Writing How-To: Solid foundations.

Monday, August 17, 2009
This whole ripping up my carpets to put down new flooring experience has taught me a lot. Including giving me a perfect metaphor for writing. (Bear with me.)

The flooring we picked is like linoleum, but it's not. It comes in planks, like laminate wood flooring, but it doesn't stick to the floor, it has overlapping edging strips that stick to each other. So the floor doesn't have to be perfect, but it has to be solid and fairly smooth.

With me so far?

By contrast, when I did my kitchen floor a couple of years ago, I had to rip up the old sheet linoleum that was stuck to the concrete sub-floor. Meaning days of scraping the leftover backing off the concrete so I could put down the peel-and-stick linoleum tile I used in there. It HAD to be dang near perfect, or the tiles would lift.

Now, that job was a damn sight harder than this new flooring. Yes, it's a pain in the ass to pull up carpet and padding. We have to move furniture around like one of those frigging tile puzzles where you have to keep shifting tiles around to unscramble the picture, but you can only move the tiles certain ways. Add to this I have a small house FULL of furniture and six dogs who want to "help." And the new floor has to be laid straight (it looks like dark bamboo) or it will look really weird.

And while concrete sub-floors don't need a lot of prep, I've found as I pull up the carpet tack strips along the walls, usually the nails holding them down (the house is over twenty-five years old, and I don't know how old the carpet is, but we've been here for over twelve and it's the carpet that was here when we moved in) rip out a chunk of concrete when they let loose. So I do need to patch around the edges. If I don't, sure as God made little green apples, my dogs will find those little indentations and rip up strips.

I also have to start each initial row I lay by staggering the length of the strip so it doesn't look fake. My hallway is done, and it looks fantastic. (Although my dogs hate it because now they can't run down the hallway without sliding into the closet door at the far end.)

What the heck does this have to do with writing?

Your prep work needs to be properly done. This means you can't just slap something together and hope it turns out okay. If you slack on the basics (research, grammar, punctuation, point of view, continuity, etc.) then the final result will look like crap, and it'll be a LOT harder to go in and fix things once you're finished. It's much easier to adjust things causing problems as soon as you see them.

I mean, some things, yes, you can fix at the end. I can caulk any edges of my flooring to hide gaps. I can wait until the end to fit pieces into the door jambs. (I can fix misplaced commas and remove/replace overused words.) But if I screw up and don't lay a row properly during installation, it will throw off everything I try to lay after it.

Everyone has their own way of writing. Whether they are a "pants-ster" or a "plotter," whether they throw everything including the kitchen sink in at the beginning and write quickly with plans to trim later, or slow and steady writers who edit everything before they move to the next chapter, that's fine.

What success stories have in common is that they take the time when they begin to do the prep work necessary to make sure their floor (story) looks seamless at the end. Maybe you do a room, realize you need to do more prep work for the next room, and take time to do that. You might realize three chapters into your new work that you don't know nearly enough about one of the topics and have to do research. That's fine. Better to do it sooner than to write yourself into a corner you cannot escape from later.

One of my current WIPs is stalled because it's part of a series. As I was writing and showing it to my friend (who is also an editor and has seen snippets of scenes I've written for later books in the series), she said, "Weren't you going to do X in book six?"

Aw, CRAP!

Yes, I was. So now I'm left looking at trying to figure out how to change the manuscript to preserve a THREE-BOOK STORY ARC. (Actually, it's a six-book story arc, but this WIP is book three in the series.)

Fortunately, this was caught early enough that I don't have to rip up any large sections of "flooring" (to continue the metaphor) but it means I need to step back and figure out how to proceed so I can preserve the originally planned story arc. I know there's a solution, I just need to work it out.

So how solid are your writing foundations? You cannot slap something together -- and you especially cannot send it out for submissions -- without making sure it's as "perfect" as you can make it. Believe me, if you don't take the time to do this, editors will notice. (And so will anyone who walks into your house and sees your floors laying at a wierd angle! *LOL*)

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