Under Construction

Today I started building a story for Arizona Wildlife Views magazine.

“Building” is the right word for this story. Pulling the first draft together was like constructing a house. I used tools: words, sentences and paragraphs; my computer and word processor. I processed materials: background reports, notes from interviews, links to websites. I was a construction worker on the job, whistling as I moved materials around, my hands steady on the tools.

At this early stage in my writing process, the rough draft feels as messy as a construction site. Building materials pile up here and there on my computer screen. But there’s an underlying order. I have the foundation—the key points my reader will want to know. On top of that foundation is an outline, the framework for the story.

My task today was to fill in that framework. The first draft is now about half done. I have a few completed sections, a few more random paragraphs, and a sentence fragment here and there to remind me, “Work some more on this idea.”

Yes, it looked messy. And sometimes it felt that way, as I flashed back and forth between typing full paragraphs, reading background material, inserting a quote I know I’ll use at some point (though I’m not sure where), e-mailing a question to a source, and reading the draft to look for what’s missing, or where I should build next.

Sometimes, writing a story calls for staring off into space, seeing visions or listening for voices as your fingers dance across the keyboard. Other times, like today, the ethereal dance of creativity alternates with the dust and confusion of a builder at work: reaching for the next nail, lifting the hammer, steadying the boards, checking the plumb lines. Does the paragraph feel solid? Is the sentence true?

It’s a mess, but it’s my mess. I started building a story today, and it felt good.

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