Craft

Mortise and TenonOver time I have built a few pieces of furniture – a book case here, a table there.  Wood is good and great pleasure is derived from the process of milling rough lumber into useable boards, shaping and joining those boards into something aesthetically pleasing and lasting.  It’s almost creative.  I say almost because everything I’ve built has been a reproduction of someone else’s design.  I’ll leave the creative distinction to the works of genuine masters like Sam Maloof or Gustav Stickley; guys who left truly fresh footprints in the shavings on the floor.

Still, even in a reproduction there is a sense of accomplishment as a project takes shape, certainly in looking at the finished project, but even more so in the making and fitting of the joints.  Decisions must be made as to what type of joint will be best for each element of the piece – which should be purely structural and which can afford a bit of aesthetic flair.  Then it’s down to the business of applying craft to the fit and finish of each.  With proper attention to detail, the resulting whole will remain robust over time and pleasing to the eye .

While I am far from being a master craftsman, I’ve developed sufficient proficiency in milling and joinery to allow me to take on more challenging projects with some confidence.  IMG_0102My earliest pieces appeared to have been built by someone who didn’t know what he was doing, but this is only because they were built by someone who didn’t know what he was doing.  Butt joints and screws and out of square boxes were my trademark.  But as time went on both my tool collection and my ability to use them grew.  I studied the strengths, limitations and applications of different types of joints.  I practiced, failed and improved.  Importantly, I learned that there is a difference between a hobby and a craft.  When approached as a hobby, woodworking can be fun, but expectations surrounding the quality of the finished product should be tempered.  Approached as a craft, working with wood becomes rewarding. Study and practice become requisite steps in the completion of a project, and the finished product reflects that.

There is a strong parallel here that can be applied to the writing of fiction.  Having long approached it as a hobby, my work has been visibly out of square with loose joints and poorly sanded surfaces.  Those with an understanding of the craft might have read some of my past forays into fiction and thought them to be written by someone who didn’t know what he was doing. But that’s only because they were written by someone who didn’t know what he was doing. Creative flair has its place, but that place isn’t in the load bearing corners of a story.

There are fundamentals to effective story telling; firebricks that prevent the writer from burning the whole thing down before the reader warms up to it.  These fundamentals, set apart from any inherent talent a writer may have, must be learned.  Conflict, layered characters, backstory, subtext, pace and story arc. Of late I have immersed myself in studying these elements, the craft of the written story. I am practicing, failing, learning, mindful that there is a difference between hobby and craft.sam-maloof

Before he could break the rules of rocking chair building, Sam Maloof had to learn how a rocking chair works. Grain direction, allowance for seasonal expansion, the correct joint for the job.

I will continue to join both words and boards. In fact there is a bookcase I have been wanting to build, its shelves to be joined to its sides with sliding dovetails. A perfect joint in form and function, one I have yet to master. And there is a book being written. If any good, it will read as one written by someone who has practiced and understands the craft of a well written story. I look forward to seeing its pages bound and resting in a well built bookcase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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41.8 Books

“There are too many dead men and there is too much talk about them” – Raymond Chandler

The average male in the US (and for purposes of this discussion let’s focus on living males) lives about 76 years.  I’m a little over 52 years old so that gives me about 24 more years on this side of the sod.  But given my procrastinatory predilection, let’s say that I don’t get around to dying until I’m 80.  This gives me about 28 years left.

Should this prediction be reasonably accurate, it will mean different things to different folks.  To my health insurance company, based on my medical bills from the past few years, it will mean the odds of them breaking even on me are squat.  To my auto mechanic, based on my repair bills over the last few years, it will mean he should tell his wife “Yes, honey, we can afford that”.  For my wife Laura it should mean that she can go to bed tonight almost 50% certain that the dripping faucet in our bathroom will get repaired before she needs to make my funeral arrangements.  And my kids should regret ever having said they will pay me back.

To me it means that after 52 years, enough bait has been cut and it’s time to fish – to flycast, spear or snag that book out of my muddy waters.

A good average word count for a full length piece of literary fiction is roughly 85,000 words. So let me commit to 2,000 words a day and let’s run the numbers to see what my body of work should look like by the time my body stops working.  On second thought, since even I only believe half the shit I say (and if you have any sense you’ll only believe half of that), let’s knock that down to 500 words a day.  Over the course of a year that gives me 182,500 words, or 2.2 books per year.

Ruh roh!Ruh Roh

Ok, there’s no way I’m going to write 365 days a year,  and there are countless valid reasons why I should be able to avoid devoting a couple of hours per day to knocking out 500 words.  Well, maybe not countless.

Let’s start with the Sabbath.  Right off the top let’s knock this thing down to a six day week.  Beliefs aside, this fool ain’t gonna risk eternal hellfire over a lousy 500 words.

Then, of course, there’s vacation.  I know this isn’t France, but given my seniority in some writer’s guild that I will join as soon as I’m done writing this, I’m entitled to four weeks of vacation per year.

As a nation we set aside ten federal holidays to be with our loved ones, to honor our heroes and heritage, to focus on things far more important than writing 500 words.  These include New Years Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, etc.  You know the list.  While some of these are officially observed only by federal employees, I have read the Federalist Papers, agree with them in principle, and therefore feel obligated to observe all ten.  As a writer I also observe National Library Week and abstain from writing to dedicate my time more fully to reading.

Sick days?  Nobody wants to read the crap I wrote, had I written any, the way I felt last week. I’ll bet I feel that way about ten days a year.

How about funerals.  It would be almost disrespectful for me to frolic with fiction when I should be in deep mourning.  I easily attend twelve funerals a year.  Well ok, it’s more like two, in a bad year, but let’s assume the next twenty eight years are all going to be bad.

And weddings.  Of course I should go to the service and reception, but to fully honor the nuptials let’s agree that wedding days should be more about them and less about me. Again, I easily attend a dozen weddings a year.  I love them.  Ok, I hate weddings and go to two in a bad year.

So there it is.  Writing 500 words a day for 254 days a year would generate 127,000 words, or 1.5 books, 85,000 words in length, per year.  Give me 28 more years and I’ll give you 41.8 books.

Numbers don’t lie, but I do, so let’s spin that bullshit wheel one more time .  I’ll cut what I said in half and you do it again because you have no reason to believe me.  That’s still ten books.  A pretty scary number when you’re starting at zero.

Or a pretty exciting number, infinitely achievable, should I stop fearing it and starting doing it.

The bottom line is, the actual number will be a function of how many words I write on however many days remain for me to enjoy.  And yes, those days will be enjoyed more fully for the writing.  And yes, to the extent the word count remains zero, you might as well already consider me one of those dead men there is too much talk about.

So let the word count begin.