Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Learning the Craft of Writing

Machine Crafted, Hand Detailed Chair
Someone asked me the other day how long it could possibly take to learn to write, in that tone of voice which said it should really not be taking you (that's me) as long as it has.

What could I say? That it takes as long as it takes? That I was late getting started and am slow getting along? That it will take me for the rest of my life? That I got good at essays but I'm still learning to write fiction?

All the above and some more. Learning to write probably takes about ten years. The same amount of time as in former times it took an apprentice builder, carpenter, knitter or weaver to get to journeyman/woman stage.

Ten years -- a long apprenticeship followed by four or so years working for a boss before the craftsperson got their ticket and could set up shop for themselves.

Learning to write well takes practicing your craft everyday for the rest of your life.

But crafts have been downgraded. We think we can press a lifetime of experience into one year. We think we can learn everything from books and or the internet -- as I used to before I took up Tai Chi. We think machine-work is pretty good and use it for the basics.

The chair above was made by pre-computerized men (I'm guessing the chair is at least sixty years old)) using pre-computerized machine-tools. the carving on the back of the chair is too regular to have been done by hand. Parts of it, for example the cane sides and backs, were woven by hand and must be repaired by hand. The panels were set in by hand, after the chair carcass was completed. I gather this from the slight off-centredness of the panels.

The cushions were re-upholstered by a person with the help of a sewing machine. The beading around the cushions, though a feature on industrial sewing machines, takes skill and experience in the easing around corners in the stiff cloth.

Even these days (early 21st Century) we would expect a person able to produce such a chair to have had a more than a few years of training. Some of us think we can write when we can put pen to paper (a rare bird, these days) or peck out a pattern of words on a computer. Writing continues to be intractably hands-on, where the hands is the metaphor for the mind.

Writing can't be automated.

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