Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Building up calluses

When I quilt, I develop calluses on my fingertips where the needle pokes through the top fabric and my fingers feel for the point to guide it to the next stitch. It takes about a week or so of hand quilting to build up the calluses enough so that my fingertips don’t throb. But for the first few days, they can really hurt!

My husband plays guitar and he has calluses built up on his fingertips as well from pushing down on the strings over the frets. When I play violin for any length of time, I get the same thing rough patches on my fingers.

These calluses are part of the process, part of the journey of learning a craft or an instrument. They are badges that should be worn with a certain level of pride. You do not get them unless you are willing to put in the work, spend the hours, repeat the drills.

The same can be true with writing, though the calluses do not typically show. You cannot rub them against your arm and feel the bumps of roughened skin. The calluses from writing build up under the surface. They form over small slights and large rejections. They build around your heart and mind when you are told you cannot do something, you are dumb to even try, or when you get the blank stare from someone who doesn’t share your excitement.

They resemble the calluses you get from trying to follow any dream. They are painful the first few days and can remain so if you continue to poke at them. But if you allow them to heal over, they harden your resolve so the next time an arrow zings through the center of your passion, you can deflect it more easily.

Rejection – whether it comes in the form of a response from an agent or publisher, feedback from a writing group or teacher, your inner critic (who is probably the loudest of them all) – is a tool in the journey. Without it, you do not grow. Building calluses allows you to be strong and brave enough to continue on your chosen path dodging the arrows along the way.


  1. Thanks for this post, Cheryl. It came on a day when I felt one of those arrows piercing my heart … on a day when I felt my resolve melting. Reading this, I remembered the calluses on my brother’s fingers from long hours practicing the guitar. I rememered the cuts and scrapes and stains on his fingers from rubbing small pieces of wood or from his painting. He was much older and my childhood memories of him were of a man who never cared if the tips of his fingers were hard or calused. You reminded me that although his hands were hard, his eyes were soft and gentle. It takes a lot of hard work and practice to learn anything. I needed that reminder today 🙂

    • Florence,
      I am so glad that this post came at a time when you needed it. I am always surprised when I come across something at just the moment I need it, like the universe is looking out for me. Your brother had to practice long hours to build up those calluses and learn to play the instrument he loved. We, as writers, need to put in long hours to learn out chosen instrument as well!

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