Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | September 16, 2014

Tackling Shoes

Mid-September… summer days fade into memory as cooler days drift in and football season swings into high gear. My energy level bumps up a notch and my thoughts switch from summer fun to fall clean-up chores. Topping the chore list is tackling my pile of my long-unused shoes; however, I have a blog post to write first. So, with the Monday night football game on the television in the background, I’m sitting at my keyboard trying to think of a topic.

Yet the image of that pile of shoes haunts me. I’ve waited years to get to the task, and the time has finally come.

As any writer knows, many projects and incidents in daily life can provide inspiration for writing or serve as an analogy to some facet of the writing process. You’ve probably figured out that, with sorting shoes and writing a blog post on my agenda, I looked for similarities between the shoe sorting and the writing process. Can you think of any? I came up with four, but first – the story behind the pile of shoes.

In the winter about four and a half years ago, I began experiencing soreness in the joint at the base of my big toe, the joint where people get bunions. Wearing shoes exacerbated the soreness, which gradually worsened. The joint became red and swollen on the top and side. Once the weather warmed enough, I switched to wearing thong sandals, the only footwear that caused little discomfort. I finally consulted my doctor in the fall. She x-rayed the joint and had me tested for gout; the problem was arthritis. She sent me to a podiatrist, who made me shoe inserts (which insurance did not cover). After I got the inserts, I discovered that they could only be used with athletic shoes or loafers (??). They didn’t help much, so I stopped wearing them. I bought a number of pairs of wide, less-than-stylish shoes but only found a couple I could stand to wear for extended periods without too much pain.

The next spring I switched to thong sandals again, and the pain, redness, and swelling decreased. I made it through the warm weather with little trouble but had to return to the wide, ugly shoes in late fall. Although the redness and swelling did not return, the joint had grown larger on the top and side and the pain lingered.

The next year I mentioned the problem to my doctor again. A new x-ray showed that, even though the redness and swelling had decreased, the arthritis had become much worse, with excess bone growth on the side and top of the joint. The growth on the top caused the most difficulty because it impeded joint movement and (since wider shoes provide more space on the sides but rarely on top) caused the most pain. She suggested I see an orthopedist. Since I had non-refundable vacation plans in the late summer, I put that visit off until fall.

The orthopedist said I had almost no movement left in the joint, gave me a prescription for special athletic shoes to alleviate the pain (more effective and cheaper than the shoe inserts), and recommended joint fusion. I asked about a replacement joint, like those for knees or hips. He said he could do that but, since artificial toe joints lasted only a couple years before requiring replacement, he didn’t recommend it.

The orthopedist warned me I’d be off my feet a couple months, so I put off the surgery until after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I had no idea that full recovery from foot surgery takes much longer, up to two years. While I was off crutches in a couple months, I had to wear a removable boot a lot longer. It’s taken a year and a half for the disturbed tendons, muscles, and ligaments to resettle enough that I rarely feel discomfort.

Now that I’m confident I’ll be able to judge whether or not I can comfortably wear any of the shoes I haven’t worn in so long, it’s time to tackle that pile, which is a more difficult job than it might seem. Some shoes – like those with heels higher than an inch or two – will immediately go in the give-away box. Other shoes will be added to the box as soon as I try them on. The shoes that fit and feel comfortable will have to be worn a while before I make a final decision since some shoes that feel okay at first may cause soreness after several hours on my feet.

Those which cause no discomfort will be keepers unless I just don’t like them anymore. Next, I’ll sort through the shoes which became painful upon longer wearing. Many will go in the give-away box, but I’ll keep a few I can’t bear to part with (for special occasions that only last a few hours). Perhaps I’ll ask someone else’s opinion about some of the maybes, and I may have to have some of the keepers repaired. When I’ve finally weeded out the unwearable shoes, I’ll need to organize and look over the remainder and decide whether my shoe wardrobe is complete. Do I need to add any type (like boots) or a particular color (like brown) to the group?

Yes, I have some work and decisions ahead of me.

[Just to set the record straight – my shoe pile is not as huge as it may sound. I do not collect shoes, and I don’t have hundreds. I have more than usual at the moment because I kept buying shoes that I hoped would fit and not cause discomfort upon longer wear. That’s something you never find out in the store.]

 

So, how does this task of tackling the pile of shoes relate to any part of the writing process? Here are four correlations between the task and the process of revision.

  1. Just as I had to wait for my foot to heal completely before tackling the pile of shoes, waiting before beginning revision offers advantages. Setting aside a manuscript for a month or two while working on something else gives a writer distance from the story that provides greater objectivity. Fresh eyes that can pick out errors or omissions previously unnoticed.
  2. Both tasks take time and effort — usually more than anticipated — and cause some hand-wringing and angst over what needs to be discarded.
  3. When I sort through my shoes, I’ll find some – like the high heels – which obviously must go. Similarly, during manuscript revision, the writer will find some words, paragraphs, or scenes that obviously must go.
  4. Most of my shoes, however, will have to be tried on before I make decisions. Sometimes the decision is easy. Certain pairs of shoes, like certain parts of a manuscript, just don’t fit any longer and need to be discarded. Other shoes need to be tested and examined carefully; then decisions must be made. What goes? What stays? What needs to be fixed? The same must be done during manuscript revision. After close examination (which may include reading the manuscript aloud, and/or having it edited or read by beta readers), the writer must decide what parts of the manuscript must go, what must stay, what must be changed – and why. Finally, the writer must consider what, if anything, needs to be added to complete, round out, or clarify the narrative.

 

All of this takes time. It’s not easy, but the end result is satisfying and well worth the effort.

Do you have fall chores planned? Can you see a correlation to the writing process in any of them?

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To my writer friends: now you know, when you see me in less-than-fashionable shoes, why comfort is more important to me than stylishness. My philosophy is: who cares about shoes?– it’s what’s inside that counts.

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