Chopping Wood is Better than Shoveling Sand
Posted by Will
The only job I ever had that I really disliked was doing chores for my Dad. Long story, probably should involve a qualified therapist. But when he set me to the task of cutting wood as a sophomore in high school, I thought I’d really hit bottom. Not just cutting up logs- cutting DOWN trees in the first place and then scoring them up into cord-lengths. My partner had a chain saw for the second part, but I did the first (getting the trunks down- “timberrr!”) as well as the third segment, chopping the log-rolls into nice splits for the fireplace. I had blisters on my hands the size of quarters and really knew what it meant to be bone-weary, especially those first few days.
But I loved it. Hey, no one was more surprised than me. But being outdoors, away from city-sounds, and working just as hard physically as I could manage was one of those character-building experiences I always hated to admit I’d had as a kid. When the job is huge, daunting, but fun, I think about chopping wood.
Writing my first novel, “Judgement’s Tale” was chopping wood. It was an enormous job- my first reviewers screamed at me about the length and it’s over 200 thousand words (not that long for epic fantasy, but, for a reviewer, well LONG), but I just loved doing it. I could see the pile of unwritten chapters shrinking; I cut down the trunks myself (as I synopsized each one), then whacked away with first and second drafts until they seemed right. Now I’m coming back to it and asking a set of “beta” reviewers to look, and the chore is again peppered with joy as well as hard work.
Trying to hawk this novel, fresh off completion back at the start of this year was probably one of the most depressing experiences of my life. Form rejection after form rejection, varied only by no-responses; I felt like I was back in high school again, trying to get a date for the prom. Hey, maybe that’s why I didn’t mind chopping wood in the middle of the forest. It was like… like… I finally pictured it (writers need to picture things, yeah?). It was like shoveling sand from an enormous beach through this darkened doorway into, nothing. If you’ve ever shoveled sand, or snow, you know how the exhaustion overtakes you. It’s still bone-weary work. But the darkened doorway, that was the key. I sent letters and asked and searched boards on the web for more clues, I sharpened the query over and over, tried again. Nothing. You can never tell what it’s going to ultimately require, how much sand has to go through the doorway before you’re done. Maybe it was just another beach through there.
So I gave up. Don’t care who knows it, either. I don’t know what to do with my enormous novel “Judgement’s Tale”, or whether it will ever see the light of paper or e-pub. But I always knew I enjoyed the writing (and revision) for its own sake.
And I remember the difference between chopping wood and shoveling sand.