Intramuscular Stimulation

by Shaun Hunter

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I’ve been seeing the physiotherapist this summer. Tightening the loose muscles, loosening the tight ones. My physio is petite, young, inquisitive. She pokes needles into my leg and lower back, and asks me about my work.

How many hours do you spend writing every day? Are you able to work outside and enjoy the good weather? How do you know if what you’re writing is any good?

This last question sinks in.

I’m lying on my belly, my jaw squeezed into the table’s oval face hole, my back muscles in spasm. I take my time answering.

How do I know a piece of writing is any good?

It’s a question knit into the deep tissue of my writing life. Like the ache in my lower back that I ignored for months, this question about quality is always present. Most often, it drives me to work harder. Occasionally, it manifests itself as self-doubt that twitches and aches, and occasionally threatens to hobble me.

But I’m not going into all that on the physio table with my tender backside exposed to a stranger. Instead, I tell this curious young woman about my circle of trusted readers who let me know whether a piece is working or not.

In between pokes, I remember the index card posted above my desk: notes from a video interview with grammar guru Constance Hale about her seven-draft process.

Seven drafts? the physio gasps. I could never be a writer.

She’s spent years learning the intricate mechanics of the human body, but the idea of revising a piece of writing that many times horrifies her.

I brace myself for another twist of the needle and try to remember Hale’s seven stages. The high of getting the first draft down, then figuring out what’s missing. The shitty draft in the middle, followed by “true depression.” Then, finding the places that click, playing with sentences, and the final, delightful polishing.

If I’m patient enough to take a piece through every one of the seven steps, I tell the physio, I’m pretty sure the writing will be good. Or at least, good enough to send out into the world.

At home, I melt into a Magic Bag and contemplate the new leg exercise I have to add to my regimen. Next week when I visit the physio, I’m going to tell her there are similarities between what she does for a living and what I do. Both involve “good pain,” a series of incremental steps, and, most important, no shortcuts.


Photo credit: Bundesarchiv, Wikimedia Commons