And now for something a little different… It’s no secret that I’m a huge Lego fan. I have been ever since I was a kid, although I went through a period as a young adult where I believed it wasn’t “cool” and thus shelved my sets. Fortunately, I’m old enough now that I give zero fucks what the world thinks, so I’m back to playing with my toys. (They’re great for helping for anxiety, by the way. Building is very relaxing and meditative.)
Aside from the usual things which Lego is good for… Dexterity, creativity, low-grade engineering skills, and being a hobby that doesn’t rot your brain (TV, I’m looking at you), it’s actually done wonders for my writing. I can hear the gears of your brain grinding, now. “This chick has finally lost it. What do little plastic bricks have to do with writing?” Here’s the secret.
Better Writing Through Lego
When I first started playing with the bricks, I followed instructions exactly. And I kept sets together; I didn’t mix my parts. I was afraid to go out on my own, afraid that if I mixed everything together I wouldn’t be able to get back to the original at some later point. (Never mind that I had all the instructions. Somehow I thought that I’d never be able to rebuild the set if I intermingled all the parts. Weird.)
Anyway, one day I finally took the risk.
I took my sets apart and threw the bricks into a big tub, intermixing everything. (I did do a modicum of sorting to save my sanity.) Now what? What, indeed? At first the possibilities were overwhelming. I could build anything. (I had a lot of bricks.) Overwhelmed, I did nothing for a while. But then one day I reached into the tub and pulled out a few bricks. I built a little model. And another and another. Gradually my builds got bigger. I’d enjoy them for a while and then take them apart again. The more I built and broke models down, the better builder I became, and the more creative. Now, I’m still nowhere near the creations you see at conventions and in art galleries, but I don’t have to be in order to have fun.
So what does this have to do with writing? Just as I had to overcome my fear of going off-script with Lego, I’ve had to learn how to “break” my writing and embrace the chaos. For too long I followed the “rules.” Sure, there are some rules you have to follow (grammar, anyone?) but even those have some flexibility. (In fiction, at least.) I followed the path laid out by others. “Do this, do that, and you’ll be successful.” And some of the advice was good. But by refusing to leave that path, to break the rules and go my own way, I lost valuable time. I spent so much time thinking, “This is stupid,” that I lost a lot of opportunities. By refusing to deviate from the pre-made kit, I wasted my own creativity.
And if I wasn’t following the rules of writing and publishing, I was limiting my writing by sticking to what I “knew” or felt safe. To progress as a writer, you have to take your creations apart and put them back together again. Sometimes over and over again. And sometimes a creation is just never going to work unless you take it completely apart, rethink and redesign it, and start over. If you’re satisfied with the first effort and are afraid to break it apart and try again, you’re never going to create art. Sure, what you’ve written might be good, but think how much better it might be if you tried again using what you learned from the first effort.
It’s also too easy to never get started to begin with. When faced with limitless choices (what to build with all those bricks, or where to go with a new idea), paralyzation is a real thing. It’s overwhelming so you do nothing. Instead, start small. Work with a few pieces and build up from there. Get your confidence going with a scene or two and then add to it. Rework it so it shines and then add on. Keep going until you’re finished. There’s also nothing wrong with building small works that go nowhere. They’re just practice, mastering the foundations for bigger works.
When you’re writing, you can stick to the safe, easy stuff. There’s really nothing wrong with that. In Lego, it’s fun to build the pre-made kits and admire them. But eventually you hunger for something deeper, more creative. So it goes in writing. There’s nothing wrong with a first effort, or something that’s a lot like something you’ve already written. (Well, there may be a lot wrong mechanically, technically, etc. but you get what I’m saying. Even if it’s technically perfect, is it as rich as it could be?) And if you’re satisfied, then fine. But chances are you won’t be. You’ll see that it’s derivative of something else, or that it can be so much more. And you’ll want to take it apart and do it again, but this time add your own flair and more parts.
And that’s when the magic happens, both in Lego and in writing. When you embrace breakage, chaos, and the willingness to try more difficult things, that’s when your work changes.
The good news is that adding more in writing is free. In Lego, it costs money, plus storage space.
(Photo courtesy of Efraimstochter)