Writing is Like Building a House

Thursday, June 09, 2022
Grandma's House.  The old version.

Grandma's House.  The new version.

Recently my extended family met in my father’s West Texas hometown. We visited my grandparent’s house – a small adobe structure on the corner of Ft. Davis and 2nd Street. “Small” and “adobe” could describe several dozen homes in the neighborhood. Without the location, I wouldn’t have found it because the new owner did a major remodel. 

I thought the redo was adorable. I’m not thrilled with the color, but that can be changed down the road, like putting a new cover on a book. But other family members were horrified at the destruction of the home. Destruction? That seemed a bit extreme. After all, the house was sitting right there. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised that not everyone was enthusiastic about the changes. After all, writing and building are a lot alike. Hang on and you’ll see what I mean. 

Whether you are erecting a building or writing something new, you start with a basic plan. What are you building? It could be as elaborate as a museum, or it could be a small home. Your writing project could be as elaborate as an epic series, or it could be a picture book. 

These parameters don’t tell us much. Perhaps as the builder you got a basic material request. “Make it from adobe.” For your writing project you could be working from a prompt. “Write something about winter.” 

From there, you take off. Your adobe home may consist of four rooms, not including the bathroom. Or it could be a massive cliff dwelling with multiple stories and many apartments. What features would you include? Given the basic nature of the prompt it would depend on a lot of things including space, budget and time. Every builder would come up with something different. 

With the writing project, many things would factor in. Is it for a contest or a specific publisher? Either would have a set of guidelines. Do you write nonfiction or fantasy fiction? Nonfiction will take the project in one direction, while fantasy fiction will take it in another. Who is the audience? You could be writing for toddlers, BIPOC teens, or female Boomers who garden. Take all of this into account, and something about winter could be the picture book A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats or George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones epic fantasy series. 

Whatever has been built must one day be updated. Some changes are simple -- new paint, doors and windows. But there are also bigger changes -- relandscaping, changing the roofline, moving a door, or changing the profile of the building. 

When you write, you must rewrite. Some changes will be your idea, but there are also changes requested by an editor or agent. Some of these changes are going to be huge. They may require eliminating a character or subplot or changing a setting. These massive changes will change the look and feel of your manuscript. You may look at the suggestions and think “Sweet! That’s going to make it so much better.” Or you might look at the suggestions in shock and wonder why the agent wants to ruin your story. 

A lot of it is a matter of personal taste. Not all suggestions are going to work with your vision. But some will. And still others won’t quite work, but they’ll put you in mind of something that will. This is true whether you are remodeling an adobe home or reworking a writing project. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on July 10, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins July 10, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins July 10, 2022). 


Yvonne Osborne said...

First we had to make sure the foundation was sturdy, then the roof, and then everything in between. I consider the foundation talent, the roof a place and time to write, and all the rest work and perseverance. Good post!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--Part of your post goes hand-in-hand with a post I'm working on.

You're so right. Some changes (and some editorial suggestions) are major, but result in some "wow" moments. Others result in a big "ow."

(Seeing that old car brought back some memories.)

Angela Mackintosh said...

I love this simile, Sue! That is a big reno to the house; it doesn't even look like the same place! I like the first one because the lawn is green but I imagine that's before climate change started accelerating rapidly. Everything is brown now, at least in California. Is that a Ford Falcon?

Changing the cover is an easy update. A lot of authors have gotten rights back to their books after a press shuttered and then self-publish with a new design and rebrand. It's inspiring to see how others are revamping their past works, and just the smallest tweaks can completely change a piece and its audience. A lot of first time authors don't realize that getting an agent is just the beginning. There's the agent's suggestions for revision and publishing house editor's revisions; plus the ten drafts we do before we get to that point. We definitely do more rewriting than writing. I've come to find out that eliminating characters or combining them also happens in memoir. Great post! :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Clever! I like your break down.

Uh, oh. I hope I haven't stolen your thunder!
Funny that you and Ang both commented on the car.

First, the car. You are the second person to ask me if it is a Falcon. I guess? I don't actually remember the car. My grandfather babied that yard. Then three college students lived in the house. Bye-bye grass. I think it is more zero-scaping than climate change because there are still green yards but how much water/effort do you want to give it?

It is amazing how simple changes can have a big impact. I hadn't even thought about rebranding an OP work! And I should because I've got one sitting here...

Renee Roberson said...

I love this! (Both the photos and the message). I can see now that the first novel I ever wrote didn't have a great foundation, which is why it went through several "remodels" and some "fixtures" had to be completely thrown out! I spend so much more time on the foundation of my stories now. And yes, rebranding a new work can be very successful from what I've seen with other authors!

Robina naz said...

Nice post. it is good to know about different stages of creative writing

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Thank you!

So what your telling me is that this fiction gig will get easier? Fingers crossed that that is what you said...

Cathy C. Hall said...

I like the old house AND the new adobe reno--sometimes it's hard to let go of the old and move on to the new, even when you know it's best...for houses and writing. Good advice, Sue, thanks!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

First draft to final manuscript, moving from one to the other is difficult. The struggle is real!

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