The beautiful grind

I currently have three active projects. One is due at the end of January, one at the end of March. The third has no strict deadline, but as soon as I finish it I can start submitting my short story collection to publishers. So I’d like to finish it yesterday if possible. Getting back into the daily writing groove, though, is tough. I knew it would be.

Theodora Goss wrote on the subject of writing every day on her own blog yesterday, comparing it to keeping the body in dancing shape. It’s a terrific analogy, because it illuminates the fact that what we’re training ourselves to do is more than just stay in shape, whether as writers or dancers or what have you. I’m a good enough writer that I can not write for several months and still sit down and compose a solid and well-written draft. What we’re training to do, though, is to be better than in shape. We want to be remarkable. We want to be like nothing else anyone has yet seen.

I’m getting an object lesson in the consequences of neglecting that exercise. Language moves around in unexpected, disorienting ways. There are days on which it seems that I’ve forgotten how to make sentences work. Words are strange and unwieldy. English is a sluggish, petulant beast.

But I just keep hacking at it, like you’re supposed to do, like you’re told to do, and rust begins to flake off and suddenly a paragraph will hum with energy. And I start hacking some more. Those little moments remind me of who I am. They remind me of what I can do.

This morning I went over the proofs for “The Way Station”, a short story that will be appearing soon in Ellen Datlow’s anthology Naked City. It was a good exercise, thinking not about the larger story but just the simple machinery of prose. Unlike before, when I would ache for the finished product and just try to endure the work required in getting there, I’m finding satisfaction in the actual work. The lifting and the moving and the shaping.

There’s purpose here. There’s a joy in the labor.

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