Manhattan is a great place to be in the springtime.
Walk out of the subway on to 42nd. It’s only a block to you destination, of course; you couldn’t come to New York and not see the library. You can see the lions from down the street.
Past the arches you walk, and the place opens up. It’s beautiful. The walls are painted with murals, the ceilings painted with clouds. There’s marble everywhere. Woodwork is everywhere. In the reading rooms, up the stairs worn smooth by centuries, they’ve got pieces like Toledo enamel suspended so high above you it might as well be in the sky.
The true heart of the collection is beneath your feet. It’s dug in many stories beneath the surface. That’s where the beating heart of the collection is housed. 15 million items.
It’s as fine a temple as ever has been built, and it’s built to awe.
How does somebody build something so incredible? It’s hard to even wrap your head around that question. Where does one even begin?
Now, with that in mind, I want you to look a little more closely at something.
Look at the wall. Really look at it. What do you see?
I see bricks. Past the inlaid wood, past the shelves, past everything, on the blank wall, I see bricks. Tons, thousands of tons of them. They’re all around us.
It’s funny to think about what we’ve just seen that way. It’s far too majestic and beautiful to think of it as a ton of bricks. Bricks are boring. They’re something you see everyday. They’re just shaped stone or clay if you want to get technical.
See, I have no idea how one would build the NYPL Main Branch. But I can imagine how to make a brick. I can imagine just stacking them on top of each other.
All great things, whether it be a classic novel or the Chrysler Building or a nanomachine, are built that way: brick by brick. They are built by a bunch of small actions over time. There’s no magic to laying bricks, even though the end results might be so.
Writing is the same way. Our bricks are different, sure. We’re working with words instead of stone, conjunctions instead of mortar, but the principle is the same. We are building with these things. The best projects you take on, the ones that seem absolutely impossible taken whole, are possible so long as you build them by the brick.
Do not, therefore, get caught up on how the structure should turn out, or that the structure isn’t finished immediately. I don’t want magic from you. I don’t want spells and incantations. I want bricks. Put enough of them together, and you’ll have something of which you can be proud.
Your work might even end up in the best of places.
You know, like a library.