Words and Whiskers and Woe Unto My Face

About two years ago I pulled a switcheroo in my daily shower prep. Given that I have less hair than ever these days (at least on my head), it’s hard to make any major changes, but I gave this one a try. I traded in my multi-bladed razors for an old-school double-edged safety razor.

Okay, OKAY. Settle down. I’m not here to go on a long-winded rant about how contemporary razors are garbage and the old-school stuff is way better. There are great swathes of the internet dedicated to such stuff. You can find them if you so choose.

All that really matters is that after an initial period of adjustment, I have found shaving with an old-school razor to be much more relaxing, pleasurable, and satisfying way of performing what was once just a drab, do-it-and-get-it-over-with task in my morning routine. It takes a little more time and a little more care, but the results, in my opinion, are well worth it.

So what? Well, the other morning I found myself in a little bit of a rush. My wife and I had somewhere to be, and I didn’t have the time to do a full and proper shave, But, I needed a shave pretty badly (I go from five o’clock devil-may-care to mountain man in about five hours), and I still have a few disposables in a drawer, so I figured, what the hell, I’ll just grab a quick shave in the shower like I used to do.

But they say you can’t go back, and shaving is no exception.

I got most of the whiskers off my face, sure. But the razor tugged and pulled and nicked, skipping and jumping all over my face in a motion about as smooth as that of an epileptic donkey seizing out at a disco. And when I got out of the shower, I found that my beard was mostly gone, but still extant in patches and stripes and tufts, like a feng-shui garden designed by my three-year-old. I needed a second pass to clean up the scraps, which still didn’t get me to where I wanted to be, but by that time, my time was up and I had to get out of there.

So I got my shave in three minutes as opposed to ten, but at what cost?

Worse still, I was struck with the realization that this used to be my normal. I used to think that that was simply the way you shaved, and without a hell of a lot of time and discomfort and razor burn and ingrown hairs to show for it, you couldn’t do a better job. So I didn’t. I had a sloppy shave every day, and I didn’t know any better. Now, though, I don’t have an excuse.

Okay. Shaving talk over, writing metaphor begins. Here’s the point: when I picked up wetshaving (yeah, that’s what it’s called. I know. I’M SORRY) two years ago, I learned a (for me) vastly superior way of doing something I had to do every day. It required a bit more time than what I was used to, but it was better in virtually every other way. And now, knowing the better way, I almost can’t stand the thought of doing it any other way. Seeing and feeling that patchy, amateurish Mach 3 face-butchering irked me on a deep emotional level. I knew it wasn’t my best work, and I knew I’d cut corners to get a shoddy end result.

So it is with writing. (So it is with anything, for that matter.)

I’ve been whacking away at this writing thing with the equivalent of a Mach 3 idiot-proof blade, cutting narrative swathes out of the lumberjack beard of my creativity with a weird, reckless abandon. It gets the job done, but the end result is hardly something I should be bragging about. (Let me qualify. I still believe that any written novel is worth bragging about. But the rub is: I know I could — and probably should — be a lot better.) And sure, you get better at anything by actually doing that thing, but you’ll get even better with some actual targeted practice and mindful application than you will by blindly flailing around with a razor.

All that is to say that I’m going to be taking some time over the next month or so — in the downtime before I go back to editing the recently finished draft — to do some targeted practice. Less raw creating, less vomiting words and unformed ideas onto the page, more consideration of form and technique.

Which may not make much difference for what you see around here.

But I certainly hope it makes a difference in my capital “W” Writing. You know, the stuff I hope to get people to actually pay for one day.

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