Making Book Part 7: The Clipboard Memory

After writing a few books, I figured how best to keep track of the hundreds of small details necessary to write a single chapter of a woodworking book.

This lesson came from failure. As all good lessons do.

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When writing my first workbench book, I built all the projects, did all the research, then wrote the whole book in one go. The problem with that approach was that I had forgotten many details about the construction process because it the construction process had occurred two years earlier. So I had to basically rebuild the projects in SketchUp with the help of my step photos to prod my 2005 brain into answering questions posed by my 2007 brain.

For a later book, I wrote the chapters in real time as I built the projects. Every evening I wrote the text that described that day’s activities. This created scintillating, technical-manual-like reading – tab A into slot B. It was boring because I had no perspective on the project. My point of view was that of a diarist – not someone who was trying to explain what’s important to the reader. I didn’t yet fully know what was important. When you are in the moment, everything is important. And so my chapters were about three times too long.

With both approaches I had to rewrite vast swaths of text. I don’t mind doing that. But I’d get a book done faster if I could skip a rewrite.

I now use a third approach, and it works. I have a clipboard filled with all the construction drawings for each project in the book. Plus about 10 pages of blank paper. As I build, I write notes to myself.

“Legs ended up 2° off from the plan but look nice.” 

“Saddle begins as 5/8″ deep after scorping and ended up at 3/4″ after the travisher.” 

“Don’t forget to mention the trick about the medullary rays and the sticks.”

So when I write the chapter for that project, I have the plan I was supposed to follow in hand, plus my thought process for each day. Writing chapters with both kinds of information is a breeze. 

Well, “breeze” is an optimistic word. More like “less of a fart.”

— Christopher Schwarz

Read other posts from the “Making Book” series here.


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