Writing as Home Improvement

Normally the week of the 4th of July is when my husband and son trudge off to Boy Scout Camp.  This summer their usual camp was closed.  Most of his troop went off to another camp, the only Boy Scout camp open in Ohio.  I felt more comfortable with my family staying at home.  My risk tolerance and the tolerance of several of the adult leaders have come to a collision.  Maybe it will all smooth out once we are no longer in a pandemic.  Maybe.  That is a post for another day.

img_2260Today is about big projects and writing.  See, last summer while I was off at the SFWA Nebula Conference, the husband moved my computer into the kid’s playroom and made it my office.  This was no small feat. My tool averse husband had to drill a hole and run a Cat 5 cable.  He then had to haul a desk up from the basement with only the help of a very skinny 13-year-old.

It made me happy and has been a great help (getting down the stairs to the basement requires more grit than I have on bad pain days). But, it was an incomplete project.  The room wasn’t truly my space.  It was still 2/3rds full of toys.  The walls had stains on them where little unwashed hands touched the white paint, repeatedly, for over a decade.

By mid-April, when it became clear we wouldn’t be sheltering in place for just a month but might be in for as long as 18 months. The room was more than an office.  It was a lifeboat.  Every human and 50% of the animals in the household are neuroatypical.  My son is clearly cast from the same mold as his father. I am not made of the same stuff.  I am the person in the family who worries and plans.  My housemates, though, struggled to remember there is a pandemic despite homeschooling (which fell on me to manage) and working exclusively from home (robbing me of the quiet late morning and early afternoon writing time).  There were people, with needs, around 24/7.

The kid had to pick a family project for his Family Life Merit badge.  Darrin had the week off for a scout camp he wasn’t going to.  So I provided a list of things that needed to be done for them to pick from.  The kid chose cleaning out the garage but Darrin convinced him painting and making the office all my space was a better choice.  I’m certain the kid thought “painting sounds easy” and agreed.

Blue and blue-gray paint samples on a wall.Painting is listed as an easy home improvement project, suitable for beginners.  Something that for a small room like this, could be easily completed in a weekend.

Painting is as much a weekend project as novel writing can be done in a month.  Each November writers all over the world start the sprint that is National Novel Writing Month.  To be clear, 50,000 words by some publication standards is a novella, not a novel.  And you won’t have finished a novel in that time. Unless you are a supernaturally fast and clean writer (I’m looking at you, Seanan McGuire), you will only have the first draft.

img_2276Day 1 and 2 of the office project were spent clearing out old toys.  We were trying desperately to stay on track and find a focus.  The room was stripped bare.  The walls washed, and things we wanted to stay paint-free were removed, covered in plastic, or taped up.  This is not entirely unlike the outlining stage for the Planners and the daydreaming/dog walking/dishwashing/thinking stage of the Pantsers.  It is where the clutter is cleared out everything is made ready for the real work.


Day 3 the paint was purchased.  We were committed to the project.  The brush strokes went down.  We realized we were doing the wrong paint on the ceiling, had to wait for it to dry, and then we try to put the right paint on the right parts. By the end of this day was when I worried that the project might not be completed in 7 days.  I had the old entertainment center sitting in the middle of my living room, piles of stuff in the basement, garage, and living room, and a desk blocking the hallway.


Oh, and I’m doing Clarion Write-a-thon so I have a daily word count commitment I’m trying to reach. Working at the dining room table with my clunky old desktop feels like a disaster.  If you have written a novel, you know this stage: the dreaded doldrums of the middle. You are past the fun daydreaming part.  You’ve put in a lot of hard work and you are starting to get tired.  The flaws in your plan are becoming apparent, complications both in the story and in real life pile up. More to the point, you aren’t even halfway done with what you thought the work was.  You wonder if you wasted all that time putting down painters tape.  Sure, you’ve seen pros paint without the tape but you know your hands are too shaky, your brushes too cheap, and you just lack the judgment to freehand it.

img_2286Day 4 and the paint finally hit the ceiling in earnest. The corners and edges have been cut in. I could see where things would end up.  I started to feel better about my paint choice.  Just when I thought the ceiling was done I realized there are white spots showing through.

In novel writing, you might not go back to fix those until later, or you might be a person who does quarter revisions, or you might be a person to backtrack and revise daily.  Regardless, the spots have to be touched up and you are bewildered how you missed a big plothole like that.  Then you invite in another person to look and they point out another dozen thin spots.  At the end of the day, you remember you are only 1/5th done with the work you thought you were doing because you forgot to count that prep and revision work.

img_2292Day 5 the wall paint went on.  This was also the day I discovered that the menfolk were tracking paint all over my hardwood floors in the rest of the house.  There were shrieks every time I found a new drip and smudge.  Darrin and Grant paused for four hours to let the coat dry.  They took the entertainment center out to the curb to be picked up by the trash collector.  We did more spot checks and filled in more blanks.  Standing in the room at the end of the night it felt like we were done, but we weren’t even close.  There was painter’s tape to remove and flaws in the original plan yet still to be revealed.

In your novel writing journey, this is when you write the final scene and you declare yourself done with the draft.  For the purposes of NaNoWriMo, this is when you take your word count and declare yourself a winner.  Only, there are between 3 and 12 more revisions to go, beta readers to find, more revisions, query letters (or editors if you are self-publishing), and even more revisions yet ahead.  This isn’t done.  This is just the end of phase 1.

Day 6 is the day that someone plasters a hasty note to the garbage man to not take away the entertainment center.  The guy, who my husband talked to when he picks it up, told Darrin that he was going to rework it into a wardrobe. It sounds cliche but “one mans garbage…”

We pulled the painter’s tape and found that even where we thought we were being careful in preparing the space, there were spots that needed detailed touch-ups.  We found ourselves hunched over the baseboards with a brush from my craft closet, filling in the gaps.  We find more thin spots on the walls.


img_2303Day 7 I replaced the vent covers in the room with new ones.  The original covers had been painted at least once.  The replacements almost fit, but not quite.  New holes need to be drilled and tin snips (a tool my father had given me almost 20 years earlier and Darrin didn’t even know we had) are used to shave of the 1/8th of an inch that is preventing me from putting the return vent in place.  The screws on the return air vent fit in the previous holes–too well.  They don’t grip.  I should fix that.  I keep quiet knowing Darrin and the kid will never notice and the only person it might bother is me.  If it bothers me enough later, I can fill the holes or use wall anchors.  For today it is good enough.

Furniture was moved back in.  My computer is set back up on the desk.  And I sit down to catch up on some work in the fumes of fresh paint.

This is where you have to decide your novel is good enough.  Sometimes, like with my husband and son, the choice isn’t yours.  If you have an agent or publisher, they might care about the loose vent.  At the end of the day, though, the person who has to really let go is you.  After all the hyper-focusing on flaws, word choice, sentence structure, plotting, and pacing, you have to uncurl those fingers and let it be.

Here is my honest confession.  I can do this with short stories.  I can hold my nose and hit send.  I’ve not gotten here with a novel yet.  Some of it is imperfect skills.  Short story writing isn’t novel writing.  Mistakes are harder to fix on a novel.  Trust me, changing the point of view of a novel after the first 10,000 words is an overwhelming task.  Errors made early one compound as the novel goes on (one argument for the quarter revisions).  Ask a debut author if their first published book is really their first novel.  The vast majority of the time they have a novel or 12 sitting in a drawer.


On day 8 we rested.  The same should be for your writing.  There is a time to write and there is a time to recharge.  Spend some time enjoying the newly empty space in your brain.  Grieve a little for the sections you had to cut.

But we aren’t done.  We have boxes and toys that have to go Goodwill.  Decisions need to be made about if the turtle will get a new, larger but better-designed tank.  There are hoices about bookshelves. My bad paintings need to be hung back on the walls.  That will have to be done on another day.

If you traditionally publish your novel or self-publish there is marketing work to do.  Communicating with readers.  Hand selling.  And, unless you are Harper Lee, one book isn’t enough.  It won’t be enough for your agent or publisher.  Chances are it isn’t enough for you. I have a long list of household projects that need to be done.  Just like I have a long list of novels waiting to be written. Rest, but set a time to get up and start the next project.  You can reapply the skills you learned or choose a project that builds new skills.  You can even decide you aren’t much into home improvement projects and pay someone to do the work or let the house fall down around your ears.  Just know, that choice to not write another novel or start another home improvement project is a choice even if it didn’t feel like you ever made one.


Now go write or do that home improvement project.  I’m busy.