There are builders working 24/7 (ok, not 24/7 LITERALLY but it sure feels like it- I think the dull thud of their hammers is echoing in my nightmares) outside the front of our place and I've gradually moved from slight annoyance to extreme annoyance to a zen-like acceptance that they have been and always will be there and I should just embrace it as my path in life. I'm staring at them right now trying to find some good in their presence, and I've decided, unbeknownst to them, that they are going to become my writing prompt for the week so that I can give them some credit for being useful to my life in some small way. Sigh.
They're building a house. I've never actually seen a house go up day by day from the very beginning of empty lot, to the strange moving around of earth that looks not unlike a child simply throwing dirt from one side of the sandbox to the other, to the beginning stages of actual framing and building. Yesterday they started building the foundation, and I'm surprised to see that today they are already starting to frame the basement. Oh sorry, I was just corrected. They aren't framing, they're "cribbing" (which makes me think of crumping, which makes me picture them all gettin' down and funky with their dance moves, which makes me altogether less angry). Really though, what's interesting to me is that it all has to start with the first SLAP and THUNK of the back hoe (I don't know if that's what it's called but I'm going with that) into the fresh ground. A whole house with bedrooms and secret spaces under the stairs and bedets can only be built if that first chunk is ripped from the ground.
It made me think (ie. I forced myself to think about it and draw a conclusion): what's that first chunk for us in beginning a new piece of writing? When the blank page stares at us like a blank piece of landscape, how do we know where to begin? It can be the most intimidating and difficult part of the process, and yet I doubt the back hoe driver (again- not 100% on the official terms there) spent a ton of time (years even!) contemplating where and how (and, God forbid, WHY) to first sink the teeth of the machine into the ground. He just rolled up one morning with a Tim's coffee, put his jersey-grey hood up against the wind, plunked himself in the little seat in that box that looks like a clear phone booth, and sank the teeth (it's true- I watched him do it). He didn't worry about the next guy's job- that would be the responsibility of the crumpers or the jumpers or the smoothers or the roofers or any of those other really technical job titles. He just showed up, dug some holes, threw some dirt around, and called it a day.
It's kind of an interesting experiment to think about writing stages as separate jobs for separate parts of my brain, instead of all of the darn responsibility falling on lil ol' me all the time. What if I could just show up, sit down, stick a hoe in the ground, throw some dirt around, and call it a day? And then the next day, send another part of me to go do the initial cribbing, and the next day, a framer. What if I didn't worry so much about what I was going to write the next day, or the next, or goodness gracious how I would end the thing?? The back hoe driver (I really should just google the correct term...) doesn't worry about whether to choose brass knobs or iron ones on the pantry cupboard doors like the interior designer eventually does. He's not concerned with any future decisions except perhaps whether to get two creams or one in his next large double-double (two, duh). He just digs dirt, plain and simple. Then he goes home and watches Riverdale in peace (what's that, you say? You didn't know that the original comics we all fell in love with featuring a certain redheaded boy and an age-old, sexism-at-its-best rivalry between a blonde and a brunette was turned into a dramatic mystery tv show?? GET ON THAT, FRIEND!).
I'm going to try this method next week in starting a new piece of writing- I'm working on a short film about a dragon hunter with my writing partner and it's a deliciously imaginative piece that also has a higher concept, and I'm very intimidated and procrastinating like crazy as per usual because of that. Maybe it would take the pressure off if I just told myself to show up, put my jersey-grey hood up (I'm literally wearing the same thing as the back hoe driver right now, I just realized), and started with step 1:
EXT. DESERT - DAY.
There's a dragon. It's green. It shouldn't be here, but it is.
I encourage you, whenever you read this, to simply open up a blank document or turn to a new page in your notebook, and sink the teeth in. Don't think too hard about it, don't agonize over the right story to tell or the right place to begin it. That can all be fixed and edited later. Just throw some dirt around sentence by sentence (you have to crib before you frame... apparently), not by planning ahead or plotting or strategizing. Maybe you remove that first sentence later (maybe even the whole first page or chapter!) when your story is complete and no longer needs it, has grown past it. Maybe you keep it. Whatever you do, don't think that far ahead. There is time for that once the house has actually been built.
As Frankenstein's ill-fated lover, Elizabeth, would say:
"Adieu! Take care of yourself; and, I entreat! write!"
PS. Just googled "back hoe driver". I think I'm right??? Although apparently it's "backhoe", all one word, which looks less like a derogatory term for a woman so I'm pleased about that.