Saturday, January 22, 2005

Applying the Shovel

I enjoy shoveling snow. I'm not just saying that because right now it would be impractical not to, but because it occurred to me this evening that shoveling snow is a lot like writing.

No, really.

Shoveling snow is a job without a starting point. You drive the shovel in anywhere, then you keep going. If you're good, you can find something important along the way, but the point is to make your way from here to there, disrupting your beautiful surroundings as little as possible along the way. It's easy to be sucked into making one sidewalk square or one corner of the driveway perfect - you scrape and scrape and scrape the edge of your shovel until the rest of the project goes to hell or you ruin your shovel and your attitude over something small. In the end, it's not about being perfect, it's about being done. And even with stray streaks and occasional lumps of snow, you can take pride in what you've completed, because it often is beautiful and valuable and appreciated.

Substitute pen for shovel, word for sidewalk square, line for corner, etc. See? I was going to suggest occasional cliché for occasional for lumps of snow, but that may be going a bit far.

There are a lot of places I think poets can take a tip from the physical world. It's not that hard to get started. It's not hard to make progress. It is hard to step back from what you're doing once your back is into it. Poets have the harder time here; at least God gave us exhaustion to force us to take a break from shoveling.

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