#38. This Looked Different in my Head

Hello. Welcome. Or welcome back. How you've been? Fantastic, I hope. I've been slightly upside down lately, but I've been swimming more, and writing poetry in the morning. Both help. My favorite one from last week is about sweatshirts. I also told my kids they could start calling me Drop Zone if they wanted. Why? Because if I were recruited to an elite team of global spies, that would be my code name. My friend Derek, aka Killswitch, would be the leader.

I'm going to put off exclamation points for another week and return to the chickens. Before we move on to writing, here’s a quick note from our Hurry Up & Wait sponsor.


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Now back to that writing business. I’m skipping ahead to writing rule #38 because my latest novel, Atlantis: The Accidental Invasion, comes out this Tuesday. I’m not sure whether to shout with elation or run and hide in the woods. The latter is more appealing, especially since some neighbors built a cool little hut between some tall pines near our house, but then they put a goat head on top, so it’s not quite as inviting. True story.

Anyway, Atlantis! My first copies arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, and I’m extremely pleased with how the book turned out. The story, the design, the cover - they feel right. I’ve learned, though, that this is pretty rare with creative projects.

Which brings us back to the chickens, and leads me to rule writing #38:

This Looked Different in my Head.

Our family didn't really plan to get chickens. We were out to dinner one night when my wife mentioned that the chicks they'd been raising in her first grade classroom were going to need a home. Did we want chickens? I love eggs, and we were generally feeling good about life, since someone else was making our food, so I said, sure!

Then she brought the little chicks home. They were cute, but they smelled, and they grew way faster than we'd expected. Soon we needed to figure out where to house these birds, too. The plastic bin in the living room was getting small fast. We looked up some wonderful coops online, but they had one terribly unattractive trait in common. The providers had the audacity to demand money in exchange for these structures.

Don't worry, I told the family, I'll build us a coop.

Generally, this triggers silent alarms. If something needs to be built, I'll always threaten to make it with driftwood. I used to carve tiki masks and fish out of driftwood, then give them out as wedding gifts. (Sorry, friends.) When I became a dad, I made a DVD stand for the minivan out of driftwood. (It sorta worked.) One year for Halloween, I carved a Groot mask out of driftwood and went to our neighbor's house and asked for candy. The mask was pretty big; I walked onto her front porch alone, at night, and probably stood close to seven feet tall. No wonder she tossed me a Snickers and slammed the door.

Eventually I moved beyond driftwood. My brother-in-law and I started a small contracting nonprofit called Crooked But Quick. Our motto? We might not get it right, but we'll get it done.

So, the chickens needed a home? I’d do it myself! I gathered some random wood, cut down a small tree (the wrong tree, I learned later), repurposed a few rolls of wire fencing, cleared a space in the yard, and started weaving and hammering it all together with help from my wife (who normally has a face) and son.

In my head this coop was beautiful.

A work of art comprised of unique found materials.

A structure that didn't so much stand on the earth as rise up and out of its very soul.

Once I was finished, I stood back to admire my masterwork...

...and promptly realized it was a complete disaster.

The coop didn't merely look like the work of a child. It looked like it had been built by a kid who'd narrowly survived Armageddon, and had strung the nightmarish thing together out of garbage.

The chickens didn't even like it. At dusk each night they'd sneak out and fly up into the rhododendrons, nestling at least six feet off the ground, hiding deep in the branches, so that it required no small effort to get them out and into the coop. The roosters - oh, yes, we had two roosters - were particularly irascible and prone to pecking. This coop looked so disastrous that it cut the value of our home by approximately 34%, according to a local real estate agent. And yet it looked so awesome in my head!

Which brings me back to writing or art or any creative project.

You have a vision in your head at the start. The vision is beautiful and perfect. Sadly, no matter how hard you work, the end result might not even come close to that initial ideal, as with the coop. I’ve failed to finish five different novels over the years. They were beautiful at the start, but I never could get them right, no matter how many times I revised and rewrote. And even the ones that do turn out well, like this new Atlantis book, aren’t quite what I envisioned. In this case, I think the final result is better, funnier, a little richer.

But if your book, project, product isn’t quite meeting that ideal, remember that you can always build another coop, write another story, start another drawing, or, in the case of my friend Killswitch, overthrow another government.

Eventually you’ll get there.

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Thank you for reading! Really, I mean that.

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