True stories are like feathers buried in the recesses of the body. Writing, at least for me, is the quiet art of pulling them free, quill by awful quill. And though I’ve dressed the cliche anew, you can see by now I’m repeating others who have summarized the process of writing.
Just sit and bleed.
I feel this idiom applies more to content than to the physical task. Most timeless literature involves the tragic. This is less to sell books than you might believe. What else to pass on but our greatest woe? What more to offer the next generation than the questions that haunt our dreams? Despite the back pains and neck aches involved in writing, the bleeding only comes when you decide to write the stories that have cut you in their making.
I was young, a lumbering man still afraid of the strength in my hands, when I found and plucked my first story-feather. My mother’s uterus had been removed that summer, and my father’s business was failing. Worse yet, I was too naive to see the hidden but vital link between these two events. We had no money, so I worked. I learned the price of sweat.
As I stood waist high in starthistle, weeding an old man’s yard for ten an hour, I was forced to stand and stretch. I twisted from side to side, but before I finished, a hot thread of pain stole down my spine. I reached a hand behind me and found the tip of a long goose feather in the small of my back. I traced the delicate outline of a perfectly wrought story wending its way into the gaps of my vertebrae.
That night, I worked it free with ink and paper. I began to meditate tangibly, with words and truths and lies. And though most of these early efforts were crude, they at least soothed the itching.
I search now, eager to find them buried in the crook of an elbow or emerging as a single, pink tooth from under a toenail. I try not to hesitate any more. It costs too much to let them fester. I’m for scratching, pinching the quill between finger and thumb. I’m for honoring the pain by recording it for the world to remember.