Chris Schwarz's Blog

A Gift for My Successor

In 2006 a reader sent me a little spiral-bound black book that was filled with handwritten notecards. Graphs. Equations. Photos.

It was a carefully assembled list of all my mistakes and misdeeds during the previous decade. It called me out as a fake – someone who doesn’t understand woodworking or handwork or editing a magazine.

While I don’t agree with everything in the black book, I admire the guy’s attention to detail and his passion for the craft. So I have kept the book here in my office since the day it arrived and I refer back to it at times.

It’s humbling to read a handmade book that rips you apart. But the book has always pushed me to be a better writer and editor. Some days I wonder if the author is squatting in a hut in rural Nevada making notes for a new book for 2016. I hope so.

That’s because the book also reminds me of another thing: The readers of Popular Woodworking Magazine are a passionate bunch. The guy cared so much about the stories we published that he spent hours trying to do something to fix the magazine.

After spending my life in newspapers and magazines, I can tell you that this level of devotion is rare. And it’s why I’m going to leave this book behind for whomever takes this job.

Yeah, the guy who wrote the book hates my guts. But it sure beats the alternative: Not bothering to write at all.

— Christopher Schwarz

32 thoughts on “A Gift for My Successor

  1. scooteruk

    Nice job Chris! Your pen has always been your sharpest tool so carry on at Lost Chris Press…there will always be room for your work in my mailbox. Of course, there can be no successor, merely a replacement who hopefully finds her (or his) own eccentric passion for working wood and cobbles it into a usable, informative and inspiring view that moves me to the bench as you so often did. All the best.
    By the way, take the book with you. Next time you find yourself squatting in a hut I’m sure another appropriate use for the missive will occur to you.

  2. sapfmgateway

    I say hire the guy as your replacement. The way I see it, this could go three ways. Either he will be even better than you (not likely but so much the better for us the readers if he is) or he’ll learn a much needed lesson in humility and there’ll be one less jerk in the world. The third possibility calls for the author of the notebook, we’ll call him “Tyler Durden” to join you at Lost Art Press or “Project Mayhem” as I like to call it. I haven’t worked out all the details but let’s just say the two of you are never seen in the same room together. Suddenly the title of your last book takes on a whole new meaning.

  3. Dadsradride

    To err is human, to forgive divine. To learn, invent and create is to practice and err, all which is stifled and crushed by the practice of those with a (maniac’s) narrow mind.

  4. badger1402

    What would your writing be like if everyone agreed with you all the time?

    I am always suspicious of someone that can’t find fault with me, I don’t agree with them.

    All the best on your new adventure, you might be wishing for another spiral bound before long.

  5. gdblake

    Chris:

    Funny, I’ve had a similar experience. My wife has kept a notebook of all my mistakes and inconsistencies for the last 36 years. The difference between us is that I never took it to heart nor will I be passing it on to my successor (let the poor guy find out the hard way for himself). I’m looking forward to more stuff from Lost Art Press.

  6. Kris

    OK, so now I am dying to read some of that notebook. Publish an example or two. I suppose you need his permission though. Maybe you could paraphrase a few.

  7. Niels

    I don’t envy your position, nor the position your successors.
    However, I respect the hell out the job that you have done, even more so considering the constant onslaught of the woodworking-troll-taliban. This sort of entitled, bile-filled, negativity has no place in a craft community amongst people that earnestly strive for openness and a generous sharing of information. It makes me ill.

    Imagine what could be accomplished if all of these malcontented misanthropes could dedicate half their energy to productive ends, instead of cowardly hurling dung from the safety of their armchairs. It’s easy to take potshots at the guy out front, but it take guts to go out and put your money where your mouth is.

    You should always remember for everyone of these jerks there dozens people who appreciate your good work- this is evident by the outpouring of positive comments that inevitably follow these bozos skulking out of the woodwork.

  8. damien

    I find it admirable, an attention span of a decade. It seems that as an editor you sometimes get a chance to meet Don Quichote himself, storming new windmills.
    I also know that feeling, every other time I see Myth Busters, I think: OK, they had to be creative, so mistakes are normal, but …

  9. John Cashman

    To quote Reggie Jackson, “Fans don’t boo nobodies.” But honestly, how much of a tool could that reader be? How much time did they have on their hands? How much medication had they skipped? For me, hell would be locked in a room with someone like that.

  10. paulkray

    We should all remember that Chris has shared this with us as a learning. If we are not aware that it was a mistake. We just continue to repeat them. If we stop and reflect on our mistakes and successes. Then we can grow and become better at what we do. On the bright side of things it did take 10 years for him to have enough content to send.

  11. DanGar

    This is something to pay attention, the person who sent that notebook is out of their mind, I think this must be investigated, how come an unknown dude sends that?
    That’s freak, obssesive.

  12. Dusty

    Sounds like the same guy that tore me apart because he said my knobs were to large on a Shaker Sewing desk I built based on one made by, oh heck I forgot who now, but it had big knobs to. I told the guy to leave my knobs alone.

  13. keithm

    Dans ses écrits, un sàge Italien
    Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. – Voltaire

    (The perfect is the enemy of the good.)

    I suppose the alternative would be to have one or two masterpieces of perfection over that decade.

    When my daughter was 12, she was finishing up construction of a cherry blanket chest when the drawer slipped out and fell on the floor. I told her the sign of an artisan was the ability to correct the inevitable errors and flaws. Twenty three years later, that chest is still in use and no one ever remembers or knows.

    I get the occasional hard to please customer. A friend of mine adopts the mindset that we only have to put up with them for a few hours; their spouse and family has to live with them.

  14. Mitchell

    I worked for a guy once who was a textbook perfectionist. One day he tore me down like I just shot his mother. I didn’t. All I did was buy a box of #12 elastic bands when I found the stationery store was out of the #10′s that he wanted.

    After his anger at my world-distroying mistake settled, he said to me; “Perfection is only perfect if it doesn’t get in the way of your job”.

    Don’t do your successor any favours, Chris. I, for one, would rather see him use his time to create posts, rather than waste it reading one man’s opinion about what they should include.

  15. richardrank4

    Chris: You certainly are charitable in your blog about the guy who spends a lot of time tracking your work to find errors. He has to be living alone, because no one would put up with him. He could make a good living working on a politition’s staff as an attack dog. Clearly there is also a medical diagnosis describing his illness. I continue to really enjoy your writing and editing because I am oblivious to your errors. Dick

  16. Mark

    I know a few people who could use a book like that. For myself, I’m already too well acquainted with where my skills fall short. But honestly, mistakes and omissions are just a part of the path to perfection no? I suspect the guy’s motives for writing that book centered more around a sense of empowerment for him, rather than any real love for the craft. I mean, if the guy cared so much, wouldn’t you want to know how many he’s taken under his wing in order to impart the vastness of his knowledge? I’d think he’d at have written a book or two, or at least, have a blog someplace.

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