This topic was inspired by my recent decision to remove a plank of wood from where my computer sits, in this makeshift cupboard thing that was built in my bedroom (before I moved in). I was always hitting my head on it and it would also make it really difficult to talk to my family and friends on video chat, because my monitor would show the top of the plank which was covered in a drippy white paint job. I’d always considered removing it, but yesterday I decided, “today’s the day.” I surmised that the plank could be removed without compromising the rest of the support structure, so I got out my little handsaw and got to work. I recorded myself doing it, in different stages, because I wanted to prove to my Dad that I’d been able to remove the plank without the whole thing crashing down. (Also, I did it to amuse myself later.)
The first thing that I should explain is that this handsaw was a piece of garbage to begin with, when I bought it two summers ago for £3 at Wilko. I was looking for just a little garden saw at the time to take down a couple of small bushes in my front yard. It did the trick at the time, but since then it’s generally fallen into a state of disuse. The teeth on it were jagged and pointing in different directions. Because of this, it took me a long time to complete the job. While I was sawing away I had lots of time to contemplate my reasons for doing this, and I gave myself the task of trying to find out how it could be a metaphor for writing. “How is sawing a plank of wood like writing?” I asked myself. And here are the answers I came up with:
- Sawing a plank of wood is like writing because if you start off with the wrong framework that someone else gave to you and you think it’s going to fit into your formula for success and the plans you have in mind, it’s not going to work. You’re going to have to remove pieces of the framework to adjust for you. Writing is an individual process, which is why there can be so many people who do it so beautifully. A creative writing teacher can offer the same one-line writing prompt to her students, and get thirty different and equally amazing results, because writing reflects the individual. When I write something, I bring all of my experiences to the table, the good and the bad. None of my “mistakes” that I’ve made in life are unworthy for reflection. Every single thing I’ve learned in my life, including about relationships and what I’ve learned about love and growth, are all going to come out in my writing. If I’m trying to fit all the “me” inside someone else’s writing framework, it’s quite possible it won’t feel right. Adjustments must be made. You can always admire other writers, but you have to seek out your own voice. There might be a particular style that you wish you could emulate, and that’s good. Having ideals is important, and only in reading other works will you be able to get better at honing your own voice. But it is YOUR voice that you need to let come out. (More about writing voice in future blogs.)
- Writing is like sawing a plank of wood because if you don’t have the proper tools, it’s going to take you a very long time to get where you want to go. What are the proper tools in a writer’s toolbox? First of all it’s your own state of mind; your relationship with yourself. How will you ever be able to develop your own voice, if your mindset denies your desires? You need to develop a good relationship with yourself. I don’t know about you, but I experienced a lifelong problem with depression until I was about thirty-five years old. I know it’s kind of cliche for a writer to be depressed, and we’re supposed to take our pain and write through it, producing something brilliant, etc. But in my experience it was a cumbersome thing that followed my every decision. I doubted myself constantly, including my ability to generate ideas to even being “worthy” of writing. I’ve made mistakes in the past and relationships and with my life path, and these always seemed like problems that all added up to my unworthiness to become anything, least of all a great writer. Or even just a writer. So my suggestion, if you have this problem with mindset, is to fix it by whatever means possible. We are human beings, and we have to be kind to ourselves. If you need therapy, or medication, or just a change in routine that means you get out more and pursue positive relationships, just do it. Try everything. You are worth the effort, and turning off that voice of doubt will do such amazing things for your writing. Other important tools are understanding the type of writing that you want to produce, which means reading up on the structure and techniques of the genre you’re writing in (i.e., if you’re writing crime fiction you’re going to want to learn police procedures, crime scene science, etc, whereas historical writing will obviously require a great understanding of the era about which you’re writing). You’ll also want to read up on topics like plot, character development, “showing” and not “telling”, and other various important techniques.
- Writing is like sawing a plank of wood, because you can start off with the general idea of where you want to go, and you can dive in with a full view of your plans laid in front of you. But then halfway in you realize it’s all wrong, you could have done it a different way, you see gaps in logic within your plot line, or your characters are more 2D than 3D, etc. You take a break, step back and realize the awful mess that lies in front of you: a half-sawn off plank of wood hanging from its frame; sawdust covering everything; your muscles are cramping and you feel tired. At this point you could abandon the project altogether, right? But you still have to clean up that mess. Or, you could go back and start over in a different way (but that might take longer). OR — you could keep going. Saw through that plank! Listen to your writing voice, and back up your own original ideas. Yes you can make adjustments when necessary, but stick to your original plan. Every writer has to produce their rough draft before anything else happens. Even Thomas Hardy, at one point in time, was sitting in front of his manuscript for Tess of the d’Urbervilles and probably wondering why Tess had wandered out into the middle of Stonehenge, and how to get her to the scaffolds that awaited her. And if you think William Faulkner didn’t have his doubts about crafting a story around a family carrying a coffin containing their mother’s dead body forty miles away to Jefferson, well you’d be wrong. If you think he didn’t wonder if this was too crazy, too weird, too unrealistic, too morbid to be written about, his characters too depressing — it’s not true. I assure you he had his doubts, but he managed to see it through, creating the amazing piece of literature of As I Lay Dying, containing that amazing shifting point of view which you know he had to struggle crafting and even accepting that it would work. He started with an idea, and he began on the journey just as his characters began theirs, and just like them, I promise you, he got stuck, he waded into the river chasing Addie’s coffin, and he pulled it back out again. True brilliance on the page is not the product of a natural talent that has the ability to generate genius in one fell swoop. Every great writer will have wondered, at some point, what the hell they were thinking and how do they fix their mess. But you can rest assured that they continued sawing that plank. And once they finished the rough draft, that’s their first real breakthrough. Then the massive work of revision begins, and the writer again must continue sawing the plank. When all the sawing is done, and the sawdust is swept away, you can step back and look at what’s there — and I guarantee you, it will be a thing of beauty.
Writing is like sawing through a piece of wood, because you, the carpenter, must keep your tools in top shape, and you must be working in the best framework for your needs, not trying to be fit inside someone else’s ideas of great writing. But equally as important is simply finishing the job. Saw through that plank!!!!!