Beating the Spot Where the Dead Horse Was

There comes a point where you sometimes just have to let a thing go. For me, I write a lot of essays and often I have to give up a couple of days in because it takes me that long to realize that I’ve got nothing. I’ll start getting obsessed with a topic, I’ll get eight or ten drafts into it, sometimes stitching in other work (what writer doesn’t have a file of all those much-loved but useless paragraphs from essays that have had to be discarded and if we’re not careful they’ll end up as the non-sequitur in our next supposed masterpiece, taking up space where they don’t belong?), and filling the thing with so many mixed metaphors until I realize that I actually have crafted a patchwork of literary trash and I have to scrap the whole thing.

Once, a long time ago, I was told that writing itself is only twenty percent of the struggle and editing makes up the rest. And I have edited something until it became that unrecognizable masterpiece I was hoping for. But as I’ve learned in recent months, it’s possible to work something to death, and I’ve done it many, many times.

There was a day when I thought I had about eight ideas and that was it. I worked on those eight ideas until they became these massive, hulking essays that I mumbled my way through in my sleep. And when one girlfriend suggested that I start my own blog I had scoffed, I had maybe a month or two of posts and then I’d be clear out of ideas, as if every week had to be about some topic that I’d thought about for years.

Now I know that there comes a time that you simply have to let things go, and that maybe not everything (and probably most things) that you write will not be brilliant.

I’m getting a little better at giving up, and this is not to advocate that we all should just give up on the third or fourth draft of something, but there comes a time when you have to look at yourself and realize that you’ve got nothing. I’ve been lucky enough through the years to have people who gave me a second look and were straight with me. But sooner or later you have to decide for yourself.

I’ve begun to apply this to other areas of my life too. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that, no matter how hard I work them, I’m simply never going to see my abs or learn how to make decent tempura eggplant. It’s not that I’m giving up completely, I’m just trying to be reasonable, even if that means that that essay that I spent four months on is never going to be enjoyed by anyone but me.

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