What is Bespoke Document Tailoring?

As I explain in today’s video, the metaphor I use to describe my approach to providing document preparation services is that of the bespoke tailor.

On first view, you might ask what making a suit of clothes could possibly have in common with writing, editing, proofreading, and designing documentation for clients as diverse as small businesspeople, academics, and my fellow writers.

But I beg your indulgence, for the bow I draw is not long: like all good metaphors, with un po’ di immaginazione, one skips lightly over the dissimilarities between tailoring and writing to see how one clothes a person’s body, the other his spirit.

The basis of the bespoke tradition in English and Italian tailoring is that article which is thoroughly handmade by craftsmen—cutters, tailors and finishers—each of whom is a master at his respective handicraft.

And when you master a handicraft which requires uncommon skill and manual dexterity, and which demands uncommonly fine cognitive judgments in the field of specialty, you bring to the industrial craft the kind of originality in thinking and execution which elevates artisanry to artistry.

There’s a reason why we call fine writers ‘wordsmiths’, for there’s a sense in that term (as in other manual handicrafts which share the ‘-smith’ suffix) of the writer as crafting, forging or setting a substance as hard, durable and delicate as gold.  Each word is an interlocking link in the delicate chain of a sentence, stanza or strophe, which nevertheless endures as a petrified thought.

As I say in the video, writing is a ‘whole-brain activity’.  It is not localized to a particular region of the brain.  As Robert M. Kaplan explains in The Exceptional Brain and How It Changed the World (2011), the frontal lobes deal with the organization and redaction of ideas, while the temporal lobes manage the comprehension of words and their meanings.  The emotional limbic system, one of the oldest parts of the brain, is the source of inspiration, while the cerebral cortex drives the motor response of our hands as we write.

So you can see that writing is not a simple or easy activity, and to do it at the wordsmith level requires a long apprenticeship in co-ordinating brain, eye and hand such as the one which the cutters, tailors and finishers who make a suit by hand undergo.

And indeed, as you can see in the video, I write by hand.  I draw my Montblanc fountain pen across the page as though I were stitching the basting thread through my first essay at my client’s document.  Then too, I touch-type, a cognitive activity of pianistic skill, playing the keyboard of my old manual typewriter fortissimo as I pound out the second draft.

‘Why not write on a computer?’ you ask.  That would be like a bespoke tailor sneaking his client’s garment through a sewing machine.

One only gets to be a ‘wordsmith’ by learning one’s craft and doing the work ‘by hand’.  Just as a tailor learns to sculpt fabric into an ensemble which will complement his client through the long apprenticeship of co-ordinating eye, hand and brain, so the writer hones that crucial ‘feeling for language’, the arrangement of words and how they ‘hang together’ in a client’s document, by actually writing, co-ordinating all the parts of the brain in the physical act of placing words artfully on the page.

Moreover, my clients (like the bespoke tailor’s) appreciate the precision and attention to detail which is the natural consequence of the ‘handcrafted approach’ I take to preparing their documents.

When you ‘go bespoke’, what you’re paying for is ultimately an experience, one that has been precisely tailored to you, your needs and preferences.  And when an experience has been so intimately fitted to you, what you actually experience is a sense of satisfaction that you would not otherwise get from a generic offering.

Whether I’m collaborating with a small businessperson on a strategic document, editing a doctoral thesis, or collaborating with another writer on a creative project, when I rent out my brain to a client, it seems to give the client a ‘thrill’ to work with an artist rather than a corporate writer, someone who brings a bit of brio and temperament to their concerns, flourishing a pen over a page rather than drearily tapping onto a screen a bottom-of-the-drawer idea they drafted for someone else.

Whatever the project, no matter how utilitarian, the client always seems to feel as though he or she is getting a ‘masterpiece’ in exchange for his or her patronage.

It’s very gratifying for a client to actually feel as though he or she has been ‘heard’ by someone who understands words so well that he can even hear what the client hasn’t the words to say.

And it’s just as gratifying for the client to physically see his or her idea, that impalpable substance which is just as malleable, and yet can be just as hard and enduring as gold when transmuted into words, ‘taking shape’ on a page.

The tailor too takes a flat fabric and sculpts his client’s shape out of it, giving unique body to two-dimensional material.  Tailors feel a sense of humble pride to see their masterpieces ‘walk out the door’, given life by the client, the last and most essential element in their art.

For in some fundamental sense, bespoke is a duet.  It is in the intimate collaboration between a classically-trained virtuoso guiding a savant who cannot read a line of music, but one who can make some very interesting sounds, that the peculiar nature of the art resides.  But if the client is in some sense the tailor’s ‘instrument’, the tailor is equally the client’s: each expresses himself through the other.

When I tailor a document for a client, the thing which is always expressed to me at each successive fitting is the ‘pleasure’ and ‘enjoyment’ the client experiences at the process, seeing his or her ideas being progressively expressed through me, becoming clearer every time we meet to take up and let out the document.

The client’s ‘art’, as muse and patron, is to be ringside at the consummate performance of the professional, watching me wield my pen—for then I become the client’s pen, a ‘living’ pen, the fusion of the tool that writes, the hand that forms the words calligraphically, the eye that sees and judges, and the brain that makes poetry of ideas.

This is Bespoke Document Tailoring, the art of writing and editing documentation the human way.  If you are a small businessperson, academic or creative writer and would like to learn how I can help you specifically to craft a mail of words which clothes your thought as closely as a bespoke suit, I have a number of free brochures on my Personal Services page which you are most welcome to download.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think there is still a place in this world of technology for the human touch—in manual production as well as service rôles?  Is it still necessary for human beings to cultivate a sense of ‘craft’, particularly with respect to intellectual technologies like writing long-hand?

I look forward to reading your comments and responding to you below.

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