That Elusive Stack of Dimes

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April 21, 2018 by bradcharlesbeals


As research for a character I was developing a few years ago, I tried my hand at blacksmithing.


It seems to have stuck to me and hasn’t let go.



Since then I’ve also learned how to weld (a handy skill for making tools for the forge).


Welding requires a lot of prep work, a lot of noisy equipment, and a lot of actual energy in the form of flowing electrons and light as bright as the sun.


But for all the noise and gear and heat, the work itself is limited to a space no bigger than a dime.


In fact, welders sometimes refer to a weld bead as a “stack of dimes” because that’s just what it looks like when it’s done right.


The act of writing has a similar focus.


That narrow space where the writer’s hand and the reader’s eye meet the page is a bead of words.


And like a weld bead it’s surrounded by all the tooling and prep and energy required to lay it down.


I like this analogy.


Like welding, all the effort of writing as it’s focused onto the page is an expression of power.


It can be raw and untamed, something to be ground down and filed smooth later.


It can be precise and creative and accomplish its work in one pass.


Usually it’s somewhere between the two.


But like any analogy, this one breaks down, and it breaks down at a key point.


For a welder, the feedback as to the effectiveness of the work is immediate.


Lift your helmet and chip the slag away and there it is.


dimesYou can see the weld plainly.


Not so the writer.


The writer can never really know for sure the effectiveness that any given line of words has on a reader. 


Was it a neat stack of dimes or a spattered mess?


Was the bond strong or will it crack under stress?


I just won’t know.


At least not for every reader.


At least not completely for any reader.


Because unlike the weld bead, my line of words is not limited to two or three dimensions.


Did you catch my description of the bead of words above? The writer’s hand, the reader’s eye…


My writing doesn’t operate in only one direction.


It has a mirrored reality in my audience’s reading of it.


My thoughts and language generated the sentence and connected it to previous ones, but then I had to it leave it there for some future reader to find and to work meaning out in a reverse process.


I have to trust my reader to draw out of those words the same meaning that I put into them.


But can I ever really know if my original thoughts and intentions remained intact through the transfer?  




In fact, I can safely assume that they don’t remain intact because no two minds work the same way. 


And even if I did truly know the mind of my reader, even if we were one in thought, the experiences of creating a story and receiving it are categorically different.


But that’s a matter for another post.


To bring this back to welding, I can’t bend-test my sentence or X-ray it for stress fractures to see if it will hold up.


I can try to know my audience better.


I can learn to use their eyes to edit what my hand has put down.


But ultimately, I have to exercise faith that the bond, that shiny stack of dimes between me and my reader, is strong enough to carry the weight of a story. 












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