Listen to the Mustn'ts, child, listen to the Don'ts.
Listen to the Shouldn'ts, the Impossibles, the Won'ts.

Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.

-Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How Building a Wall is Like Writing

I tried to build a retaining wall in my backyard yesterday. It took me about fourty-five minutes and looked something like this…

I realized I don’t know the first thing about retaining walls. Just like I don’t know the first thing about writing a book! But, here are five things I have learned about writing, as taught by Amateur Landscape Hour.

The Foundation is the Most Important Part

I couldn’t even begin to start on the rest of the wall until I had the foundation blocks in place. The foundation of your story is the beginning, middle and end, the Conflict, the Character’s Emotional Arc. All those components must be thought out and solidified before you can even begin to write your story. Some people can vomit words on a page, one after another, and have a book at the end of it. I don’t operate that way. I have to think out the basic core foundation of my story before I begin the word vomit.

Take Your Time

I was in too big of a hurry with my wall and as a result, it was crooked and uneven with gaps all over the place. As with writing, I have learned if you are too rushed, too worried about your word or page count, too worried about finishing to care about what you put into it, the finished product will suffer. It will be very evident that you didn’t take time along the way where it mattered.

Do Your Homework

You can save yourself a lot of rework if you simply do a little leg work to begin with. If I had asked some questions, if I had taken accurate measurements, if I had bothered to check my work along the way I wouldn’t have ended up with a wall that looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Tear it Down and Start Over If Needed

Because I didn’t take my time. Because I didn’t focus on the foundation. Because I didn’t do my homework, I now have to tear down my wall and start over. And you know what? That’s okay. Rework is an important part of getting things right. I am learning that with INSIDIOUS, thanks to the agent critique I received a few weeks ago. Sometimes starting over is the best solution. You can never, never, never be so attached to something you’ve written that you aren’t willing to scrap it and start over.

Don’t Give Up

I could leave my wall the way it is and live with mediocrity because it’s okay. It’s not great, but it’s okay. I don’t know about you—but I don’t want my work to be just okay. I want it to be great. Something I am proud of. And because of that, I can’t give up. You can never give up improving; trying to build your story and make it the best, strongest story you can write. Just like I can’t give up on my sad little wall, I can’t give up on my sad little book.

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