My partner is a talented guy. He has a stunning array of saws in the garage, and he can visualize and build just about anything with them. As I do my final round of polishing on my first novel, I realized that the process of writing a book is much like a wood crafting project.
Assemble all your components and envision the pattern. The right kind of wood, the correct screws, wood glue, any hardware required. Characters, basic plot outline, a few ideas, world building. Lay the pieces of wood on top of each other according to the pattern or idea. Envision how they will fit together.
Pre-drill the holes. You should never just put the screws straight in. You could end up wasting wood, drilling screws in crooked, and causing uneven joints. Pre-drilling is your rough draft. Get everything lined up how you want it and create the general shape.
Start the screws. Go around to each hole and start the screws, tightening them 1/2 to 3/4 of the way in. Never tighten them all the way on the first try. That could result in uneven joints and make it so other holes won’t line up later. Your first round of editing should focus on large-scale issues like plot and character development. Begin fusing the overall structure of the story together and give it a solid foundation.
Tighten the screws. Tighten each screw fully one at a time, solidifying the structure of your piece. Read through your entire written work again, fixing smaller details this time, such as word choice, symbolism, and grammar.
Sand, paint, and decorate as needed. Perhaps your piece will be complete after you tighten the screws. Perhaps it just needs a little…something. Sanding, so it’s smooth and even. Painting, to give it a little color and pop. Don’t neglect this stage of writing, but don’t linger too long here, either. Too much sanding and your piece will become thin and brittle. Too much paint and it becomes gloppy.
Be finished. When the piece is done, leave it alone. Hang it on the wall. Give it to a friend. Be finished, and enjoy your creation. For writing, send it to agents, self-publish it, or share it with friends.
This comparison also brings out the very practical, technical aspect of writing. Just about every writing advice book, blog post, or speech includes a small treatise denouncing the mystical intuitive storyteller myth and instead reinforcing the necessity of hard work and mental sweat, blood, and tears. It’s all true. Writing is WORK.
I am currently tightening the screws, sanding, and painting my final draft of Firestarter. At times I am tempted to skip ahead and be FINISHED. Other times I just want to sand more and more and quadruple check all of those screws. I’m close, though. After a really rough summer full of depression and self-doubt, I’m finally getting close.
Good luck to all of you writers and artists out there. Believe in yourself. Work HARD. And enjoy your creations.