LEGO and Writing

Ribbon Road, my current novel, is now in the hands of professional editors, on its way towards being pitched to agents. I find myself considering what my next project will be, and, as I am still new to authoring novels, how I will write it.

A few days ago, my three-year-old son asked me to build a ‘turbo jet’ out of LEGO. And I thought, yeah, I can do that.

I have a lot of LEGO.

I’ve been playing with it since I was five years old (and still remember my first set, a LEGO train). I have a pretty good idea of the kinds of pieces I have available, what’s possible with those pieces, and what’s practical in terms of a structurally sound model. I’ve built a few airplanes and jets over the years, whether from kits or my imagination.

I started with an idea in my head of the general shape of a turbo jet, picked a colour scheme of blocks I knew would work, and started building.

Um, I hear you say. What does this have to do with writing?

I write much the same way as I build LEGO turbo jets. I’ve been writing stories since I was five (and still have copies of my old stories). I have a pretty good idea of the English language and the words I have available to work with, what’s possible in terms of describing a scene or a character, and what’s practical in terms of a structurally sound story.

I start with the idea of the general shape of a story in my head, and start writing.

In both cases, this leads to a lot of iteration. With LEGO, I’ll start building a section based on an idea or three, find the pieces I need, and build a first draft. As I begin to add other sections, the first section changes to accommodate them, whether to ensure the whole thing is structurally sound or just looks good, or I get a new idea and run with it. Sometimes lots of pieces or entire sections get removed. Change is part of the process, and the end result is stronger as a result.

It took me a while to accept this must happen with my writing. After I finished my first novel (a tangled mess), I assumed I’d only need a few months to polish it and it would be out to publishers. Fortunately, reality hit me pretty quickly, before I’d tried to send the thing out and waste everyone’s time. I wrote the first draft of Ribbon Road as a 14,000 word novella, and have since redrafted it eight times to turn it into the 66,000 word novel it is now. Each time, I changed sections to accommodate new ideas or feedback, to ensure the whole thing is structurally sound, or just that it looks, feels, and sounds good.

I’ve learned much since beginning Ribbon Road, just over a year ago. I’m much better at plotting, developing character arcs, understanding and applying story structure, creating a balance between description and dialogue, scene and summary. I’ve got a strong outline, a decent handle on the character arcs. But I know that whatever I write, it won’t be perfect the first time. It might even be a pile of … sludge.

Now I know that’s OK. You can’t edit a blank page, like you can’t play with a non-existent LEGO turbo jet.

You’ve just got to sit down and build.

Where did this turbo jet idea come from? While It is impossible to understand the mind of a three-year-old, I suspect Paw Patrol’s Jet to the Rescue was a strong motivator, just like Disney’s Mickey Mouse Roadster Racers inspired the racers in the photos above (also a request from my son).

Want to know more about me or Ribbon Road? Love LEGO and want to show off what you’ve built? Just want to procrastinate from your next writing project? Reach out on twitter or sign up to my newsletter. I’ll never try to sell you vacuums, encyclopedias, or fish. Promise.

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