Making Book Part 11: Get to Know the Stranger

Warning: This blog entry contains material that some will likely find offensive. If that’s you, please don’t continue on.

While editing hundreds of woodworking articles during the last 24 years, I noticed a funny and annoying pattern to the writing.

First problem. We’d ask the author to tell the story in 2,500 words and send us 12 step photos of the construction process (or technique) they were writing about. The writer would then turn in a 14,000-word manuscript and mail me a CD filled with 637 jpegs. Usually there was a note: “Just throw out what you don’t need!”

Second problem. Most of the unedited manuscripts about building a project went like this:

  1. About 10 typewritten pages on wood selection and layout, with a detailed discussion of how to avoid knots, plus some deep thoughts on moisture exchange.
  2. Five pages on processing stock, with tips on jointer safety, a trick to empty dust collection bags and thoughts on dealing with cross-grained hardwoods (even though the project is in pine).
  3. Two pages on joinery.
  4. Finally the sentence: “Build the dovetailed drawers, add the inlay, make the glass doors with diamond mullions, apply your favorite finish and you’re done. Have a beer!”

This happens because the author tried to write the whole damn article at one sitting and got tired when he or she finally hit the section on joinery. Plus, he or she didn’t go back and edit the copy after leaving it alone for a while.

When I write, I do it in 30-minute bursts to avoid getting tired. I write a few paragraphs, then I go into the shop and do a little handwork. When I return to the keyboard, I begin by reading the chapter I’m working on from its beginning to make sure these older paragraphs flow into my new ones. Then I try to leap off the most recent paragraph and write some new ones, inspired by the flow of the chapter I’ve just read.

After I finish a chapter, I set it aside for a few days, weeks or months (if possible). When I come back to edit it, it’s like I’m editing someone else’s work, and I can take a fresh hatchet to it.

A fellow writer described this process in a much more crude but effective way. If you are at all sensitive, do not read past this sentence. Really. Because this will stick with you.

This fellow writer also set his writing aside for a month or so. He called it “becoming a stranger.”

“When I was a little boy, I would sit on my right hand until it became numb,” he said. “Then I would (play with myself). And because my hand was numb, it was like being with a stranger.”

I warned you. I’m sorry. And this is why your mama didn’t want you to become a writer.

— Christopher Schwarz

Warning: This blog entry contains material that some will likely find offensive. If that’s you, please don’t continue on. While editing hundreds of woodworking articles during the last 24 years, I noticed a funny and annoying pattern to the writing. First problem. We’d ask the author to tell the story in 2,500 words and send…Read MoreMaking BookLost Art PressRead More

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