Word Craft and Wood Craft

Longtime nonfiction writer Larry Cheek, who wrote for national magazines like Arizona Highways, learned something of life and craft as he used his hands to build a thirteen-foot sailing dinghy in his garage.

His slow learning and adept noticing, his quiet, patient work along with his frustrations and discouragement, letting his hands learn the feel of wood—when it’s wet enough to bend or dry enough to glue. His hands learned; he learned. And over a year’s time, his hands built his sailboat, Far From Perfect, that in full sail transported him to the dock at Whidbey Island, ready to teach MFA-level writers about writing craft.

Cheek’s woodworking lessons, recorded in his book The Year of the Boat, echo lessons about word working.

Woodcraft teaches how to hone the lip of a piece of wood to fit with another, how to sand and smooth so splinters will not ruin your next voyage. Story craft teaches how to listen so hard to words that you hear beneath them—their cadence, their musicality. How you use dialogue and plot and characterization. How you use words to describe, to bring to life the world of story.

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