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How Writing Is Like Building Model Kits

Like many other boys of my generation, I enjoyed building models as I was growing up. At first, it didn't matter what the kits were, whether cars of any and all makes and years, planes, ships, or whatever.

As I got older, however, I became more selective. Although my brother gravitated toward classic cars and hot rods (he still works on restoring a real-life modeling project, his Olds Cutlass), I, following my interest in military history, specialized in World War II military models.

I still remember fondly many of the models I built, and I still enjoy roaming the model aisle at Hobby Lobby while my wife browzes the home decorations. (I dare not buy any today, though, because models that once cost me $2-5 are now priced at $30 and more!) And I loved the smell of Testor's model glue (although I never sniffed it, for those of you who remember that craze).

A few of my favorite models were fighter planes: P-38 Lightning, Bf-109 Messerschmidt, and P-47 Thunderbolt; bombers: Ju-87 Stuka, B-25 Mitchell, B-17 Flying Fortress, and B-29 Superfortress; and armored vehicles and artillery: M-29 amphibious Weasel, M-4 Sherman tank,

Panzer V Panther tank, M-13 half track gun carriage, and jeep and anti-tank gun.

My brother took great care in assembling his models. He moved slowly, going through each step in order and ensuring that each part went where the instructions stated it should. He allowed the glue used in one step to dry before moving to the next step. He painted the model with the utmost carefulness. In the end, he had an award-worthy model to display proudly to his friends at school.

I, on the other hand, was an impatient kid. As soon as I opened a new model, I wanted it to go together quickly. I expected the glue to dry fast, the paint to dry fast, and the whole process to go together quickly so I could see and display the completely assembled final product. I expected it to look just like the picture on the box it came in, and I had no patience with the first instructions: to familiarize myself with every piece in the kit and to read the instructions carefully.

The consequences were that I often glued pieces in the wrong place or backwards or upside down; glued pieces that weren't supposed to be glued; had to disassemble and then reassemble pieces, thereby creating an unsightly mess of globbed, dried, scraped-off glue; and assembled things in the wrong order. There's just so much ugly that even a good coat (or several coats) of paint can cover up! And my models often exhibited conspicuous fingerprints where I had impatiently handled the model before the paint had dried.

Oh, my modeling skills improved somewhat as I got older, but I still battled impatience. I still wanted things to move faster than was conducive to the production of a fine-looking model.

In that sense, I've found that my writing activities often suffer from similar impatience. I get an idea and am tempted to plunge right into writing about it, expecting to produce quality work. And I want it to happen NOW so I can "display" (publish) it. In my haste, I'm tempted to cut corners, rush the piece, ignore the instructions and skip essential steps.

Sufficient research, complete documentation of sources, precise word choice, close editing, careful proofreading. All those steps simply get in the way and delay my completion of the project. Slap-dash! Get 'er done!

I hope I've improved over the years. Experience has taught me the importance, the absolute necessity, of each of the steps in the writing process. So I've tried to slow down. Oh, I know there's a time and place for just getting the gist of the piece down on paper before I forget it (and that happens a lot!). I know I must then slow down and do the real work of the writer in polishing--gluing, sanding, painting the model--so the piece is ready to be published.

The writing life is for the patient, the Jobs of this world. Once I've submitted a manuscript, my impatience grows with each passing day that I don't receive an answer from the editor to whom I've submitted my masterpiece. The rapid, almost instantaneous, communication made possible by email and instant messenger (but that editors seem reluctant to use) only increases my impatience.

The publishing industry moves on notoriously slow wheels. In an age of warp-speed technology, it seems still to be operating in the age of Gutenberg. From signed contract to release of a book can take 12-24 months. (Make sure your topic is an evergreen, or your book will be outdated before it sees the light of the marketplace!) Magazines and journals are only slightly better, working with lead times of from six months to a year or longer.

The remedy for the impatient frustration that results from this snail's pace, for me, is to get started on another project immediately after I've submitted a project. And to keep several projects going at once. If I get stuck on one project, I still have others I can hop onto and stay busy.

Do you find yourself feeling like an impatient boy so eager to see his completed model completed that you make mistakes of omission and commission, producing unsightly, less-than-your-best writing? Try slowing down and focusing on each step of the process. Once you've submitted your work, distract your mind from worries about when you will get a response or how slow the cogs of the publishing machine work by getting busy with another project.

If you do, your writing will look more like my brother's model '32 Ford coupe and less like my model planes that too often looked as though they had just been blasted by enemy flak and crash landed in the Huertgen Forest!

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