Wednesday, April 11, 2018

11 Ways Revising a Novel is Like Remodeling a House

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I’ve equated writing a novel to building a house many a time, but I’ve developed a new appreciation for that simile recently. Over the last twelve weeks I’ve been revising a novel while remodeling my house, and I’ve noticed a surprising number of similarities.

1. It takes longer than you expected it to.

You’re optimistic at the start, but little things creep in and aspects of the project take a few days more and before you know it—you’re weeks past your original due date. And then you look back and wonder how you managed to get so far off track. Probably because…

2. You keep adding to or changing your original plan.

You know what you want going in, but once you see the final idea start to form, and you already have everything ripped up and moved around, you see other things you’d like to fix, replace, or update. You might as well do them now, because you don’t want to have to go through all of this again later.

3. It’s far more disruptive to your life than you thought it would be.

You figured it would be something that happened around the rest of your life, but it’s there in front of you or on your mind all the time. You can’t escape it. You struggle to maintain a regular routine, but it demands more attention and more energy every day. And far too often, you have no idea where you put something or where it got moved to.

4. Something unexpected causes problems.

The project is going along just fine, and then you notice something isn’t right. You hope it isn’t as bad as it initially looks, but it might be a major problem. Sometimes you get lucky and it’s a minor setback that’s easily fixed, other times it’s the reason the project won’t end and is way over budget.

5. Changing tiny details can make a huge improvement.

The littlest changes or updates can drastically alter how something looks. You think it’s just a minor cosmetic thing, but it brings all the other aspects together and makes it pop. Sometimes a simple addition (or subtraction) of an innocuous detail creates perfection and balance.

6. It goes through a depressing “ugly stage.”

Somewhere in the middle of the project, everything is chaos. There’s dust everywhere, nothing is in the right place, things you once loved are gone—it’s just soul crushing. You hate all of it and wish you never started this project.

7. You don’t want anyone to see it just yet.

You know it’ll be presentable at some point, but you don’t want anyone near it right now. Only you can see the potential in it, and to anyone else, it’s a huge mess that makes them question your sanity—and your taste.

8. You’re sure it’ll never end.

You reach a point where you’re convinced you’ll never finish, it’ll be like this the rest of your life, and you’ll spend every day fighting this wretched mess. You’re sick of this project, the people in it, and you want it all gone and over with already.

9. It finally starts to look like what you imagined it would.

Near the end, you start to see glimpses of what it’ll look like when it’s finished. You spot the beautiful lines, the perfect combination of ideas, and it kinda looks like the place you want to live in for a long time. It’s your dream, your vision, and it’s really starting to come together.

10. You swear you’ll never do it again. But you will.

It’s over, and you never want to go through anything like that again. Until the next time, because you see how wonderful everything is now, and you have other ideas you want to make equally wonderful and develop just like this one.

11. All the work was worth it.

It’s hard, it’s disruptive, it’s even painful at times, but when the project is over and you see how much everyone likes it, you feel good about having put the effort into it. You’re happy with how it all turned out, and that’s what matters in the end.

While I know the next novel (and the next floor of the house) won’t happen until the fall, I’m already dreading (um, looking forward to?) watching both go from “not bad” to “wow, that’s awesome.”

Have you ever been through a remodel? How about a revision you thought would never end?

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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. "You’re sick of this project, the people in it, and you want it all gone and over with already." You couldn't have said it better. With one remodel, the refrigerator was in the living room, the microwave was in the dining room (no stove-ability for 10 days) and we ate on TV trays while on the couch. Another remodel, after a loud "Ut-oh" (never good). had a worker's leg hanging through the vaulted ceiling -- funny on TV, not in real life. What was nice about all that is the construction finally did end, and I am so glad I endured it. My WIP. I'm not so sure. Six years in one form or another. I don't know if this makes me persistent or blind to my failings. I'm hoping once the book is finished (one day it WILL be finished), I'll be as happy with it as I was with the house.
    And I don't mean to sound all sloppy when I say this, WHEN the book is finished and published, it will be in great part because of your articles. You have been an enormous help and I'm so glad I found you.

    1. That was us for two months. The fridge is back now, but the stove is still i the breakfast nook.

      Yikes! Nothing that bad has happened to us thank goodness. It's been long, but it's gone fairly smoothly.

      Aw, thanks! I'm so happy it's been so helpful to you. When you publish it, you'll have come on as a guest author :)

  2. That works SO well!

    And not just because I'm helping a friend paint the longest-move-in-history house (we're at month 10...). And another who just finished 2 months arguing with insurance over her flooded kitchen...

    1. Holy cow! That IS long. They must be doing some serious renovations.

  3. This is such a perfect description Janice! I'm re-working the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo back in 2015, so I'm going through Stage 8 right now. Really looking forward to making it to the final stage! ;)

  4. This is very recognisable, in both ways.

    I have never remodeled my house, but it seems that every few years I remodel my garden. And it goes through those exact stages you describe in this post.
    At the moment I'm in between 8 and 9 with the 4th remodel of the back garden and I can't wait for it to be finshed and all pretty again.

    And my last full novel took three months to edit and I basically hated every minute of it. I'm dreading editing the next one, but as it's still in the plotting phase, that will be a while yet.

    1. My previous house had a lot of flowerbed, so I can relate some there. It seemed every year I had to redo one, and by the time I was done the first had to be redone again.

      Hope your new project goes well and needs very few revisions :)