impressive and imperious Hanoverian who knows more than I ever will - and she knows it. Humility is very good for a writer, methinks.