The Highlights and Lowlights of Writing About Trees and Wood


Editor’s Note: Richard Jones’s book on timber technology is designed, and Chris, Richard and I are working on final edits. The book will be available early this year.

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

In almost every project one can find good elements and bad elements in the process.

I’ll get the lowlights of working on this book out of the way first. I found there were times I struggled to put words on the page. Many things can hamper creativity, for that’s what writing is, even with factual subjects. Trying to get information across in a readable form requires finding the right words allied to illustrations so, yes, creativity matters.

It’s frustrating to complete a piece of text and ‘red pen’ it – literally printing the page, marking all the bloopers, jotting corrections (in red) and then going back to the word processing. I can’t properly proofread on a computer monitor, so printing it is. ‘Red penning’ helps me find the repetitions, awkward phrasing, spelling mistakes and bits so badly composed I need to start again. It’s frustrating, time consuming and wastes paper because on average I print and proofread five times before I’m happy, and even then I miss errors.

Other things that frustrate the writing flow include too many work commitments in my full-time job, illness in the family, and just becoming fed up with the whole thing. Why am I doing this? I don’t even have any idea if it’ll get published, and it could all just sit in big stored digital files no-one except me will ever see.

Ah, but the highlights outweigh all the frustrations. The kindness and generosity of people throughout the UK and overseas: Kiln operators, timber (lumber) yard owners, entomologists, mycologists, engineers, wood scientists, meteorologists, woodworking forum participants and so on all came up trumps with suggestions, guidance, photographs, participated in discussions face-to-face, by email and phone, and were willing to peer review sections I’d written suggesting improvements and approval when I’d got it right.

Two things surprised me. First, apart from the essential wood knowledge I chose to cover, I found the secondary information the most fun to write: tree history, ancient deforestation, forests and climate, balanoculture, the special place of oaks in the role of human development and The Baltic Problem from the point of view of the UK. The second surprise was the discovery that the supply of wood from the world’s forests currently teeters on the balance of just about enough at our level of usage – it could go either way, probably depending on future human ingenuity, or, perhaps, our greed and stupidity.

— Richard Jones

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6 Responses to The Highlights and Lowlights of Writing About Trees and Wood

  1. “The Baltic Problem”? Could you shed some light on that? A google of that didn’t get me anywhere.

    It sounds like you saying that, given population trends, the future supply of wood is a bit shaky. How shaky?

    • Richard Jones says:

      In a nutshell the English nation, later the British were running short of masting material for their sailing ships. They could get it from the Baltic countries, but there were two main threats to steady supply: the Baltic countries were independent and it resulted in a trade deficit because the British had little to trade in return. Partial solutions were found through supply of masting material from the colonies in North America, but this again was threatened when the USA won independence. In the end trade agreements were reached with the various supplier nations of masting to the British. Then steamships came along, and wooden masting and other timber resources diminished in importance in shipbuilding.

      As to your second question, my reading is that timber supply against human need (or is it want?) is currently finely balanced, but if the human population can work together ingeniously there could be workable solutions that keep this balance or, even better, lead to an increased wood supply over usage. Alternatively, we could screw up very badly leading to dwindling wood supply and ecologically climate damaging deforestation, and who knows what else, e.g., deprivation, poverty, trade wars, territorial wars, and the like. I hope I’m not being too naive in taking a view that humankind can, if it wishes to, find a workable solution. Say what you like about us humans, we are smart, and I’d like to think a positive long-term outcome is more likely than not.

      Regard, Richard.

  2. Salko Safic says:

    And I thought I was the only one going through the same frustrations, it’s identical. Thanks for the post as its put me at ease somewhat.

    • Richard Jones says:

      I hope Salko that the short musings here on the writing effort I expended on my manuscript perhaps help in your struggles to find the right phrasing in whatever it is you’re writing.

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