Friday, August 24, 2018

Building A Writer, Block by Block


As a kid, I loved Legos – just like everyone else. However, I didn’t have any of my own. Maybe this heightened my interest, because whenever I was at a friend’s house and the Legos came out, I dove right in. I tapped into that reservoir of Lego creativity and made everything possible while I had the chance. In that limited window, I was a perpetual generator of Lego items – and oh, the things I made!

I bring this up thanks to a comment that came from the writers group I attended last week. A new writer was impressed with everyone’s work – perhaps intimidated – and questioned whether she had the skills to sit with everyone else. One member – apologies that I forgot her name – responded with a nice metaphor about Legos – being a writer is like playing with Legos.

At first, we shouldn’t fret about what we are going to build, we just start. We dump all the Legos on the floor and start putting things together. We make small blocks into larger blocks, then shapes, then modest structures, complex structures, and so on. We coordinate colors, we figure out structural stability, we even adventure out and make some things that have utterly no purpose other than to see if they can be built. And we don’t care about what the kid next to us is making. We just build.

Now, this is a nice metaphor for the writing experience. However, I am now going to expand it in several directions. I am going to strain the limits of this example, just to show how versatile Legos and writing can be (plus, I love Legos just that much.)

A favorite Lego hobby of mine was to take apart things other kids had made. Not in a violent manner, but in a way where I could see how the pieces balanced out or came together with so few blocks. Then, hopefully, I could rebuild it. I could even try to modify it. Could it be customized? What would make it my own? And in this regard, all writers should read things. New things, different things, writing from different eras, different narratives, styles, and structures. And they should see what there is to learn from these different forms.

When those special Lego kits came out with all the customized pieces, those were fun to build and rebuild (I loved one that I called the Lego Star Destroyer.) Then came that tragic point where a critical piece was broken, eaten by the dog, or fell down the heating vent. To me, that’s when the challenge began. How could it be saved? What modifications could be done? How could the work be salvaged? In that regard, writing is all about improvisation. Discovering a new way to make things fit or finding a way to turn a phrase just so can make or break good writing. And if that means sitting there, studying a sentence for an hour to try to make it really jump from the page, then it should pay off just like when that one new fix allows the Lego Star Destroyer to fly again.

And of course, there was a quiet thrill about building a Lego Star Destroyer strictly out of scrap pieces, using absolutely nothing from the kit whatsoever – just salvage from that big box of blocks. Maybe it didn’t look the same, but it was mine and I loved it. It had special smuggling compartments, more room in the cockpit, and more guns – way more guns. It was mine and nobody could ever take away that accomplishment. That should be the feeling you get whenever you write something. Own it. Claim it as yours. Is it perfect? No – not yet. But it is special, and unique, and totally your creation. Take pride in it, even if you want to make something better.

I still love Legos to this day. They have that tactile feeling that somehow reminds me of better days. But now instead of my friend’s basket of Legos, I have my words. I can drag them out and make anything I want out of them. I can create masterpieces with those words, given enough time. My next book, expected to be published next year, is made out of words from that basket, and so will all future products. And this basket is even better, because it is an endless reservoir of words ready to help me create.

One other reason words are better than Legos: Have you ever stepped on a Lego in your bare feet? I would much rather step on a word.

No comments:

Post a Comment