My grandfather is one of the partners in a big land development company and he takes great pride in showing us his projects. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending the day with him, visiting his company’s various construction sites. At the end of the day, I was surprised to discover how much I had learned about writing. Today, in honour of Father’s Day, I’d like to dedicate this post to him, and share some of the things I learned.
To me, the realms of reading and writing — my interests — and of construction and land development — his interests — had previously seemed quite mutually exclusive. This notion of their disparity had been heightened by my grandfather’s interest in the numbers and financial aspects of building. Numbers and such tend to elude me, so while I love spending time with him, I tend not to understand about half of what he’s saying.
But it now occurs to me, perhaps our interests are not as disconnected as I previously imagined. Because, what is constructing a building if not making something that wasn’t there before? And isn’t that the same thing as writing, but merely in another medium? If so, then there is so much that I, and any other writer out there, can learn from this man who has been in the business of creating for the past fifty or sixty years.
Whenever we go on these outings, my favourite parts of the day are seeing the finished products. The high rise condos, already built up to the penthouse and their stunning, fully decorated lobbies. Even just the sales centres delight me, with their high tech demonstrations and beautifully coordinated decor. However, my grandfather always drags me to see big gaping holes in the ground, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over the contraptions put in place and techniques used to dig out the dirt.
On last week’s trip, he explained to me that this is what he’s interested in, the progress and process you can see and look at from a bird’s eye view. Once the building starts really making headway, and gets (literally) off the ground, you can’t really see what they’re doing on the inside and for him it becomes boring. The same goes for the finished buildings. Once they are completed, furnished and sold, he loses interest.
This can be seen as metaphoric for the writing process. Just like I prefer looking at the finished, fully decorated buildings, I also prefer looking over my finished, fully developed writing projects, rather than taking greatest joy in the writing itself. I prefer editing later, more complete drafts over writing the first. My grandfather on the other hand, would be someone who sees the value in writing the first draft. Like the digging stages, it takes the most time, but nothing can happen until it’s done. And that draft is often most difficult — or at least it seems that way when you’re at the stage — but it’s in that draft where everything begins to happen, and everything else you do for that projects tends to stem from that draft.
I think that this is an incredibly valuable lesson. This was very relevant when I spent the day with my grandfather, because at the time I was trudging through the messy stages of my Camp NaNoWriMo novel, desperately looking forward to when I have a completed draft in my hands. Now that I’ve abandoned that, because it just wasn’t working for me, I still find that I’m struggling to find the motivation to write as regularly as I would like. Lately I’ve been writing even when I don’t feel like it, because that gets me to the later drafts. But perhaps the rough writing, though more difficult, can also be more rewarding in itself, in part because the progress is very visible. Hopefully this new insight will help me not only keep writing (on a regular basis), but enjoy the writing itself as much as the final product.