Are You Getting Your Hands Dirty Enough?

…I think, that if a man find in himself any strong bias to poetry, to art, to the contemplative life, drawing him to these things with a devotion incompatible with good husbandry, that man ought to reckon early with himself, and, respecting the compensations of the Universe, ought to ransom himself from the duties of economy, by a certain rigor and privation in his habits. For privileges so rare and grand, let him not stint to pay a great tax.1

In Man the Reformer, Ralph Waldo Emerson goes into great detail about the value of getting one’s hands dirty and “tilling the Earth,” so to speak. While his expressed intention is that thinkers and artists should not be afforded lives of leisure, I’ve also taken from this that all writers benefit from firsthand experience.

What better way to make people feel than to have felt yourself?

If you read two descriptions of a woman breaking a horse, assuming both writers are of equal skill, you’re most likely to gain a better sense the experience from the writer who’s held a bit and bridle in her hands, or the one who’s white-knuckled the rope wrapped around the saddle horn as the colt bucked back and forth beneath her.

Look, none of us is going to end up in Writer’s Jail if we write about fighting dragons without having picked up a sword or talk about walking on the moon without having stowed away in the Apollo 11 lunar module. But if there’s something we really want to nail, and the opportunity is there, we’d be better served to take it rather than pull up yet another article on Wikipedia.

Every man ought to have this opportunity to conquer the world for himself.1

For our rare and grand privilege of typing words instead of digging ditches, let’s pay our great tax, continue to hone our craft from all angles, and eventually reap our just rewards.



1. Ralph Waldo Emerson – Man the Reformer

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