After decades of heating our home by stoking a soapstone woodstove with cord upon cord of firewood from late September to as late in the season as Memorial Day, I think I can say that I have become an expert in the art of stacking firewood. Don’t get me wrong: we do have a modern furnace powering 3-zone baseboard heat, but nothing makes our inherently drafty mid-19th Century farmhouse so warm, cozy, and well…, downright livable, as our roaring twin woodstoves, one in the first floor family room, the other in an above-ground summer kitchen down in the basement.
Since launching my solo ghostwriting and editing career over 10 years ago (amazingly long ago to me now!), and thus working from home most of the time, we now run at least one of those stoves 24/7 during the high season and go through about seven or eight cords every winter. So I stack a LOT of firewood. And it amazes me that despite being an essentially random process—my firewood supplier drops a cord at a time out of his mason’s dump truck, and I then pile it into a neat, linear stack—how often the individual split-log pieces seem to fit together almost like pieces of a puzzle.
Yes of course, the logs are all basically the same length and they are mostly split into quarter rounds or halves depending on the thickness of each log, but they are, after all, different species from ash to maple to cherry to oak, all of which have different splitting characteristics or patterns. They all have different twists and turns, unique, one of-a-kind bulging knots and furrowed grooves, and the incredibly powerful gasoline-fueled log-splitter has rent them into different thicknesses of both flat and curved surfaces.
Yet when I am stacking them, it seems uncanny the way I can get them to fit together. Sometimes it just seems to happen naturally; quarter rounds generally have a linear point running along the length of the log that had been toward the center of the log when it was split. You slap quarter rounds together with splits facing each other, or you drop the point into the grove formed by two other logs that are already in the stack, and bingo, your stack builds up nice and tight, and also pretty sturdy because the logs all serve to support each other like a grid. Sometimes it’s a matter of simply flipping a log around to achieve a better, tighter fit.
You have to be creative as you’re stacking, envisioning as you go what pieces look like just the right thickness or have the right angles, imperfections, or gnarled twists and turns to be placed in just the right spot to efficiently fill all the spaces and to ensure the structure of the stack is solid and stable. After all, you don’t want your firewood stack falling all over the ground with winter snows likely to come. And what is uncanny is how often those random pieces of firewood fit neatly together like interlocking Lego blocks.
Often, when I’m sitting at my computer, I think that crafting the stories I ghostwrite for people is a lot like stacking firewood. I have all of these story artifacts that are intrinsically different from one another, yet somehow importantly related. I need to put them all together in some coherent and profoundly meaningful way, yet there is absolutely no required or even preferred formula for doing that. For example, the artifacts or events do not need to be chronological; disparate components may be juxtaposed side-by-side, similar features placed light-years apart in the telling. There probably needs to be some logic to the final arrangement, but that may quite conceivably run anywhere from the sound, syllogistic logic of sanity or science, or the twilight (and perhaps even more brilliant) and borderline dysfunctional logic of madness or whimsy.
Yet in the end, like my stack of firewood, the story needs to be a solid and stable structure built upon a firm and sturdy foundation; the artifacts, events, and components of the tale need to “hold together” and support each other with sufficient coherence and enough clarity to enable the reader to comprehend the central theme, to appreciate the point, and hopefully enjoy the story. Perhaps, if I have succeeded, to be moved to reflect on its message. And hopefully, to remember with profound pleasure that great story for a long, long time.