Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing and Building Snowmen

I used to have a really funny intro for this post.

Yep. It was all about how my ulterior motive for writing this was that I wanted it to snow. I also explained the magical charm needed to bend weather to your whims around Christmastime.

But then yesterday it snowed. So there went my intro. On the positive side, the snow put me in the mood for the actual topic of this post: how writing fiction is exactly like building a snowman.

Okay, maybe not exactly. But there are similarities. If you’re skeptical about associating snowman building and good writing, I have three words for you: Calvin and Hobbes.

That’s right. I just called in the most amazing comic strip duo of all time to prove my point. What do you have to say to that?

Nothing? Good, that’s what I thought.

Anyway, here are a few ways that writing fiction is like building a snowman.

  1. Everyone starts with the same raw material, but each person creates something different.

Writers have words. Snowman builders have…snow. (I specialize in brilliant thoughts like these. Be thankful you’re getting them for free.) In the same way that you can drive through a thousand neighborhoods in December and never see two snowmen that are exactly alike, you will never read two stories that are exactly alike, even if they start with the same general premise.

On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of “formula snowmen” – two eyes, a carrot nose, a scarf, stick arms, lots of dirt and rocks accidentally rolled into the bottom snowball. But stop and think: which snowmen do you actually remember? I remember the unusual ones, like the creeper snowman peering into a first-story window or the swimming snowman frantic to get away from a perfectly sculpted shark fin.

When you’re writing, don’t make a formula snowman. Don’t try to re-create Frosty. Do something new, something original, with the words and ideas you have.

  1. The process takes perseverance.

Remember the feeling you got about halfway through the middle section of your last snowman? The exhaustion of working up a sweat underneath five layers of flannel and wool. The way you stopped feeling your nose drip because your face was so numb. The temptations of central heating and hot chocolate just past the front door.

I have driven past many a snowman base that never realized its full potential because its creator gave up. I have also seen many a manuscript fragment that could have been something great.

Don’t let your creation become a could-have-been. Push through writer's block. Finish your project. Then have a mug of celebratory hot chocolate.

  1. The results probably won’t last forever.

People say all kinds of things like, “Through your writing, you can live beyond your years,” and blah, blah, blah. The truth is, most books go through one printing. Most short stories have a shelf life of a few months. Most writers will never win national awards, hit the bestseller list, or be inducted into the mysteriously-determined list of “classics.” Just like a melting snowman, the impact of our writing will eventually fade.

And yet, we write anyway. We write because we have something to say, and then we trust God with the results. He will get our message to the people who need to hear it. We don’t need to focus on being remembered. We only need to focus on being faithful.

So, the next time you need a writing break, go build a snowman. (If you live in a warm climate, I’m not sure what to tell you. Scrape some ice out of your freezer? Make an ice-cream-man with a melon baller? Crank up the air conditioning and watch “Frosty the Snowman” with your feet in a bucket of ice?)

Well, that’s it for now. I’m going outside to enjoy the winter weather and whack some unsuspecting pedestrian upside the head with a snowball.

Ah, the simple joys of the Christmas season.


  1. Amy, this is brilliant. Thank you for that part about trusting God with the results. And, oh, by the way, you're a monster for hitting that unsuspecting pedestrian.

  2. All thoughts about the quality of this writing aside, I feel cheated. Teased, even. How could you tell us that you wrote something really funny and then mercilessly keep it from us?

    Unkind, Ames. Unkind ;)