Last spring, our tiny, main bathroom exploded (with the only shower in the house!). It was built back in the forties, with cast iron pipes and soggy dry wall, and then updated some time in the sixties and again in the eighties (which we didn’t find out until they found walls built on walls!) When the plumbing collapsed, the tile wept, and the shower leaked, the other half and I had no choice but to find a contractor, rip it down to the studs and dirt floor, and start over. To anyone who’s never had to go through a construction project, I envy you! They never quite go as planned, and you feel on edge during the entire process.
And then I realized. It was the same feeling that I get while writing and revising a novel. So in honor of being able to use our new radiant floor heat for the first time this winter (a luxury I HIGHLY recommend), I give you:
7 Ways Revision is like Remodeling:
1. Design is All Important
You need to know what sort of bathroom you want before you start tearing it down – what will the structure be like, what sort of layout do you want? Having a general idea of where you’re going helps you recognize when you get there. The same is true for starting a revision. Knowing where you want to end up can help you figure out the twists and turns of your story and the path your characters need to take to get there. Do you want this to be a mystery? Horror story? Romantic comedy?
2. Tear Down Walls to Get the Structure You Want
You can’t build something new on broken bones, on something that isn’t working. So in order to move ahead with a remodel, you need to get rid of the old. Revising is the same way. Once you have your draft on paper, you have to figure out what’s broken, what’s not working, and what needs to be replaced so you can move forward on your project.
3. Frame it In
After you’ve gotten rid of the stuff that doesn’t work, you can focus on what is working, and what you need to do to create the bones of your remodel. This is where the frame in comes in. You erect the structural pieces that will give you the end result you’re looking for. In revision, this is where you look for the three act structure, the conflict, characterization and description that will form the basis for your final story and give it life.
4. Construction Remorse
Somewhere in the middle of the project you’re going to hate the very thought of picking out another fixture, or being available for the contractors. The very thought of moving forward on the project makes you cringe. Or even worse, want to hide under the covers and never come out. In revision, you’ll find that the idea of rewriting another sentence, or fiddling with the plot to make it work is completely repulsive and you have no desire to finish this crazy idea. But this phase will pass when you realize that you’re stuck in the middle of your house without a bathroom. Oh wait, that was just me.
5. Putting Up the Walls
At some point, the remorse goes away and you get excited about the project again, especially when the insulation goes in and the drywall goes up. You can finally get a sense of what your project is going to look like when it’s done. The same thing goes in revision. There comes a point where you’re pleased with what you’re done, and are excited to sprint through to the end. But before that comes….
6. The Invasion of the Finishers
Once the framework is up and the walls are in, it’s time for the skilled trades to do their jobs – laying floors, installing plumbing and electrical, painting, tile, etc. A constant parade of contractors marches through your unfinished baby making changes and suggesting options you never thought of. I think of these Finishers as Crit Partners or Beta Readers. They take one look at your story, and say “Wait, I think you can do this better”, or “this scene should really be moved over here.” You can’t have a finished product without them.
7. Decoration and Finishing Touches
Finally, once the finishers have left and the contractors have cleaned up their gear, you’re left with a sparkling new bathroom. Perfect, but bare. Now is the time to put those last, little touches – new towels, shiny new fixtures, a plush rug, window treatments. In revision, this is that last read through you savor before shoving the story out the door to find an agent or publisher. You’ve made it the best it can be, and now there’s nothing left but to enjoy it. It may have been a pain in the ass to begin with, but now that it’s over, you wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Wait, am I talking about my new bathroom, or my WIP? Eh, I guess it doesn’t really matter!