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Quote of the Week: “Unless we remember, we cannot understand.” E.M. Forester

Writing Exercise of the Week: Write about a man in his 60s who wakes up on the beach. He’s wearing a nice suit with a necktie and has an expensive gold watch on his wrist. On his feet are a pair of mismatched flip flops. Who is he and how did he get there? What happens next? Write for 10 minutes.

In the tool kit of life, there’s always a monkey wrench.

“Throwing a monkey wrench” into something suggests a mishap, an unexpected turn of events. There are different thoughts as to the origin of the phrase, but the one I like best is this one:

In the early 1900s, factory workers would throw spanners (wrenches) into industrial machinery, which would grind to a stop. Clever, eh? After all, you can’t work if the darn machine is broken. It’s a guaranteed instant coffee break.

French workers did something similar by throwing their clogs (sabots) instead. I guess they went home barefoot, but that’s how the word sabotage came about.

When it comes to writing, monkey wrenches are the best way for your characters to see what they’re made of. What your character ends up doing (or not doing) reveals who they really are. The most successful books and movies are built one monkey wrench at a time. Just think about it.

Whether you’re writing a personal essay (thinking about college, anyone?), writing a novel, or telling your memoir or life story, think about those moments when a monkey wrench turned everything upside down. Then write about it.

We’re drawn to these stories because they’re the stories of life. Monkey wrenches happen. When we read these stories, we gain the courage to see how we might face similar challenges in our own life, too.

Monkey wrenches can work for or against us. In literature, just as in life, there are always two sides. Action and reaction. Allowing and not allowing.

So here’s a crazy, radical thought: why wait for that monkey wrench (or shoe or sabot) to drop? Why not grab a monkey wrench and throw it into a part of your life that isn’t working and just bring it all to a stop?

I’m not proposing ruining or destroying anything that’s good. I’m not suggesting you wreak havoc just for the heck of it or bust things up because you’re bored and want to see what happens. But if you’ve been stuck in a routine, going through the motions of day-to-day life and feeling miserable or unhappy, consider the possibility of just stopping what you’ve been doing with a little monkey wrenching of your own.

What can you do that will shake things up, push you out of your comfort zone, help you rethink what you know? Monkey wrenches serve as a course correction—things were going one way, now they’re going another. If there’s something you’re feeling unsatisfied about, something you want to change, go after it instead of waiting for it to happen to you.

This fall Darien will be teaching memoir, writing and publishing classes through Waimea Community Education. Visit for more information.

Darien Gee is a national bestselling author based in Waimea. Her most recent novel is The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. She also writes under the name Mia King. Visit her at and