On Writing; Like Dumping Bricks

I have had this analogy of writing in my mind for quite a while. I’m finally putting it to print.

The delivery truck beeps as it reverses into what is about to become your new driveway. It lowers its bed and dumps its contents onto the dirt. A mountain of bricks now sits there, in a heap.

It’s like the beginning of a writing project. You first have to put your ideas down freely. In a very real sense, you are unloading. Driven on by the silent ingredient of faith, you are uninhibitedly saying what you want to say, without regard to style and without hesitation. This is important; it means you are not giving in to the temptation to edit, yet. It means you trust yourself enough to let go of the tendency to say things perfectly. You trust yourself enough to get out of your own way. Unloading freely allows you to clarify for yourself what it is you really want to say. Like the bricks, there is an order to writing. The raw material—the words and ideas—must first be dumped before it can be arranged.

After the bricks are laid out, you begin to examine them. What have you got? Where do these belong? And those? You organize them by size and shape, you lay them out, you arrange them properly and you begin building your structure. In writing, this means you now have your raw material. You clarify ambiguities and eliminate vagueness. You move entire paragraphs, you rephrase, you cross out sentences and other bits that are found to be repetitive, redundant or extraneous.

After the bricks are properly arranged, you begin to add decorative elements. An arch, a spire, a well-placed tier. You chisel, you layer, you alternate pieces. You give it rhythm and color. And you clean up all the messy, oozing cement.

In writing terms, it is time to prettify it. You know exactly which points to stress and where to stress them. You doll it up. Or you don’t. You recruit useful analogies or poetic metaphors to give it flair. As a painter uses pigment to create a desired style, tone and mood, language is your medium. And this is where everyone wants to frolic right away, but just as we were told as kids, there’s a time and a place for everything. Trying to decorate too fast would be as absurd as trying to anchor a building’s terrace before laying the foundation for it.

As an aside, following a logical order counteracts what is known as “writer’s block,” which occurs when you get overly concerned with form and style too soon. You’ve got to have building blocks with which to build before you can shape them and polish them—before you can do anything at all.

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