Over the last few weeks, I’ve been re-evaluating my office/writing space.
When we first moved into this house last summer, I arranged the office to best reflect what I thought my writing and creative needs would be. Of course, I had to do the best I could based on where the windows are and the door and the closet. (And the power outlets, of course.)
Things were fine, for a while, but as I got more used to the space and the sorts of things I need and want to do here, I realized it was time to make some adjustments. Based on what I’ve learned the last seven or eight months, I now know there are some tweaks I can make to the way things are set-up which will save me time, and guard against what I call “repetitive task frustration”.
This Story is Your House
Our writing is much the same. Our stories are the house we’ve constructed for our ideas and creativity.
And most of us aren’t master builders. We construct the prose to the best of our ability, but sometimes it’s like building a shelter on a desert island, more than it is constructing a fine, grand home. After a while, we need to make some changes. We need to reconfigure.
Just yesterday I met with a writer client who has been working on a project for a couple of years now, and he’s getting close to finishing a well-thought draft. I told him his writing had progressed, and when he went back to some of those earliest pages he would be surprised how new and fresh they will look to his eyes.
He agreed and said, “I’ve already taken a peek, and you’re right!”
He is a different writer today, than he was two years ago. He’s made a lot of progress and learned things about himself and about the craft. Looking back at those earlier words is like entering a new room: one that is already decorated.
Arrange the Furniture
In this sense, revision is a lot like re-decorating. Or re-arranging my office.
Sometimes, you walk into a room and you can see an immediate fix. “Oh, my! Those curtains do NOT belong in this century!”
Other times, you have to sit in the room a while and see what you find. You have to cook in the kitchen to understand that island is too close to the oven, and you can’t open the oven door far enough to get a turkey into it. You have to dodge and jostle the microphone stand a hundred times before you realize you don’t want the printer where you’ve had it.
Our writing can be the same. Sometimes we have to live in the story a while before we know what it needs. We have to let the order of scenes or chapters just BE for a bit. We have to let the characters just live with their deficiencies, until we can figure out what is needed.
Invite People Over
Sometimes, a friend will come by the house of your story and say the literary equivalent of, “Those curtains are hideous!”
“This character is just…bland.”
“I don’t understand this part of the plot.”
“I like the characters, but I have trouble seeing this setting.”
And so forth. Someone else can come in to your story and see things you’ve grown accustomed to. Even the act of inviting someone to read your story may make you think, “Oh, I’d better dust and run the sweeper and clean off the countertops.”
Spring Clean Your Manuscript
Once you’ve lived with your draft, gotten a feel for what changes might be helpful, and received some solid feedback, you have a direction for revision and editing. You know the areas that need to be fixed. You recognize the squeaky floorboard and the light fixture you refuse to turn on because that sizzling sound it makes frightens you. You know you have to move the kitchen island because Thanksgiving is coming.
Get out your writer tools, and get to work. Get help if you need it. Make a Honey-Do-List for your writer-self and start checking off the tasks.
I’m moving shelves and mic stands and printers in my office today. Tomorrow I’ll start living in the new configuration. I already know it’s going to be better.