whiskeyI have calluses. We all do. Some on the feet or elbows, maybe on your hands if you’re the outdoorsy type. I’m not the out-of-the-house sort by nature, but I’ve worked in barns for years and earned some calluses. I work in t-shirts when it’s technically freezing outside because the work I do every day, for a couple hours a day, makes me sweat. I’m exposed to the elements and only wish I wasn’t there for the first five minutes. Then I run headlong until the job’s done. The calluses and muck identify me as a manual laborer even though I categorize myself as a keyboard-poker with hopes of proficiency.

The line of calluses across each palm and one on my thumb right on a joint where I hold the shovel handle work in time with the chapped red fingers to tell the world what I do. These calluses match the one on my ring finger where I held a pen from pre-k through all the extra college classes and novel outlines. I outline on paper, keeping the ring-finger callus strong.

These calluses have been here so long I can’t remember if they were ever blisters. I guess at one point they were raw and pained me. They must have. Every callus starts as a tender spot.

I’ve got internal calluses now, too. There’s the one that started as a negative response to a poem, then the ones caused by contradicting beta reader input, another from constant imagination-stretching, and yet another permanent bump caused by impatience to produce. I’ve got some lumps from getting back on the proverbial, not actual, horse to try again after rejection.

You can break bones with a horse, break spirit with writing. In both cases, the lesson learned is try again and do it better. Maybe try subtlety: use looser hands. You’re the boss, but there’s another mind at work on the other end of your reins, whether it’s the horse or the reader. Go with that mind and feel the flow. Convince it instead of bludgeon. Let calluses tell you know where things will rub and try again. Feel the lumps, the knit bones and blisters, but don’t let it stop you.

That’s how I do it. I get a blister, a bad review or a painful critique and then I consciously search out a way to get that to happen again. Not the bad part, the part where I search for feedback from another mind. Sometimes I do it again and take another blister. Eventually I’ll have a line of calluses on my brain and imagination that will let me know that’s what I do.

I’m a writer.

I use my imagination subtly, getting the job done with finesse until the work’s complete and don’t mind the pain.

The pain goes away and a callus means I worked for that catharsis.