What a Billion Shards of Glass Taught me about Writing

It’s 2 am at night. I have a runny nose, sleep-deprived eyes and fierce hunger for a pizza. And if I take one more step, I’ll slice right through my left foot. 

I slipped into a little puddle on the floor a few moments ago. As I fell, my flailing right arm elbowed my tiger illustration on the wall, sending its glass frame crashing down. It exploded at my feet, throwing glass in all directions, sending sharp pangs of pain up my legs.

I stand paralysed, staring down at my beloved painting in shambles. Each jagged glass edge eyes me threateningly, waiting to cut me at the slightest movement. I don’t rub the sleep out of my eyes lest I move the tiny glass specks that might have gone in there. 

Yet as I look on at the devastation before me, my sorrow and pain dissipate and are soon replaced by a sense of infinite opportunity. Suddenly, I find myself consumed by ideas. I think of how this frame breaking holds numerous parallels to my life as a writer.

You see, I wait at every opportunity to jump in front of the keyboard for the best writing material lurks in moments of despair and sorrow. I go through my days thrumming with eternal vigilance, capturing every emotion I feel into words. 

As I lean down to painstakingly move the shards threatening to impale my feet, I’m overwhelmed. There are so many pieces! Where the hell do I start? Some of them seem much sharper than others. Some seem larger and easier to pick than others. Some are within my reach, while others are across the room. 

This is similar to how I struggle to choose writing ideas. Some seem to beg to be written about, while others, while interesting, don’t command my immediate attention. Navigating the confusing realm of writing topics is a challenge faced by all who attempt writing.

But I want to find the smallest pieces. I want to find those pieces that have gotten to places that no one would have expected. I want to find those pieces that have broken into the most unusual shapes. I want to find those writing ideas that people need to be writing about, those that people can’t even imagine.

Sifting through the pieces, I marvel at the shapes these shards have broken into. I laugh at how similar this is to me dipping my toes into various writing topics. Some are interesting at first but soon turn boring. Others are boring at first, but when seen from a new perspective, they become fascinating. Oh, how confusing writing can be!

Photo by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

I am reminded of how this act of removal is so similar to the act of editing. It is a slow, arduous process that requires utmost focus. You keenly scan your essay for extraneous material, just like you look carefully for glass pieces to remove. You must be diligent, pouring through every word just as your eyes scan each inch of your floor for a glint of glass.

In theory, all of these glass pieces will fit together to make one clear piece of glass that is completely see-through, fulfilling its purpose as a glass sheet. If we could just put them together like a jigsaw puzzle! (please don’t actually do this). 

This is just how writing links disparate ideas together, stringing them into one continuous flow of thought. You gather ideas from all over and carefully arrange them into a piece to form one clear essay showcasing your main idea. I reach into my cupboard and pull out a broom and dustpan. In writing, these objects are synonymous with my laptop, pen and notebook, tools I use to record writing ideas and inspiration.

As I sweep the room for the little glass pieces, I am reminded of gathering ideas for an article. Sometimes, writing requires you to take inspiration from far-flung places, just like the nooks and crannies these glass pieces have gotten themselves into.

Clearly, I won’t get all the glass pieces on my first sweep. Some will invariably allude me, for I am looking at my room from just one perspective. But there are numerous ways glass could have gotten much farther than I expected. But if I make repeated attempts with my broom, then,.This is so similar to editing, of how you need to revisit it and edit with new perspectives each time for a finished essay.

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My eyes are heavy with sleep right now, coming ever close to giving up and sealing themselves shut. But I mustn’t let them. For I have a writing idea now, and I must put it on the page. These ideas are very elusive. Writing them down ensures they don’t run away to some interior part of my brain that I cannot access however hard I try.

Tomorrow my mom will have a good laugh hearing about how I broke this frame. But then she will help me clean up my room. This is like how you need external eyes to review your pieces and find those flaws you missed. However good you think you are, you just need one other person to view your work to tell you how much you need to improve.

I try to make my writing emulate a glass frame. Both must encapsulate something important. (the frame – my artwork and my writing – my idea). If my writing is clear, then my idea should be apparent. If the glass is of good quality, my piece will be obvious. It will hold up against strain (my glass clearly didn’t hold up to my elbow). If my writing is strong, then it should hold up my idea against debate (verbal pressure testing)

I realised that the frame was on a hook that clearly wasn’t as firm as I thought. It gave way when my elbow slammed into it, which wasn’t that hard. I should check next time. The lesson in writing: refrain from writing with flimsy premises. 

Now I turn to see the artwork that was enclosed in the glass frame. I see that the shattering of the glass sent one shard straight through the illustration, cutting it right through. My tiger now has a hole in its snout. Sometimes it takes an overhaul of your essay to see holes in your arguments. Even essays you think are your best will come crashing down on you (just like the glass pieces of my art at my feet). In this scenario, you just need to start afresh. After all, you can’t tape up broken glass; that just looks ugly. You just need to replace the whole thing.  

Finally, after what seems like an eternity, I get up. The floor looks clean, but I know I will find a few more glass pieces tomorrow. I’ll just have to leave them there for now, just as I must let my writing stew for a while after returning to it. That’s just how the craft works. You need to be away from your piece for a time before you come back and edit it. That is how I write, at least.

But now, I must go to sleep.

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Published by Ishan Shanavas

I am a young adult, interested in nature, photography, art and culture. An aspiring polymath, I share my learnings through my blog. I also include insights from my favourite books.

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