Years ago I had the privilege of hanging out with some wooden boat aficionados in Sausalito. One in particular had over his long lifetime become a master at the art of building wooden boats. He caught me one day eyeing an old rocking chair tucked in a corner of his huge shop (big enough to build a pretty big sail boat) at the waterfront.
“You like my rocking chair?” he asked with a twinkle in his still bright blue eyes.
I mumbled something because I was embarrassed I’d been caught looking.
“That’s my weeping chair,” he stated.
I bit. “What’s a weeping chair?”
“Well,” he replied, “I’ve never built a boat, even the smallest skiff, that I haven’t made some sort of serious error — something that I know how to do, yet I get it wrong. Sometimes it’s a measurement, sometimes I’ve bent or broken something, sometimes I go unconscious as it were and just screw up. When I was a lad and just learning the skills, I made a major error on the 24 ft. sloop we were building. I was horrified. My mentor pointed me toward the old rocking chair he had in his shop. ‘Sit there and weep until you run out of tears and shock and sorrow about your mistake.’ It seems all boat builders need a weeping chair from time-to-time.”
I immediately took the idea of a weeping chair to heart. It’s not just wooden boat builders that need one. As a writer I also need one and strongly suspect every serious writer needs one.
Remember for a moment, the times you’ve had to delete an hour or two worth of work because you had misunderstood what the client had asked for. Or there was a computer glitch and you lost maybe 100 pages only to have to write them again. Or the time you assumed a fact, then couldn’t back it up and were tempted to led it slide? Or for whatever reason, maybe you got sick or broke up with your significant other and realized when you started to rewrite the piece you had written something close to schlock. It happens to us all, fortunately not often after we’ve been writing awhile, but it happens.
Right now my weeping chair lives in the living room because my office bedroom doesn’t have room. Sometimes, before social distancing, a guest would use it never suspecting its true significance for me.
I retreat to it anytime I make a significant error in my writing, or even an insignificant one that throws me anyway — or when I discover I totally misunderstood what my client wanted, etc. etc. etc. I’ll sit there muttering to myself, rocking gently back and forth. If I’m lucky, Dudley the cat will join me, although sometimes he stays away because my energy is wonkers. Sometimes I even weep.
There’s something healing about sitting in one spot, maybe rocking or not, weeping or not — just being there thinking about what went wrong or something else. What I do is mull over how many things have gone right in my writing and then, if my still small voice allows, gently consider how the mistake happened and what I might be able to do to prevent something similar in the future. Usually the mood will pass and I’ll be back at my computer. Once in awhile I actually use my weeping chair as a preliminary few day or several days off.
Sooner or later I realize that mistakes to happen and that they can be fixed. The weeping chair helps me both not be too hard on myself and often to find the solution I need.
You can of course designate any chair you want as your weeping chair. Give it a try. I suspect you’ll find the time-out truly helpful.
Write well and often,