There’s a quote from the afterword to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (the first book in his excellent series of novels about Roland the gunslinger, his ka-tet, the Man in Black, and the Dark Tower) that has been imprinted in my mind ever since I read it. I thought I’d share it with you today.
King writes about the things that started him on the path to writing the Dark Tower series. It’s the senior year of his college degree, he’s living alone in a small cabin near the University of Maine, and he’s just gotten a ream of green typewriter paper that’s mesmerizing him.
He’s years away from selling his first novel or having significant commercial success:
But during that spring semester, a sort of hush fell over my previously busy creative life – not a writer’s block, but a sense that it was time to stop goofing around with a pick and shovel and get behind the controls of one big great God a’mighty steamshovel, a sense that it was time to try and dig something big out of the sand, even if the effort turned out to be an abysmal failure.
And so, one night in March of 1970, I found myself sitting at my old office-model Underwood with the chipped ‘m’ and the flying capital ‘O’ and writing the words that begin this story: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
It’s the image of the steamshovel, not the desert chase, that inspires me in this quote.
Dig something big.
The road to self-actualization is all about digging big things. It’s about stretching the boundaries, exploring edges and limits, and doing things that you haven’t done before (it doesn’t matter if other people haven’t done them before; it matters if you haven’t).
OK, maybe you don’t have a steamshovel. Maybe you’re a complete novice at the thing that you’d like to try. That’s OK. King hadn’t achieved commercial success when he typed a fateful phrase on a green sheet of typing paper. Still, he had been writing for years so he was in the frame of mind to go bigger.
Maybe you’re different. Maybe you’re just ready to pick up the metaphorical pick and shovel; perhaps a child’s plastic spade or a small spoon is more appropriate.
It doesn’t matter. We’re all at different levels of skill and experience. In my case, if I were to think about trying to paint, I probably should start with fingerpaints and big colorful lines: my equivalent of the small spoon.
That doesn’t matter. The important thing is to try, then try again. Master a step, a technique, or a small skill. Then try the next appropriate step. Learn something from each try. Get better. Ship, as Seth Godin or Steve Jobs might say.
But when you can reach the controls of the steamshovel and you have a decent idea of how to operate it, don’t be afraid of the potential for writer’s block – give it a good try. Start small, if need be. Learn how to move the bucket up and down, left and right. Move forward and backward. Take a tiny scrape and learn from that.
And then, when you’re ready, take your first big scoop. Then the next. Keep going until you’re done.
Dig something big. I hope you try.
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Image by psiaki
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