Writing Assignment: Replace A Light Bulb

by Randy Murray on October 29, 2010

How many writers does it take to replace a light bulb? Apparently I’m the only one around here who can perform what must be a complex and technical task. Frankly, I’d rather sit in the dark. At least I’d have something to complain about.

A simple task, even one that is avoided, is an opportunity for a writer to explore the little steps, follow stimulus and response, and practice the level of detail that is necessary to give the reader a sense that that writer knows what he or she is doing. Getting it wrong is a sure way to lose a reader.

A fiction writer might have a character performing an unfamiliar task and might get away with fudging the details, but someone will always spot the inaccuracies and, with access to the Internet, complain bitterly about it. So get it right. Practice with tasks you know and understand, but deconstruct them and practice getting them right. What makes it easy or difficult? What can go wrong? How can you hurt yourself? Why do you avoid the task (or wait for me to do it)?

In today’s assignment, write a brief descriptive piece about replacing a light bulb. Include all of the steps, including how you know the light is burned out, finding a replacement, how you’ll reach it - everything that someone who had never seen a light before might need to perform the task. For extra credit, describe how you feel about the task, and how that changes from step to step.

The answer to my initial question, How many writers does it take to replace a lightbulb? Two. One to screw the bulb almost all the way in, and one to give a surprising twist at the end.

Here’s my example:

The lights are out in the bonus room again. It’s a simple ceiling fixture with two 100 watt incandescent bulbs. One has probably been out for weeks, but my daughter and my wife are the almost exclusive users of this room and they apparently never noticed or simply grumbled about the dim lighting.

But now the room’s dark and I have to do something about it. It’s not difficult to reach. I can unscrew the brass nub by standing on the edge of the couch. The glass bowl is dusty, so I’ll wash that before I put it back up. And yes, both bulbs show signs of blackening or the telltale piece of filament dangling or broken inside the bulb. I really should replace the whole thing with an LED or some sort of compact florescent, but for today, I’ll make the trip down to the basement and if I’m lucky, find two replacement bulbs to make short work of this.

No such luck, but I found one and that’s all they had before the last one burned out. I’ll replace it and make a note to pick up more during my regular Saturday morning trip to the hardware store. As I unscrew the two burned out bulbs I wonder again about the piece of foiled insulation that the bulbs nestle against. It has to be hot up against it, but there’s no sign of scorching, so I’ll leave it be. I screw in the replacement and step down and try the switch, holding out one hand to shade my eyes. It works. Thank the gods for small favors. I take the glass bowl into the bathroom and rinse it and quickly dry it with a bath towel. No bugs this time, so that’s good. I test my luck and balance on the edge of the couch again, fish the brass nub out of my pocket, and screw it back into place.

I wish someone else would replace an occasional bulb or two, but there is a small satisfaction in completing a task, even a small one like this. For now I will remain the house’s master electrician and Best Boy, rolled into one.

You may leave your completed assignment in the comments section below.

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The Writing Assignment: Replace A Light Bulb by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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