My paternal grandmother (a diminutive woman with a terrifyingly large presence and a beehive hairdo that increased her height by at least eight inches) was a stickler for doing a job thoroughly. Roughly once a year, she would announce that it was time to polish all the brass ornaments in the house, of which there seemed to be hundreds, and that I had to help.
I would sit around the kitchen table surrounded by odd little vases and paperweights all smeared with Brasso, my cloth in hand, arm aching as we buffed everything to perfection. I remember thinking “this is work”. You don’t hate it. You don’t love it. You just keep going until it’s done.
Once in a while I’ll get a piece of writing like that. A great big chunk of chewy meat that I work and work and work but, somehow, it never seems to get any smaller.
At a certain point in the process, I’ll have a crisis of confidence (“this simply CANNOT be done! It will always be terrible!”), but somehow, just when you think all is lost, the grit and the muscle endures. You polish, you polish again, finally the stubborn smears start to buff out. At last, it starts to shine.
Once upon a time I thought if you were a good enough writer, this would stop happening to you. That you would just sail through everything effortlessly.
Now I realise the only benefit experience gives you is knowing and trusting that you’ll come out of the other side. That it will be done. That at some point you will be surrounded by beautiful gleaming brass ornaments thinking “wait – hey – I did this!” and also “holy shit my arm knacks.”