Nothing satisfies more than finishing a day of writing at the computer and finding a strong body of work appear on the page. But in all honesty, many days are duds, leaving me disappointed in the small amount of work created. On the unproductive days, I always walk away from a seven, eight, nine-hour stint at the computer hearing the words
“brick by brick” pass through my mind.
A building is built brick by brick, a skyscraper one cement piece at a time, a city one block at a time. Relationships are built one shared experience at a time. Lifetimes are just moments strung together until decades pass, then your younger and healthier years, then your kids’ younger years pass.
And stories are built when a few words strung together form a sentence that build a paragraph that in time form a chapter until you suddenly find you’ve written 300 pages – brick by brick. Those words often keep me from giving up and labeling the unproductive days as a waste.
Before I worked full-time, I had the luxury of wide-open space to write and the dud days didn’t seem as threatening. Now that I write while juggling a full-time job, an unproductive writing day can be a serious setback considering the limited time available to produce material (usually just Saturdays for creative stuff). But I’ve had the welcome experience of realizing that my brief moments of writing can actually be as productive as those longer periods. Some days, only a few bricks are laid. But the next time I return to that piece of work, I find a surprising foundation formed by those mere words, and often the foundation whispered to its friends to join and cling to the other bricks, together throwing up an entire structure.
Thankfully the mind continues to write after turning off the computer. Brick by brick, details of a story piece together, come to mind after i cross from work mode into domestic life. Brick by brick, pieces fall into place as I talk with friends, overhear grocery store conversations, sit at stoplights thinking, or walk around my neighborhood. Answers to a writing problem appear. A scene materializes. Dialogue writes itself.
Over Christmas I was wrestling with a scene involving my main character who has early Alzheimer’s disease. My son and daughter-in-law were visiting and played a song for me called “An Old Shoebox Filled with Ghosts.” Suddenly I envisioned a scene where my character goes on a snooping expedition in someone else’s house and finds an old shoe box filled with details that fill in missing places in her past. The scene kindly arrived after my writing time had ended for the day and my brain fell into relaxation mode, almost a “receiving” mode. Even the undisciplined moments can be productive moments.
In nine weeks I’ll finish the first year of my MFA program. On a weekly basis I don’t feel I’m accomplishing a great amount of work. But looking back, I’ve written or rewritten roughly 150 pages. Many passages and additions to my novel appeared over these past months despite a busy work schedule and other demands on my time. Ideas grew and informed each other. Characters turned into real people with real wants, foibles and loves. And one truth has been confirmed: as long as I show up faithfully and put words on paper – small or large amounts of words – a novel, short story, or anything can appear – brick by brick.