Even a Tower Starts in a Hole

                Everybody has dreams, right? As a boy mine were pretty far out there. I wanted to be Doctor Who, James Bond, or Spock. And while I had to scale back, I’m pretty happy writing the kinds of stories that include similarly interesting characters. Dreams, and their possible fruition, have consistently kept me fueled to face each humdrum day. I believe we all grow into adulthood with dreams in our back pocket and it’s when we bring them into the light of day and invest our efforts in them that we soar.

                As an author, my views on this subject center around my writing, but most of what I have to say on the subject of pursuing dreams applies to cooking, construction, and any other occupation that fills your sails. I run into folks who look at my work and dismiss any such productivity in their future. Here are some common things I hear:

I’d love to write, but I haven’t the time.

I’d love to be in better shape but I don’t make the time. It’s not a huge priority for me (maybe it should, but, whatever) and so I don’t set aside time for it. Exercise gurus often say that it takes less than an hour a day to get into the kind of shape they’ve achieved. If you’re serious about your dreams, you can afford that much time on something you believe in, have some talent for, and your passion overrides your impatience. The Death Star wasn’t always big and imposing. The Great Wall of China was once a handful of bricks stacked next to a ditch.

Are you making enough to write full time yet?

Many dreams won’t keep the lights on in your house, but they keep the fire burning within your heart, and that’s equally important. I work a forty-plus hourly job week after week, month after month. It’s not glamorous or lucrative, but it does keep the lights on while I write. Maybe someday I’ll be another popular writer with no need for any job except my next book, but until then, the balance of writing and working keeps me warm and well fed physically and emotionally.

I’m not a writer.

Of course you aren’t a writer, you said so yourself. But you’re only not a writer for as long as you put off giving it a go. Start writing, share it with others, and see how they react. Or maybe you’re not ready to share, that’s cool too. If it relieves pressure, tickles your fancy, or reaches people and resonates within their heart, you’re a writer. If writing and rewriting seems a chore or puts you to sleep, it’s not for you and you’re really not a writer. But at that point it’s okay to say that. You gave it a shot and your heart’s not in it. There’s nothing wrong with you except you need to keep exploring your interests until you find that perfect mixture of desire, patience, and talent.

I don’t have the patience to write anything significant.

Howard Hughes and his aviation geniuses built scale models of their aircraft and tested them in wind tunnels. I was asked once, to summarize my novel into a short story to help fellow writers at the workshop grasp the entire concept. While the notion of condensing so much content into so small a vessel infuriated me, the recommendation led to the wind tunnel comparison and I got working on my first short story. Within that story, I toyed with a story arc, editing, and enjoyed the relief of finishing something. All those risks and rewards, though small, were enough to encourage me to continue. For that reason and so man more, I highly recommend setting out on a small task first, whatever your passion, and get a few mole hill victories under your belt before you tackle a mountain.


As a teenager, I worked on the tallest building in West Virginia (eighteen stories) and in those first months that skyscraper was nothing but a big hole in the ground. We dug the elevator shaft and carved a network of trenches to hold Laidley Tower’s foundation. When I first dove into writing, I thought I was awesome. My first writer’s workshop experience offered me a humble view of the hole I stood within. But from that vantage point I looked up and my mind’s eye saw the skyscraper that would rise from this dirty, subterranean beginning.


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