First, Shovel Sand

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

-Susan Hale

Beginning a new project can be daunting. Whether building a sandcastle or writing a story, we tend to begin with a vision of the final product. And isn’t it such a flawless result, shining and sparkling like a diamond in the shimmering sun? Cue the oohs and aahs of the onlookers. Hear the polite applause for a job so wonderfully done. Imagine the headlines and accolades praising your work. You’ve succeeded before you’ve even begun. Your spirits soar above this perfect vision you’ve created.

Or maybe you’re the person who envisions a thousand ways that the project will be flawed. You know that every mistake will be gleaming and glinting like broken glass in the mid-day glare. Instead of accolades, you picture the critiques and jeers. You sink into the depths, knowing that it will never be as wonderful as it is in your head.

Whatever your mindset, you will eventually stop daydreaming and crash-land into reality. A reality in which you have only thought about what you want to do. Your vision of the project – perfect or flawed – doesn’t exist here. Neither do the imagined praise or criticism. Here, in no-nonsense reality, you must do something more than envision your result. There is work to do. A lot of work.

I keep the quote from Susan Hale tacked to the bulletin board above my writing desk. When I’m staring at a blank page, it serves as a reminder that I have to pick up that shovel and move some sand. A first draft is the moment when an idea moves from a daydream into the external world. It is a declaration that you’re willing to invest in your own ideas. Look here, world, the first draft shouts, I intend to do this thing.

As Hale implies, the first draft is not the time to focus on the finer details. Don’t worry if the main character doesn’t have a name yet. Don’t fuss if you can’t remember what the antagonist should say in chapter four. Above all, don’t be concerned about mechanics and grammar. Misspelled words? Write now, spell-check later. Proper punctuation? Forget about it. Plot holes that you could sail a ship through? Aye captain, full steam ahead!

Perhaps writing isn’t your thing. Maybe you’re into the visual arts or music. Or your big idea is a new business, a family reunion, or a charity fund-raiser. Whatever project you have in mind, I want to encourage you to pick up the shovel and move some sand. Don’t let the fear of failure – or of success – keep you from making the attempt. Focus on your idea and let go of the imagined responses.

Don’t be surprised if you end up with a shapeless pile of sand that doesn’t resemble your original vision. Shoveling the sand doesn’t produce a finished product. It produces a foundation. There will be time later to sculpt out the towers and turrets. Trust the process and yourself. You’ll build that magnificent sandcastle.

But first, you must shovel that sand.