The Parts You Don’t See

I just finished making some red oak battens for the bottom of my tool chest. They came from some scrap that has been kicking around my woodpile for a year and they are by no means fancy, but they are essential. They support the chest, protect it against abrasion and strengthen the carcase. They’re also the first line of defense against the damp cement floor of the garage and if they do their job correctly I’ll never have to think about them again.

I confess that making them might just be my favorite part of building the whole chest.

My work with Mortise & Tenon magazine is very much like those battens. If I do my job well, you will never know I did my job at all. Writers need editors and even editors need editors, and the process at M&T involves several layers of refinement that ultimately leads to what you read in print. I serve primarily as the content editor and I generally receive the material in raw form. Sometimes this means a pretty well written article, but it might also mean a rough and ready transcript from an interview. My role in the process is akin to what a doctor does in an emergency room. I make some immediate decisions about what to cut, what to stitch together and what kind of treatment an article might need to survive. While no blood is spilled on my watch (well, very little) plenty of red ink is spread across each page as I try to dig through interviews, case studies and articles to identify the most interesting narratives and ask clarifying questions. My role here is not to write or re-write. My goal is simply to listen for the voice of the author and help them ultimately to say what they really mean to say.  

I write this without any reservation - the content for Issue Two of Mortise & Tenon magazine has exceeded all of my expectations. By this point I’ve seen most of it through every stage of the process and I am still fascinated by how it has come together. I take a simple joy in watching the rough transcript of an interview take shape and become a compelling story of craft and passion. I find myself carried along by tales of New England craftsmen making oak chests and asking deeper questions about why we are each compelled to do what we do when it comes to craft, conservation and scholarship.

My tenth grade English teacher Mrs. Wagner used to write “so what?” all over the margins of my essays. Although I remember being greatly offended at the time, as a writer and editor I have adopted that same mantra. It is my job to ask that question over and over so that you don’t have to. It’s not the most glamorous part of the job, but it might be the most fun. Just like making those battens that no one will ever see, I have the privilege of taking each rough draft and working it square down to the lines, smoothing the surfaces and adding just enough chamfer to make it look good. Once the work is done, hopefully you won’t even notice.

-Jim McConnell,


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