It’s been a busy few weeks since my last post. Lots of shop time, which feels great. Not nearly as much time at the writing desk, which feels a bit less than great. But I’m finding some natural ebbs and flows around writing and woodworking, and I’m starting to feel okay with them. Mostly.
So strange to not already be in the shop working.A whole Sat. away from work.Feeling a little adrift. #SelfEmployed
— The Artificer (@artificer13) November 10, 2012
What’s your workhorse?
One reason I’ve been in the shop so much is that I’ve learned some techniques on my table saw that have opened up a lot of possibilities for me. Experienced hobbyists, not to mention professionals, will probably think I’m getting over excited about it. But learning to cut grooves and rabbets using the TS has been a bit of a mind-blower.
And, it’s made it possible for me to make some pretty nifty Christmas gifts for my daughters. These slotted dollhouses are made from scrap I’ve picked up here and there. All the trim is hardwood. The walls are made from 1/8″ drawer bottom plywood.
Learning to use my TS started off as a challenge, since, well, the thing is loud and scary! It’s a jagged disc of carbide tipped metal spinning at several thousand RPMs. And I’m supposed to push bits of trim across the top of the blade to cut a groove for the walls to slot into?
That’s the beauty of the TS though. You can raise the blade anywhere from a few hundredths of an inch up to nearly 2″ for cross-cutting or ripping. And with the right jig or push paddle (essential for safe cutting) you can do just about anything with your TS. For me, it’s become the most versatile tool in the shop, and I’m pretty sure that’s the case for most woodworkers.
So this got me thinking…
As a writer, I most often get stuck in the not knowing phase. Not knowing what happens next. Not knowing what my characters will be faced with. Not knowing why my characters need to run into Nikola Tesla in a hidden village outside of Chicago. That sort of thing.
— Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) November
I want my story to remain. From the rough cut ideas and half hewn images in my head, I want to produce a crafted narrative that people are happy to have in the home (or e-reader library). So what’s the tool that can handle the cuts I need to make?
Am I a “pantser,” just scribbling away like mad with only a vague situation to start things off? Stephen King says that’s how he does it. I liked a lot of his advice, but that piece didn’t work for me. I’ve tried it and it honestly feels like I’m trying to pass bits of trim over my TS blade without a push stick!
So am I a “plotter” then? Do I sketch out the journalist’s 5 Ws and press on from there to outline each scene, mapping the story arc across a spreadsheet that lets me follow each character’s arc in tandem with the others? Do I meticulously pick at every detail until it all lines up, and only THEN begin writing?
I’m disinclined to acquiesce to either proposal
To be honest, I’ve never bought into The Great Debate because, like any dichotomy, it’s only addressing two points on the surface of a sphere. And that kinda ignores a lot of territory. Also, I don’t think either the pantsing or plotting approaches are particularly versatile. Sure, both have advantages. But they both assume pretty strict and slavish devotion, too.
I mentioned last week that I write with a soundtrack. A fairly common practice from what I’ve read and heard about other writers. When I started my novel, it was because Joe Satriani’s Time Machine brought up the image of a bum riding a rusty bicycle through the streets of Chicago. Then a dirigible flew overhead with the name “Tesla Electromagnetics” emblazoned on the skin.
The music comes first
I’m listening to a song or a film score and then images from my story begin to coalesce into the basics of a scene. Action points, snippets of dialogue, catchy one-liners, sometimes brief conversations. I scribble these down and then, when I’m at my desk, I start writing the scene. It’ll change, expand, sometimes growing from a few hundred words into several thousand. Later on, I’ll think about the scene I’ve written, re-read it a few times, touch it up here and there.
Then I start plotting (sort of). I’ll start investigating my characters. They’re the stock I have to work with after all. I may write a few more scenes, usually building from the opening sequence with what feels intuitive. Trusting my fingers to punch out material that enhances the story. I pants it for a bit.
And then I’ll write the ending. It’s back to the playlist, open a blank document, start sketching out the final scene, the last action sequence and the last lines of dialogue.
The most I’ll ever plot will be short descriptions of major scenes, steps along the way from opening to closing scenes, as you’d see them in a movie. I think cinematically when I write, and my notes often look like this:
Scene – Brand (my protag) gets to scrap yard, steals airship, flees Chicago, junkyard dog, dirty cop double-crosses him, flare gun
The most I’ll ever let myself pants it will be to get the bulk of each scene written by whittling down from those rough scene notes.
What’s your workhorse in the woodshop? At the writer’s desk?