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What can an aspiring novelist in Seattle learn from a builder in Alabama? Lots, apparently!

On a recent, rainy Saturday afternoon, perfect for sitting down and getting lots of writing done, I was moping around the house, avoiding my laptop and feeling a bit discouraged.

Some background:  First, you should know that it’s my dream to write a book.  For years I’ve been scribbling snippets about characters, dialogue, and plot details in spiral notebooks—and squirreling this stockpile away for “someday” when I would weave all the bits and pieces together and write (drumroll…) my book.  For lots of good reasons, I’ve decided that “someday” is here.

Second, I am no stranger to writing.  My professional achievements have been closely tied to the notion that I can dependably research, write and edit, under deadline.  Granted, my professional life has demanded that I research, write and edit things like legal briefs, contracts, workplace policy handbooks and the occasional threatening letter.  I’ve done that sort of work for a number of years, and have the confidence in my business writing that naturally comes with experience.

But on that recent, rainy Saturday, my feelings of uncertainty about how–or if!– my book was going to turn out were unnerving me.  Specifically, my painfully slow progress was discouraging.  I also felt very uncomfortable with the growing realization that I have a lot to learn about the craft of creative-fiction-full-length-novel-writing. Even if the rules are meant to be broken—I probably should know what they are.

So, instead of writing, I moseyed over to the kitchen table where my husband had left some magazines. (My husband has lots of admirable hobbies and interests—woodworking, painting, sustainable living, to name a few.  And there are niche magazines for all of the above!  At that very moment, he was out in the garage with his beloved power tools, teaching himself how to build a rolling shelf unit, for Pete’s sake!) I wondered if there were any secrets in the pages of his magazines that inspired him to happily ensconce himself in the garage, creating new and complicated things from scratch.

I flipped one magazine open to an article about an experienced builder in Alabama who had fulfilled his own lifelong dream.  For lots of good reasons, he decided it was time for him and his family to finally take all the reclaimed building materials he’d been collecting over the years- the interesting, unique, and meaningful bits of lumber, glass, metal and brick that had spoken to him in some way—and build a cabin in the woods.

To cut to the chase—they did it! And it turned out great! But it was a hard-earned dream come true (the most satisfying kind), and the experienced builder learned that there were three critically important requirements needed to achieve his dream. To paraphrase:

1. Patience- Creating something from the ground up cannot be accomplished overnight.  When the first pieces are put together, they might not look quite right, and it’s easy to get discouraged. But by setting and achieving small goals, the huge project becomes manageable and enjoyable.

2. New Skills– Even though he was an experienced builder, taking on this new kind of project meant that he needed to learn some different techniques.  It was well worth taking the time to gain the knowledge necessary to accomplish his goals.

3. Invest Time and Energy (or, in writer-speak: “get butt in chair”)- Since his stockpile of materials was unique, lots of time- consuming trial and error was involved in the building process.  But even though it required extra effort, using the materials that were personally meaningful to him resulted in a truly memorable cabin.

I realize that comparing this fellow’s cabin-building process to my book-writing challenges may be a labored metaphor.  But I take my inspiration where I can find it! These three simple truths about what it takes to accomplish a personal creative goal–whatever it may be– resonated with me, and reassured me that I am not alone.   I’m continuing my “word-working” project, keeping these lessons in mind.  Patience has never been my top virtue, but without it, it’s easy to throw in the towel when progress seems slow.  So, I’m trying the technique of setting and attaining small goals—they really do add up after awhile.   Also, even though I am a fairly experienced writer, I am willing to admit that maybe I have a thing or two (or a hundred) to learn about the craft of fiction writing. (Luckily my fellow Popcorntheblog bloggers are posting helpful tips on writing!)  Most importantly, I am putting in the time, and am moving along word by word.  It will all be worth it in “The End”.