The Definition of Tinkering

Lately, I’ve been using the word “tinkering” a lot. Tinkering with chapter 18. Tinkering with the article I’m working on. This morning, I started wondering about the word. I remember my grandfather used it a lot. He tinkered with his tractors. He tinkered with the farm equipment. He’d go out to his workshop and tinker around a bit. My dad was a great tinkerer, too. He tinkered with his car, his truck, and his lawn mower.

So I feel like I inherited the term and the practice. But what exactly IS tinkering anyway?

I looked it up.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary on my desk, to tinker is to repair or adjust something in an unskillful or experimental manner. A tinkerer is an itinerant mender of household utensils or an unskillful mender. Or a bungler.


I was good with the repair and adjust part. The mender part, too. But I don’t much care for that unskilled bungler thing.

Grandpap kept his tractor and other farm equipment in pristine condition. So did my dad. I would never think of either of them as unskilled. And definitely not bunglers.

As for tinkering on my writing? Gosh, I hope I’m neither unskilled nor a bungler. Am I repairing and adjusting my words? Definitely. Mending a broken sentence? Absolutely. I’ll even accept that I might be doing so in an experimental manner. Writing is rewriting, after all. Experimentation is half the fun.

For the sake of clarity, I’m keeping the term “tinkering,” but I’m editing the definition. Tinkering with it, you could say. Because I like the link to my grandpap and dad, even if the focus of our mending is quite different.

So I’m spending this week tinkering on my first draft and on the Fire Truck Pull article. Honestly, to use my own personal definitions of the writing process, I’m pretty much done tinkering on the article. I’m at the polishing phase with the intention of having it submitted by Friday. But I consider my work on the first draft of the novel to definitely be mending, repairing and adjusting.

And my plan for NEXT week involves beginning the SECOND draft. What’s the difference between tinkering on the first draft and working on the second? In my mind, the process of creating a second draft involves going back to the first chapter (which sucks) and rewriting. Where I didn’t linger on the sucky stuff that ended up on the page for the first three chapters of the first draft, now I’m trying to get it down. I’m filling in gaps and tying up loose ends in the rest of it. Replacing adverbs with stronger verbs.

In other words, getting the thing ready for my first readers.

Tinkering. Polishing. First draft. Second draft. Sucky stuff. Perhaps I should consider writing my own dictionary with my own definitions of writing terms. It’s an idea.

I think I’ll tinker with it a bit.


Alan Orloff said…
Nice post. When you get your dictionary finished, send me a copy. I'm always looking for good, new words!
Jemi Fraser said…
I use the phrase tinkering all the time - unskilled bungler!! Yikes - I hope not :)

Great post!
Annette said…
Alan, I'll definitely save a copy for you.

Jemi, yes, I think we need to tinker with that particular entry in the dictionary. I like the word too much to give it up.

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