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Words to Young Writers: Lay Those Bricks

Andrew Boryga / Monday, February 1, 2010 Comments Off

p>On my computer there is a folder labeled “Short Stories”. In that folder lie 20 or so opening paragraphs to short story ideas I’ve had the last few months. They range from a delusional bus ride, a sleep-running businessman and my dog’s neurotic nature when he can’t find his toys. The one thing they have in common is that they’re all unfinished.

Think of the process to becoming a writer like the process of building a brick wall

Think of the process to becoming a writer like the process of building a brick wall.

I’ve always been one to shoot for the moon and be really pissed off if I land amongst stars. It’s a problem I think most young writers and artists in general go through, setting lofty goals for ourselves and getting angry when they aren’t met.

My problem is that I want to be published in the New Yorker right now. Every time I start a story I feel I must write something that will be heralded for years to come, otherwise it is a complete failure––hence the 20 unfinished stories. My problem extends beyond short stories too. In school I slave over essays that take others a few hours, with the delusional goal that my essay will be the best essay my professor has ever read––every single time. I spend so much time constructing the most captivating introduction imaginable that by the time I get to the substance I’ve forgotten what to say.

I try to deny this compulsive nature at times, chalking it up as an intense drive or ambition. But recently I’ve come to realize what it truly is: a barrier. Aiming too high makes attainable goals seem foggy. I become so distracted by the grand outcome I seek that I lose sight of the small accomplishments I make along the way. Young writers like myself often look for the express lane to success. We forget the most inherent rule in human life, which is that practice makes perfect. The most revered authors didn’t just get there, they practiced their craft––some for a very long time.

Those of us trying to break into this business must realize that every small step is something to build off of, similar to building a brick wall. The wall that I want is a mural with the front page of The New York Times, The New Yorker and a book deal on it. Right now, I’m desperately trying to build that wall, ignoring flaws in it and not worrying about the structure. But I’ve realized that’s the wrong way to go about it. What I should be doing is focusing on each brick, and laying that brick as perfectly as it can be laid until I eventually have my wall. One story at a time.

The lesson I’ve learned, and the one I hope to impart on anyone as compulsive as I am, is that there is no gain in writing with the intention of changing the world with your pen. All it does is create impossible standards and promote a slothful pace. Instead, just write and build from there. Take your time and go after attainable goals, soon enough you’ll be where you want.

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  • NicoleS

    I’m the same way. And if I don’t have a ridiculously fantastic idea in my head, I just don’t write at all. So my newest goal has been, plain and simple, Write. Write anything. It’s been working way better than any other goal I’ve had so far.

  • http://virtual-notes.blogspot.com/ Dorothee Lang

    thanks for the reminder, and for the brick image. it made me remember some lines on writing i read a year ago, this is from Neil Gaiman:

    “You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

    A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realise that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It’s a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words. The wall-builder erects her wall one rock at a time until she reaches the far end of the field. If she doesn’t build it it won’t be there. So she looks down at her pile of rocks, picks the one that looks like it will best suit her purpose, and puts it in.

    The search for the word gets no easier but nobody else is going to write your novel for you.”

    this is from a Nano Pep talk, here the whole letter:
    http://www.nanowrimo.org/node/1065561

  • http://writingyourfeelings.wordpress.com Susana Mai

    Neil Gaiman always has the best advice. One of my favorite articles of his is on his website, entitled, “Where do you get your ideas?”–he tells writers to simply dare to imagine, to simply look at life and ask “what if.” Quite inspiring. Certainly makes me feel better when all I want to do is mope all day and tell myself how sucky my writing is.

    Here’s the article: http://bit.ly/copo0n

  • http://www.litdrift.com Tanya Paperny

    Yes, yes, yes. Also, having the place where you’d like a piece to be published in mind before you are finished writing really stifles your natural style and creative drive, methinks. (Unless you’re writing on assignment, obviously).

  • Andrew Boryga

    Good point Tanya, I agree. Deadlines and goals like posting every 2 days on a blog or something like that really help in terms of motivation.

  • http://www.eekeke.blogspot.com zz

    Hi Andrew,

    This is a great reminder to “get on with it!” Often I feel like I have to wade through a cesspool of awful writing before I chance upon some colourful or insightful sentance or paragraph, and when I do, it’s always worth it.

    zz

  • http://thechocolatechipwaffle.blogspot.com/ Terresa Wellborn

    Great post. I can relate to this. Completely.

    Excuse me now, while I return to my brick laying…

  • http://thecompulsivereader.com The Compulsive Reader

    I think that the most significant realization I ever had as a writer was just that! I remember when I finally truly understood that it doesn’t matter that I am bad now, but 1000 bad pages will eventually lead to a good page. It’s a good feeling…though it is hard to accept.

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