Friday, January 16, 2009


I'm up to my neck in a bathroom renovation. Removing the old brown tile, prying out the shower pan, scraping off long strips of ugly wallpaper, taking out the neon orange sinks and the Formica counter top. All fairly superficial stuff, really.

The bones of the room are still there.

At least for the most part. We're going to be moving the plumbing from one side of the shower to the other, so there was that fabulous day with a sledgehammer, crunching it into the tile and through the wall, ripping out wallboard, exposing copper guts.

At the same time we're working on the new design: carrying this element or that throughout the room; balancing color, tone, and style; judging aesthetic with an eye on cost; and researching -- lots of researching.

Rewriting a book is much like a home renovation project. At least it is for me, the way I write my books. Many of the same things have to be balanced and judged. Decisions about what to keep and what has to go vie with those special touches that end up making the whole thing work in the end.

And yes -- sometimes some bones have to be broken in order to achieve the final vision.

I really envy people who can sit down and write a book and at the end come back to rewrite only in terms of language and scene polishing. Or those who can outline to the nth degree and then actually follow it. Sometimes it feels like my first draft is my outline; I inevitably have major changes in my second draft, and sometimes even in my third. As I make those changes I polish, too, but the process can be an organic, wonderful mess for a while.

As I work on my fourth Home Crafting Mystery, tentatively titled Something Borrowed, Something Bleu, I am under a fairly tight deadline. There is little room for those long rewrites, and as I churn out the words in my first draft I'm doing my best to renovate as I go along. This constant honing feels constricting. Still, it seems to be working pretty well. Who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be the way I write all my books from now on.

Authors are always asked whether they outline before they write, whether they know the end of the story and write to get there, etc. I'm curious about whether anyone has completely broken the bones of a book and revamped the majority of it, or whether you've ever looked at one of your novels halfway through and realized it contains a fatal flaw? How did you handle that?


Keith Raffel said...

I did write 40 pages that my agent said sucked and scrapped the whole thing. I have thrown out chapters, reordered them, etc. But I don't think I've done the massive reconstruction you're talking about, Cricket. Am sure it will happen some day. Not looking forward to it.

G.M. Malliet said...

All 3 of my books (well, 2.66 books at this point) have had a slightly different process, but ongoing renovation has been a constant.

I would get bored following too strict an outline, so apart from knowing in general where I'm going, I try to keep it open. This does sometimes mean I have to go back and create a mess, equivalent to plaster and pipes all over the place.

Paul Lamb said...

I began a short story that fizzled out because I didn't know how it would end. Years and years later I thought of an ending, and now it is the novel I am working so feverishly only.

I don't know if that qualifies for what your looking for, but it certainly was a profound restructuring for me.