The Great Hoof Grinders of Giza


Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It’s one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t
quite done it.  ─  Michael Crichton
I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.  ─  Shannon Hale
The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.  ─  Robert Cormier

“The first draft is done.”

I announce this to my wife, who’s finger-swiping her phone. For 15 months I’ve been slinking out of bed early to go work on something she knows almost nothing about. I could be building a person from scrap graveyard parts for all she knows. But if she thinks she’s going to learn anything new about this mystery today, she’s mistaken.

“When can I read it?” she says.

And this is where I retreat into food analogies, because comparing things to food is my safe place. Without this, I’m conversationally unarmed.

“You see, it’s like soup…” I say.

She’s already tuned out. I had my chance. She’s back to poking her phone. “Have you seen this video of a skunk lawnmowing?”

Maybe I should have said it’s like cheese.

I’m a failure at holding people’s attention. I’m the NyQuil of human interactions. One word from me is a trigger for yawns and far-away gazes. In a crowd of one or more, I stand out like a nitrogen molecule. I know, going in, that if I don’t get my point across in three words or less, my turn is over.

But don’t cry for me, Argentina. I’m not sad about it. I’ve known for a long, long time that saying things isn’t my strong suit. Normally I deal with this by not saying things. Still, I just now walked into the room and told my wife I finished the first draft of my book. I said it like it was some kind of big deal to me. But I exceeded my three-word limit, so who knows if I’m even still making sounds.

Now she simply wants to know if she can read the thing, and I’m trying to explain, via theoretical cookbook imagery, that no, she absolutely cannot.

“So, I’m fixing this soup, right?” I say into the big, earless void. “I cut up all the carrots and stuff, put them in a pot, added salt and oregano and, you know, so now it has all the right ingredients in it, but if I gave you a taste, you’d vomit it back out. It’s not ready. I have to keep tasting and testing, then it has to simmer a very, very, very LONG time, maybe another year before …”

“Do you remember Linda Beeward?” she says.


“From my third grade. She found me online. We’re getting together. Go ahead. So it’s like what? Oregano?”

This seems a good place to drop it. I know when I’m beaten. I walk out, unseen.

Not to sound like a misunderstood artist or anything, but people only think they want to hear about the whatnots and how-do-you-dos of your book writing. Really, though, nobody cares –pardon the food analogy — how the Jell-O is made. They don’t want the nitty-gritties about how many liters, or whatever, of hooves and bones need to be ground up into it. They just want to know when it’s congealed enough to eat.

To real people, who aren’t the hoof grinders at the Jell-O factory, it seems like a long shot you’ll ever finish your dumb old book anyway. And when you do, it’ll probably blow.

It would sound cuckoo-bananas to them, for instance, if they knew you were feeling sad and weepy now that you’re done with the first draft, because the people in your book have become friends, kinda, and now they don’t have any new things to do or say, and it’s left a hole in you. These brain-friends won’t be hanging out anymore, except to exhaustively rehash the things they’ve already said and done.

I didn’t know that part would be heartbreaking.

And you’re never going to convince anyone that you’ve been cooking a soup, or a Jell-O, or whatever, for 15 months, and they still can’t put a drop of it in their pie hole.

But to me — the ingredient-adjuster, the bone-grater and soup-stirrer — it seems I might be onto something pretty good here with this concoction of mine. It’s hard to explain with my mouth words. Maybe that’s why it took more than a year to put a bunch of typed words into a big, untidy pile, and why it will take a year or more to obsessively arrange those words into something that might connect with another person.

In non-food terms, I feel like I just built a gigantic, crooked pyramid in Giza. Now all I have to do is straighten its base, and sand down every inch of it until it’s the smoothest, most symmetrical pyramid I can build in this desert.

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Favorite Books On Writing

"Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" - Anne Lamott

"On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft" - Stephen King

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