In between the wish and the thing.
I’ll never get the smell of bar soap out of clothes, out of my fingers and out from under the nails. Moving my tools from one sink to the next and then finally to my rinse bath, I’d realized that there was something oddly meditative about cleaning my bar. Especially after the busy night I’d had, one where I’d personally served over two hundred people, cleaning was something cathartic.
That was in my first year behind the bar. In the years since, I’ve been tipped in solid gold, broke up countless fights, had an adult film star have a nervous breakdown at my bar, and have approached every single day as a chance to get better.
Five years later, the focus on my craft has paid off. I’ve carved a niche for myself in an industry that is, at best, unfriendly to male bartenders, and at worst antagonistic. The approach I’ve used is something that I apply to as many aspects of my life, including my writing, and I’d like to share it with you now.
It’s a very simple idea, incremental progress: you take a task and you accomplish to X satisfaction. The next day, you do the same task and try to accomplish at at X+1; details, as it turns out, are where the glory is found in all things.
In bartending, this is much easier to measure. I can time my drinks, see how fast I can produce the same drink each day. There are physical limits of course — ice chills a liquid only so fast, you still have to shake a drink, and so on. But there is joy to be found in putting the liquid into the cup faster and more accurately.
When it comes to writing, the goals are a little more ethereal. An artist sits and works on their craft, day-in, day-out, in the hopes of one day producing something perfect. However, even as another artist, I can’t describe what that perfection would be, can’t measure its dimensions or fathom its antecedents. So then, how do we, as artists, measure our progress?
The answer, as it is when it comes to most complex things, isn’t a simple sentence. My answer is that you look at the details, take things down to the absolute barest essentials and judge each component piece on its own merits. This is an inconvenient answer for some, myself included. The process of writing isn’t something I’ve been enamored with since I was young: I felt it was a better show of what I could do if you gave me no preparation time, forced me to write what I felt off the cuff.
Age and experience have taught me that the process is important, though. And just as I have worked for years to get a perfect martini down, so too must I attack the act of writing with tenacity, an unfettered fervor.
When I’m making a drink, I don’t see my guests. I don’t see the atmosphere of the bar around me, don’t hear the DJ speaking over his mix of pop music. All of creation is in the tin in front of me, all that has ever been or will be. Between the bottle and the shaker, the whole demiurge of creation flows.
Finding that deadzone and working within it is something that all great professionals have a knack for. For the rest of us, it’s something we work towards, we strive each and every day to attain. It’s a vacation place, a place where our footsteps are washed away as quickly as we can make them.
By analyzing my writing at a very granular level, I can reach this place. The focus is intense: sentence by sentence, word by word, we claw and scrape. And we get better.