Monday, April 6, 2015

Hewing the Manuscript

Most of my blog posts are written after much thought has gone into them and usually they’re just the fruit of my meditation at work. By the time I open my computer to begin putting words to page I, for the most part, know where things are headed. This writing comes easy to me especially because I can’t usually be “wrong”... they’re just my thoughts about my work. When it comes to making statements about historical persons or events, however, more careful wordsmithing is required. As I have been working on the Fisher manuscript this winter, I have been forced to reckon with the demands of a whole new genre. I can’t just wing this one.

I’ve been wrestling with some questions in the process. How does one set out to build a competent and careful representation of Fisher by highlighting one particular aspect of his life work without distorting the whole picture? How does one become confident that they’ll provide enough (but not too much) background information about preindustrial furniture making trade practices, New England social relationships, eighteenth century academia, New England Calvinism, agrarian seasonal schedules, windmill technology, or broader stylistic influences ?

Here’s what I’ve come up with: you build a manuscript exactly like you build furniture. Start with a sketch, draw some plans, hew your stock, cut to length, refine the pieces, cut the joinery, and assemble.

Start the project by collating all of the miscellaneous facts you’ve gathered. Then make a Table of Contents and a descriptive paragraph for each chapter. Then start an outline for each chapter. This could be compared to having your plans drawn. Once you’ve got your plans, get out your hewing axe and begin taking those rough ideas and hacking them into something more manageable. Just start writing. Don’t stop to over-analyze it. You just gotta keep the flow going and get it out onto the page. This is the stage I am at right now and it ain’t pretty. I’m having the same reaction today’s woodworkers have the first time they approach freshly riven stock. It’s alarming that nothing’s even remotely flat or square. This is my manuscript today.

So I have been hewing out the chapters of my book. I’m making a mess and it doesn’t look like much but I know, like woodworking, that each step of the process is all about further refinement and eventually the pile of sticks begins to resemble something worthy of use.

1 comment:

  1. I like your analogy. And, although I haven't written a book, it seems like you are asking the right sort of questions to shape this into something very interesting. Looking forward to it, in the fulness of time.
    -John Vernier