When we were kids, there was the sandbox, filled with toys and friends. We’d build things, destroy things, and then start all over. It didn’t matter how small it was, or how quickly we could dig to the bottom of the box. We had total power over the sand.
Then, when we reached our 20s, we played computer games, and that sandbox we had as little kids showed up again, this time complete with a monitor and a mouse. It didn’t matter if we weren’t running the fastest machine out there because, once we put the disc of The Sims or Roller Coaster Tycoon into the CD-ROM drive, we were kings once again. We had total control and could create anything we wanted. A roller coaster that crashed every time? Why not? Two neighbors who hate each other at first and then fall in love and raise a family? All in the span of an hour? Sure.
But those sandboxes have limits and rules. You need a computer to play the game, or the box in which to actually put the sand.
When we put words on paper or, in the modern world, on a screen, the power comes rushing back. But there are no strings attached this time, no rules to play by, and no objective to beat. We just have pure creation.
At first, there is only darkness. But with four words, “let there be light,” we can see each other. Do you see what I did there? I wrote some words and changed the environment.
Writing is creation and change wrapped up in one simple action. By putting words down, an environment is changed. An environment that can be visited again and again both by writer and reader. Our imaginations are linked by the cyclical act of writing and reading. I can envision something and write it down, and you can see it.
Writing is the ultimate sandbox. We carry over what we learned from our previous sandboxes. Instead of Sims to play god with, we create fleshed-out characters with lives of their own. Instead of sandcastles, we build stories. And while we still can find a certain satisfaction in destroying a story, we know it’s more enjoyable to share it with others.
But we’re not kids anymore, and real life doesn’t have the same rules computer games did. Just because we write something doesn’t mean we get paid in points or dollars. All that freedom and expression isn’t guaranteed to put food on the table.
I got the chance to major in writing. But I found that, after four years of writing classes, I began to lose sight of the sandbox. Each semester, I had to adjust to a new professor with different rules of what was acceptable and what was not. Some assignments were pretty open-ended, while others were quite exact. Sometimes, writing for a grade wasn’t fun.
Luckily, I discovered National Novel Writing Month.
“NaNoWriMo,” as insiders call it, has as its main goal pure creation. Participants are tasked with writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It doesn’t matter how bad those words are because, by December 1, there are 50,000 more words than there were on November 1. This is a competition, but you’re not up against the other writers. You’re up against yourself for bragging rights. Can you silence your inner editor long enough to reach the goal?
November 2011 was exhilarating. I created with total freedom, something I hadn’t felt in a long time. I mostly wrote by the seat of my pants. There wasn’t any outlining beforehand. I just set off with an idea and started writing. I was creating again, and this time I didn’t have to cater to professors or assignments. Finally, I was writing something that was wholly my own.
I found my sandbox again. And I’m never losing sight of it this time.
–My contribution to Before You Quit Writing Read This!, a collaboration by The Literati Writers and available on Amazon right now.