ImageMy Dad’s a carpenter. Growing up, my younger brother and I built many things with him: houses, cabinets, furniture; all things you can fashion with your hands. We learned, through many hours of watching and practice, that in order to build anything, you had to have all of the right elements. Writing a book is very similar to the art of building in that it cannot be done without its own necessary components. So, by way of comparison, let’s look at what you must have in order to build a book.

Before you can build anything, you must have the right materials. Even the most skilled craftsman can’t build anything if he has nothng to work with. In carpentry, you must have wood, glue, nails, screws, and other materials. In the writing process, your wood is your story. You have to plan your story well, undrstand where you want to begin and where it needs to end. There needs to be a good plot to glue the narrative together firmly. You also have characters who are like the nails or screws that fasten the planks of your story together and ensure they won’t come apart, even if the glue is thin in some spots. Don’t begin unless you have all of these materials ready to go!

Tools are a must prior to building as well. If you have no tools, you’re not going to be able to put the book together. When a carpenter prepares to work, he organizes his tools and ensures that not only are they appropiate to the task at hand, but also in good working order. He does not ue a broken hammer or an inaccurate level or measuring tape. He also dosn’t use his square to pound nails or his saw to measure a board. When you write, make sure your tools are available and working. Your grammar should strike flawlessly. The sentences should measure your tone effectively. All of the words should be straight and square. Also, don’t use an adverb where a verb is the right tool. Don’t put too many nails in a board or too close to the end or it will split and fall to peices. Use your word tools carefully! 

A good carpenter must also have skill, honed over years of practice, both practical and through observation. I watched my father build dozens of cabinets before I ever tried to build my first set. I would fetch nails, tools, and other necessary items for him, then watch him use the items with deft purpose. Reading other books is much like the observational part of writing. In the prose of great writers, you can observe fine craftsmanship, tight joints, and a finished product that any person who loves the art would be proud to have in their home. But, once you have observed the process of building, you eventually try it out for yourself, usually disaterously. You bend nails, forget to put in the glue, and make “goat tracks” all over the wood with your hammer. It’s a mess. But, once you do it a few times, you begin to drive the nails straight and join the edges squarely. In writing, you do the same thing. You must write and rewrite and write again and again. After you have ruined a few houses, you’ll finally have built a Frank Lloyd Wright.

At last, you must finish your project. The thing I always hated the most about building was the finishing. Why? Because it was the most laborious and precise part of the whole project. The finishing was what showed and also what presented the most mistakes. If you didn’t sand the wood enough, the furiniture would be rough and lose its sheen. If the paint was not applied evenly to a wall, it would drip and mar the surface. In writing, you must do the same. Through editing, a writer sands the surface of his prose with increasingly finer grit. He paints it with smooth strokes that compliment the already lovely surface underneath. The finished product is a beautiful thing to behold and own.

 In building your book, don’t forget to make a plan and follow your blueprint. While some writers may be very precise about this at the start, usually they learn to do it from memory. In building, you develop muscle-memory that allows you to complete the same tasks effortlessly and efficiently over and pver again. Although you may have moved slowly the first time you performed the task, the practice of doing it repetitively leads you to a point where you can do it without much thought. If you put all of these skills, tools, materials, and finishing practices to daily use, you will find yourself creating masterpeices and heirlooms.


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