Castles in the Air
Building A Castle Foundation
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Henry David Thoreau
This metaphorical castle can be built with six words: I want to be a writer. I built that one when I was twelve. As time went on, I didn’t just redecorate my castle, I made major additions. My next castle I built with these words, “I want to be a published writer.” Twenty-one years ago when that happened, I quickly added a whole new wing when I dreamed, “I want to publish a book.” That’s a big dream. A mighty imposing castle. One that would take a mighty imposing foundation.
In eight weeks and two days my first published book will be released. So today I want to give you a simple 21 year, 47 week, 1 day plan that I used to complete that foundation.
Some of these seven points will be valuable lessons you may want to emulate. Others read more like cautionary tales. I think you’ll be able to tell the difference between the two. And in no way am I saying this is how it’s done. All I’m saying is this is how I did it.
1. First–Build the castle.
Novelist Graham Greene writes, “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”
That moment came for me on December 19, 1971. I know this because that is the night The Homecoming aired on television back when there were only three channels—four if you count PBS. It was six days before Christmas. I was eleven years old and all I wanted were toys. But then that show came on. And with it that slow, deliberate opening of a door that allowed me a glimpse of my future. How could an eleven year old relate to a story set in rural North Carolina in 1933 during the Great Depression? The father owned and operated a sawmill, the children did farm chores—and there were lots of children: Mary Ellen, Erin, Elizabeth, Jim-Bob, Ben, Jason and John-Boy. John Boy is the oldest at 15. And he has a secret—he writes down his thoughts and hides them. He wants to go to the university someday, but that’s expensive and there’s a depression going on. And there are a lot of farm chores to take care of. I could find only one parallel: They were broke; we were broke. Mostly my family and theirs had a whole lot of opposites: The Waltons lived on a mountain (named Walton mountain, how coincidental is that?). We lived in a hollow. John boy had lots of brothers and sisters. I had one brother and one sister. They had lots of farm animals. I had a couple dozen chickens and one pig and a carp we kept in the spring—downstream from the pump. Yet this movie got me. A door opened. And I received a small glimpse of the future.
There is a scene, toward the end of the movie when John-Boy’s mother gives a wrapped gift to John-Boy. He takes the gift, tears open the package: It’s a stack of writing tablets and a bundle of pencils. His jaw drops. I guess he thought he was doing a better job of hiding his love for writing. His mom confesses she’s known about this for some time now. And so does his father. Remember, I was eleven. All I wanted for Christmas were toys. But the sight of those pads of paper and that bundle of pencils resonated in me. The look on his face, the relief, the joy. I think John-Boy was so happy because at that moment, with that simple gift, he was given permission to write. As writers we need that from someone besides ourselves–from a parent, from a friend, from a teacher. And we need to remind ourselves of that moment often.
My moment came the next year. BestWay Grocery Story was having a contest. In 25 words or less explain why you like to shop at BestWay. I was twelve, all I ever did at BestWay was follow mom around. But I came up with something. Can’t remember what I said, but I won second place and a crisp $5. More importantly, I received the permission to write. With that permission, I built my first castle: I want to be a writer.
If I could put that memory on Youtube, it would have millions of hits—and all of them would be by me.