Rendered Fat Content


Lucian and Mary Brown:
Untitled [boy playing with action figures on shelf] (c. 1950)

" … groaning in the background."

The manuscript shelves in my office hold printed, unfinished manuscripts. It serves as one of the stages in my never-ending seeming copyediting queue. Since I find copyediting disquieting, I rarely visit those shelves, so they also serve as an essentially infinite queue. I cannot imagine ever arriving at the end of that pile. It grows by one fresh member every quarter, and I'm several quarters behind. How many? I cannot tell for certain, for I only managed to start a list when I began writing this Publishing series. I've not yet finished it.

I seem to lack a specific sort of discipline; the ShelfDiscipline required to conquer my copyediting queue.
I understand too well how no writer can ever hope to become very much better than their own worst copyeditor, if only because the author lacks the copyeditor's essential detachment. Copyediting one's work amounts to self-surgery, and not just superficial surgery, but abdominal surgery slicing right into the middle of one's being. Some writers aestheticize for the effort and are generally the worse for it, a clear and agile mind being essential to perform even the world's worst copyediting. It's like pruning shrubbery. It requires loving and mindful heartlessness, cold-blooded.

I speak of discipline as a form of punishment, for I have not found the means to love it. And love might be the essential missing element when discipline seems lacking. It's not a form of slacking to avoid engaging in something one's not loving, for engaging without that generous emotion might be the most depleting thing anyone can do to themselves. It's self-destructive. Yes, we all learn to grin and bear some things, but these always seem to eventually end up being detrimental. It seems downright medieval to even attempt to engage so heartlessly. Why even bother?

The missing key, I confidently proclaim, as only someone who couldn't possibly know can insist, must be simply this. Until copyediting's fun, it's probably much better left undone, regardless of what the resulting pile of uncopyedited manuscripts seems to suggest. Simple brute force couldn't possibly resolve an effort largely only lacking love. I need to find something I can revere in the effort, or I’ll probably never get around to completing it. One does not deliberately fall in love, regardless of how much one might desire that to happen. Love visits on her own schedule, for her own damned reasons, and nobody can attempt to force her hand without landing themselves in the middle of a Be Spontaneous Paradox, where one insists upon volition somehow replacing accident.

I might, I suppose, set my intention. I might soften my usual stratospheric standards for even qualifying for loving, even though I cannot likely will it to descend from above. I might start with something barely good enough and treat myself to something I want after engaging. I might temporarily displace my innate distaste for the effort by promising myself something sweet and satisfying after I finish, a dangling carrot or a hunk of cake, these to no more than to fill in while true love percolates. I must not, I guess, accept that loving feelings won't emerge just because they haven't yet. It might be that love, like theater, demands an unavoidable suspension of disbelief and an embrace of the possible, however seemingly unlikely. I might not be able to force ShelfDiscipline, but I might be able to remain open to it appearing. I hear my unfinished manuscript shelf groaning in the background as I consider some antidote.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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