The Art of Craft

Picture of a wood worker with the text: Blogpost; The Art of Craft – staring down at the block of wood, in a kind of guitar shape, it occurred to me, that this was a first draft. EJDawson.com.

I had an excellent break in which I did not do enough work.

Which was fine because I had an excellent learning experience.

Two years ago we drove through soup thick smoke to get to my parents house on the NSW coast. It was that awful Christmas where Australian fires burned so hard the smoke was seen countries away, and it’s Australia, it’s not like our neighbors are that close. The entire experience wasn’t a holiday, it was a test of nerves under a sunless sky where we couldn’t breathe anything but the ash of our forests.

This time was much more pleasant. I met my baby nephew, my husband got to meet all three of our nephews because the lock downs meant this was the first time saw them. We relaxed and had a lovely time. And then my husband started a side project with my father, in the making for months.

He’s been a guitar player for years, had made one of his guitars, and wanted to make another. My Dad has a very good workshop and so they decided to make one together. I watched my husband draw the outline over the top of my battered Terry Pratchett, and tried to ignore the bandsaw, but duly went down to breathe in the smell of camphor laurel and admire the work. And staring down at the block of wood, in a kind of guitar shape, it occurred to me, that this was a first draft.

Image of a block of wood in a guitar shape, with a paper traced copy, in a wood working shop.

He’d drawn an outline, measured it up to be sure it was right, penciled it on the wood, and then cut the shape out of a solid block of timber.

It struck me this wasn’t that different to drafting a story outline, checking it had all the relevant parts and no soggy middle, and then writing the first draft.

This wasn’t a guitar, you couldn’t play music on it, it was a guitar shaped block of wood.

Much like a first draft isn’t a book to hand to a reader. They’d recognize it as a story, but there would be rough patches, and ultimately, the music wouldn’t quite be there.

My husband proceeded to sand it, add backing, smoothed out its edges, and brought it home. He hadn’t even attached all the metal bits. But it was taking shape, it had form, you could imagine someone playing guitar on it sooner than before. It was ready for people to hold it like it was a guitar.

Unfinished guitar made of wood on cane chair.

But they can’t play on it, not yet, and that’s the next phase.

Just like when you finish a novel it may not be ready for someone to read and you know what? That’s actually ok. There is a lot that goes into a novel, into crafting it, more than just hammering out a story or agonizing over every second word for years. Even after all that there’s the smoothing out rough edges, polishing for flow. It’s adding the frets and strings, the grammar and better words. It’s cutting out a place for those by removing chunks of excess wood, chunks of filler words. Sanding it down until its smooth, reading over and over until you get lost in it.

It’s a process, and not an easy one, but it is beautiful watching it come together. Yes, it’s a lot of work. It was always going to be, but it doesn’t mean you should hate the process, it doesn’t mean you should be impatient to play it, or have someone read it.

And maybe the first time someone does, it’ll sound wrong. They’ll be tweaks needing to be made. Adjustments to get the sound quality out of the story. Until the fact it was once a block of nothing is forgotten for the sake of what can be gained out of playing your favorite song, to let your imagination take a walk somewhere else for a while.

It becomes so beautiful that it’s no longer just yours.

It’s the thing you made with the help of others, and it doesn’t change that you made it, but it became more than the sum of its parts. Just like your book is not a collection of words in a block of wood, it’s a place you can take the reader, a sliver of your imagination.

That’s something to be amazed at, a wonderful journey, a process you can sit back and be proud of when it comes time to hand it over to someone else… and move onto the next one. Better at crafting, surer of your hand, and not afraid of the work involved in creating another small miracle from nothing but a block of wood.

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