Thursday, March 13, 2008

Struggles With The Craft

Word on the street (silence) is that lots (few) of people (unclear) are wondering about what struggles with the craft means.

I'm a writer and a boatbuilder. I take small things (words, pieces of wood) and put them into bigger things (stories, boats) that then sail away with you. But it is and always will be a struggle and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Why bother doing anything that's easy?

I could be wrong -- and I'm ready to be proven so -- but I like to think that my skill in writing lies not so much in crafting good prose, but rather in recognizing the bad stuff and getting rid of it. I read somewhere that you're done revising when there's nothing left to remove. Ha ha! Seriously.

Boatbuilding is different. In that case you follow the directions in the plans; find some good wood, measure and mark and cut; go to work with your hands full of splinters and secretly revel at your callouses when you're surrounded by softhanded corporate types.

Or whatever.

It's harder to identify poor craftmanship in boatbuilding than in writing, but with practice you can develop the merciless eye that's so important. Still, when you put a boat on the water for the first time you always wonder, will it sink? Not unlike sending a book for the first time into the world, I suppose.

I try not to see writing as art anymore than I see boatbuilding as art. It is manual labor, and my boat is speckled with sweat and blood (literally) just as my rough drafts are (figuratively).

And I have to admit it is so so good to go between writing and boatbuilding. Because there's always a little more to do. Cut closer to the line; cut out that adverb. Tighten that joint; tighten that paragraph.

Work. Effort in pursuit of a goal.

All the while envisioning the book carrying someone away and the boat touched by the hands of children.


Anonymous said...

So you've given us a working definition of "work" but no working definition of "craft" that I can see. As you use the term, it seems to mean, "exacting attention to detail in the service of a creative goal." Or does your definition differ? BTW, you know me, I'm only posting anonymously cos I'm not sure this thing won't display my email address for the world to see. Hint: Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout.

S R Wood said...

Ha ha, not so anonymous. Yes, I shied away from defining craft since all I can do is dance around it indirectly.

It's not aesthetic and subjective; it's objectively functional. It's a battered hammer, a solid engine that runs whether it looks good or not. It's solid, honest, unpretentious. It *works*. It's not debated by guys in turtlenecks and sport coats. It's often but not always handmade.

It's the thing that works and that you can rely on, regardless of whether you like how it looks.

It's tedious, knuckle-bashing, and mechanical. Nouns, verbs, gerunds; angles, chords, joints. Voice and rest; loud and soft.

See? I warned you I couldn't define it.