inside the word factory
perhaps you have visions of some victorian chamber, with a velvet tufted fainting couch, at the top of a curving stair. perhaps you imagine, ala virginia woolf, a room of one’s own where even the logs in the fire waft a delicate perfume. that, you might imagine, is the inner chamber of one who strings words into sentences into paragraphs into pages for a living. (well, there’s not much of a living there, but that’s a story for another day, and one i shan’t get near.)
but back to the room of my own. i’ve got one all right. and once upon a time it was the one-car garage, likely a Buick or Olds, that puttered up the drive here in this circa 1940s house, when the war tragically was full-steam ahead, and the doctor who built this old house–a doctor who delivered babies deep in the night–must have been proud of that room for his Buick or Olds.
i park myself in that room. for interminable hours these days. from the dark before dawn till the dark in the night. and, mostly, i love every minute of it. even when it’s hard. even when the words are sputtering out like someone forgot to grease the cogs and the wheels in the word factory.
i thought i’d let you peek at my highly categorized filing shelf (up above), where the alphabet of books i’ve read for this book (did you realize that many, many books are compendiums of many, many books tossed into the word whizzer, where they whirl and they swirl, and they come out the other side a veritable library now distilled and condensed into the one single volume you hold in your hand?) are stored in their hardly sophisticated, but highly utilitarian, toppling strip on the floor. i’m certain a shelf would be a handy thing, but all the shelves in the house are previously occupied, so i was left with only this strip on the hardwood floor of my once-garage.
anyway, these are some of the more than 200 books (i just did my taxes, i now know precisely the number i bought), i’ve read in the note-taking phase of this so-called literary endeavor. it appears that i still write like a newspaper reporter, when it was my job to run about the town, and sometimes the country, asking all sorts of questions of all sorts of people who knew what i wanted to know. only this time around, many of the folks who know what i want to know are, well, dead. many died a long, long time ago. take the desert elders of egypt. they died some 1,800 years ago. but their wisdom was timeless, and i hope to absorb at least a mere pinch of it. moving a bit closer in time, there are the transcendentalists, emerson and thoreau, and in my book they seem rather young, having died not even two full centuries back. you get the point. and not all the geniuses whose words i am scouring are no longer among us. many, many are living and breathing and writing more sentences all their own.
i’ve also realized that a pandemic is the perfect time to write a book. there’s nowhere to go anyway. and each day is a wide-open block on the calendar, with little variation except for the chores that punctuate the morning. there’s water-the-plants day, and haul-in-the-groceries day. the middle of the week + sunday are wind-the-clock days, and in a week as wide open as that, why not plunk yourself down in your word-factory chair and get to work on a book? i realize this is my second such endeavor this pandemic, which, honest to goodness, is not too pathetic.
anyway, since this morning is write-the-chair day, i thought i’d let you peek behind the curtain before i plop back down and start typing some more. after all this time pulling up to the very same table, week after week, month after month, year after year, i figure you’re due a backstage tour.
i’m up to 37,226 words, in case anyone’s counting. and i hope to tack on a few thousand more today. i’m not too far from the end of the rough first draft, and then the hard part begins: reading it all from the start, trying not to wince, or fall off the chair in utter humiliation. round two is where you get serious. and each word is a test; each word, each thought, each big idea needs to be tested for muscle and truth, and, yes, poetry. it’s all due the first of june, which means i’ll be typing straight through the return of the songbirds and the blossoming of the lilac. it’s a very good thing i love the topic––the Book of Nature, by the way, that ancient theology that all of creation is infused with the sacred in all its wisdoms and truths, and that your closest encounter with the one i call God just might come lying under the stars one night, or cradling a broken-winged bird in your palm. what i love most is that it’s a wisdom woven with threads from all sources, ancient and not quite so old. so the books on my floor are books from the Celts and the Choctaw, from ancient Egypt and China, and right here in the Land of the Free, from Walden Pond and Cape Cod and clear out to the Great Salt Lake and the Redwoods Forest. which is all making me feel very Woody Guthrie. (and notice my knack for hitting the upper-case key here? that’s because my day job–there in the word factory–insists we show up with our capitals.)
so that’s the news from the factory floor, where i’m due any minute to be back in my chair and hitting the keys–caps shift and otherwise.
on the topic of books, what are the ones on your must-share list? and why?
I read a delightful book in the beginning of December by theologian, poet and storyteller Jack Shea. It was a collection of poetry for the Christmas season called SEEING HALOES. I immediately ordered several copies and was able to drop off this gem of a book to several friends on Christmas Eve. One friend continues to comment on the beauty and wisdom from the tiny treasure two months later. (I also shared several copies of THE STILLNESS OF WINTER with my sisters and friends in November!)
oh, well, that sounds pretty amazing. so funny, the minute i asked for thoughts on good reads, i pictured you with your tall stack o books, and your delightful ways of spreading the word……xoxo
Thanks, Barb, for the bird’s-eye view into your process! I’m winding down praying with your Stillness in Winter book and I’m very much looking forward to what comes next from your beautiful creative soul! Xo
more of a mouse-eye view, the way i scuttled down to the floor to snap that frame. and since a colony of chipmunks seem to inhabit the airspace beneath my once-concrete slab, it might be most accurate to name it a chipmunk-eye view as they’re the ones down at the level most of the time (and, yes, once one did find his way in here, which made for a most riotous game of chase. he won, if you count the damage he did in the span of a few minutes….)
just thought i’d let you and others know that i really truly am hard at work over here, and not just hiding behind my fat wall of books….xoxox
happy almost march by the way…..
Oh my… to be up to one’s nose in more than two hundred of books about nature in one’s very own writing room? This is divine indeed.
Here in my little corner of the world, chickadees are piping their two-note ode to the coming spring while melting ice drips a steady staccato from the roof. I’m not reading about nature at the moment, but I’m stitching it, so I guess that counts! I’m studying needle-turn appliqué. My grandmother was accomplished in this art form, and her passion for it has made me want to better understand how it’s done. As I sit and sew, I find I’m beginning to yearn for the growing season, when I can once again make small excursions to indulge my need to be near the native blossoms of our local prairies and woodlands. Just thinking about this brings me a sense of respite and renewal.
May you have joy in your work and peace in your day… Sending love across the prairie state~ xx
well, isn’t THIS a picture perfect postcard from your swatch of the prairie state. i love the way needle and thread are ancestral for you, and how you carry forth the long-ago stitches into the now. i wish all the world could behold the wonders you create there along the edge of the woods and the ancient ancient prairie…..
Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. So. Much. Wisdom. And reassurance that I’m not alone in so many of my beliefs and fears.
Happy writing, Sweet. xoxo
i still need to finish that one, but i remember i loved it, somehow she reminds me of you. i’ve seen a photo of her, and there is a lovely resemblance. xoxoxox
I loved Learning to Walk in the Dark too. Her more recent HOLY ENVY really resonated with me too.
We who write, and read voraciously, live among piles of books when so often all the shelves are already filled to bursting!
As for books, two recent reads of the book group at the Morton Arboretum (now on Zoom – join us!) were Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass (my takeaway word: Reciprocity. When we breathe in, we take in the gift of oxygen from the trees and plants, and when we exhale, the carbon dioxide, which they need to live, is our gift to them.) The second book: The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham. Both also have videos online of presentations they have done – perfect to listen to on a phone in your pocket while doing early garden cleanup!
ha!!!!! i LOVE both of those!!!!!!! we probably share a few titles squeezed on our shelves, you and i……
[…] we dropped in on the so-called word factory here at typewriting headquarters, where at the time the bare bones of a book were chugging along the bookmaker’s assembly line, where the supply chain includes […]