November 17, 2015
Keep Calm and Read Chaucer
This weekend, I turned a story inside out in order to make the words work. That may be an understatement. I absolutely deconstructed and reconstructed the piece in a way that would have made Dr. Frankenstein proud. And then I breathed new life into the words.
At this point in my travels as a writer, I no longer become frustrated. When I write myself into a corner I simply stop, figure out the logistics, and write a new corner. Or I let the work simmer (sometimes, unfortunately, for years) and then return. Which gave me the idea for today's post.
I thought I would try to figure out how Chaucer wrote. Specifically, if he had a preferred location, a special writing tool. In case you're wondering, I don't. Give me a pen and a piece of paper, and I'm off. Or a pencil and a junk mail envelope. A lipstick and a mirror. A bic and my arm. I will put words down on anything. But I was curious about our Medieval muse.
So far my explorations have taught me that when you begin to Google Chaucer, Chaumet and chauvinist come up. Next, I discovered a book about how writers work. Fifty excerpts from various famous writers that have been dissected and discussed by the author. Also, not what I'm looking for, although an interesting word cloud.
More people seem to have searched Shakespeare's writing tools than Chaucer's. (If we're interested in conducting a popularity contest.)
I learned that Chaucer did not begin writing The Canterbury Tales until he was in his early 40s. (I appreciate facts like this. I believe Raymond Chandler did not become a detective writer until he was in his 40s, as well.)
Skipping around, I searched medieval writing implements and learned that medieval manuscripts were often written on the skins of animals such as goats. Paper first was used in Europe in the 13th century—mostly for secular manuscripts. Pens fashioned from strong feathers were shaped with small knives. These needed repeated sharpening during use.
I haven't found how Chaucer, himself, wrote, but I am pausing to think of the ease with which I'm sharing these words with you. Here I sit in my office, darkness outside, electric glow inside. Coffee at my side.
Even when I fail in my quests, I enjoy the search Chaucer leads us on. I think we ought to choose a new book, as Jim suggested, for the new year. Perhaps we'll all read it at the same pace. Perhaps not. I'm definitely open to suggestions. Are there titles you're interested in tackling, tawdry tales you'd like to try?