Life Lessons in Writing


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Headed in to do the job with a light on my forehead as if I'm a particularly powerful elf

Joanna here: I have decided that repairing an old house is a lot like writing.

Many of the things I do seem to be a lot like writing, frankly. For instance, driving a car is a lot like writing because even when you know where you’re going you have to worry about what you’re doing this exact moment so you don’t hit the curb or a pedestrian or something and you do make progress but you’re too busy driving to notice.

But back to fixing up a house.
This is not unlike delving back into a manuscript you haven’t looked at it in a while. It puzzles you. It displeases you. And you see the manuscript needs a lot of work.

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The intense purple of this room.
In the middle distance lies the intense pastel turquoise of the next room.
I have lots of work ahead.

As it happens I have acquired a house where the front bedroom is painted Grape of Violent Disposition. It is the color of Kool-Aid. (Kool-Aid, for those outside the US, is a packaged drink powder composed entirely of artificial ingredients.) It is the color of a chow chow’s tongue.

Wench chwchw

Chow chows. They really do have purple tongues

Mere photos cannot convey the intensity of this purple in real life.

Somewhere there is a paint sample named  “Mystery Plum” or “Midnight Manic Violet.” That’s what the former owners chose for this little room.
Let us be charitable and assume it belonged to a kid.

The other Wenches take you to see gardens in England with 300-year-old rhododendrons or romantic warm Tropical Isles or ruined castles in Scotland. I let you watch me paint a bedroom.

Okay. The first way working with an old house is like writing a manuscript is that most of the actual work is preparation. You go through many fiddly bits before you lay color on the wall.


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We begin. You can see some cracks I've joint compounded

So you cover the floor with tarp. You tape plastic up over the mopboards so they don’t get splatted with paint. You protect the doors with blue tape and removed electric outlet covers, (being sneaky, sneaky careful doing that.)
You take home 3450 paint samples and narrow it down to seven nearly identical ones and then you agonize over them and keep changing your mind.

You can see how this is also the approach to the unsatisfactory draft of a manuscript.
In your draft manuscript you have somehow created good words or been handed them by the boys in the basement. You carefully preserve that blessed lagniappe of perfect-pitch language under tarps. If you got it right the first time, you leave it alone. 

In a house the next step is you wash down the walls and ceiling. A big, wet, exhausting job.

Because paint will not stick if the walls aren’t clean.
I have discovered this.

In a manuscript you strip away the sticky film of excess descriptors and adverbs and buffer language and unnecessary whifflejiffery.

Though admittedly in writing this gets done in little chunks instead of a whole room at a time, but I will not let this stand in the way of a good metaphor.

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