That's a famous quote from one of my favorite "guys' movies." What does it mean, anyway?
To me, it means that so often when people do things, they want a certain result. There's much expectation that goes into us "doing things" these days. We can't just "be." If you write a book, you expect sales and fans and all that jazz. If you make a movie, you expect long lines. If you're an actor, you expect an audience. If you're a singer, you expect to win American Idol or at least get a huge contract from your YouTube videos like Justin Bieber did.
"If you build it, they will come" is not about that expectation. It may seem that way. "They will come" means you're expecting the result, right? But you'll have to see the movie to understand what that line really means.
To me, it means "Do the work. Don't ask, just do it." The rest is really out of your control, but if you keep doing good work, sooner or later, people will take notice. It may take years, or may never before you're dead (Van Gogh could tell you his story), but someday, they will. Van Gogh wouldn't have been VAN GOGH (and a museum just for him) if he hadn't left a huge collection of quality work after his death.
In the movie, Ray Kinsella -- from a crazy idea -- built a baseball field in his corn farm, out of nowhere. His wife questioned him: "Why are you doing this? Who is going to come here and who is going to play?" But that was not Ray's concern. He built the ballpark for himself. And then strange things start to happened, and it seemed like a few other people had the same idea as Ray did. [I won't spoil the movie if you haven't seen it.]
Over the last few years, I've slowly built my repertoire. I have one novel published by a small press. I have hundreds of movie reviews. I have a few short stories published and a few more written. I have a blog or two, with hundreds of posts. I am close to finishing my second novel. I have a third ready to be written.
But I don't have a readership. Hardly anyone knows me or my work. Even my friends don't usually show interest in what I do. They'd say, "You have a book out? That's nice" and they go on to talk about their days.
That's fine. I know I'm a nobody as far as being a writer is concerned. I don't have a following. I haven't paid my dues yet. I know people tend to gravitate toward people OTHER people know or revere. :) No offense, but that's how we humans are. We don't go to see a Harrison Ford movie because we personally know him, but we know his work, and it seems like everyone else does. Ford had been acting for YEARS before he became a star, but we only knew of him after he became a star. How many of us can say we've seen Ford's movies before Star Wars and actually knew who he was? Jeremy Renner is another example. The guy has been an actor's actor for years, quietly doing the grunt work with no apparent fame or fortune to go with it, until the Hurt Locker put him on the map. Another example is Michael Emerson from Lost... so many examples of "overnight" successes that took 10 or 20 years to achieve.
And my stories don't necessarily scream "popular." No vampire or zombies or teenage mutant turtles. But that doesn't stop me from keeping on doing what I do. Part of it is that I have stories to tell: my to-to-written list is rather long at this point, and I can't wait to work on those ideas. I also understand I may never achieve the kind of recognition I'd hope for. Part of me is like Ray Kinsella's wife, questioning the writer in me: "Why are you writing? Who is going to come and read your work?" The answer is always, "I don't know. Maybe nobody. But I've got to do what I've got to do. For me."
It's not to say I don't write for an audience. I do. I keep them in mind. "THEM" meaning my potential readers, not anybody specific. Will these potential audience come? Maybe not. But I've got to be prepared when they do.
Kind of like my singer or actor friends. They've spent YEARS working on their craft and they have built up a good repertoire, whether it is a huge song book or plays or monologues or indie short films that no one has ever seen. Even when they're not getting paid, they are WORKING. Why are they doing it?
It's the same thing with athletes... you see Michael Phelps' 8 gold medals and you wonder "how did he do it?" Well, the kid didn't start swimming just two years ago. He has done all that work, quietly, anonymously, often without the reward of recognition. Nobody knew who Michael Phelps was 8 years ago. Or even 6 years ago (when people started to pay notice to this wonder boy who won only 1 silver in the 2004 Olympics). Success is not a guarantee. There is no guarantee in life. He could have gone to the 2008 games and not won anything. But that didn't stop him from doing what he did -- or any athletes, for that matter. Not everyone can win medals, but these athletics keep on doing it.
First, they enjoy doing that stuff. They are their passions. They live and breathe music, theater, poetry, sports, etc. It's what they do anyway. Second, when someone does knock on their door, they'll be prepared. I'm constantly amazed by how versatile and prepared my musician friends are, for example. You could tell them the name of a song, and they'd sing it as if they'd sung that song every day. Or they would play it on the piano as if they had practiced for years. They always look professional, even when no one is watching or listening. And when that big moment arrives, they'll shine effortlessly.
But it was never effortless. You just don't see their hard work. Most people don't really care.
Writers who believe they could write just this ONE book and become the next Stephanie Meyer are unrealistic and even delusional, and they are doomed to fail because they have no idea what being a real writer is about. Sure, they may "hit the jackpot" like Meyer did, but chances are they won't. They haven't built it, yet.
For a dream.
And the field of dreams is lush and growing and beautiful and abundant and vast. You just have to do the work.
I've got to build it.