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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Renovate or Detonate

I’m always spotting houses in need of TLC. On a recent holiday into the countryside my darling husband and I came across a renovators dream. You know the type of place. A few repairs, maybe some rewiring, a bucket of paint to make it shine. Add a nice picket fence and a few flowerbeds of daisies and I’d be happy as a pig in mud. My husband was only mildly keen on the idea until he saw this place. In the past I’ve always commented on houses set in the middle of sheep paddocks, but we actually came across this gem in the middle of a town.

Ok, maybe gem is too kind a word. Perhaps this house needs a bit more work than usual. It’s not quite a dream. It probably has a good chance to become a real nightmare, but once upon a time it had been lovely and if I squinted really hard I’m sure it could be again.

No doors – front or back

The entry way to a home creates an indelible impression. Some invite you in, encourage you to linger. Others send you screaming in the other direction. This one’s front door was cladded over at some point and hid lovely colored glass. The door is completely missing, but it should have been dimpled colored glass too. What a waste! And the back entrance … better not to speak of where that went.

Sagging floors

Walking though the house was somewhat akin to the sensation of sailing. The floor dipped and swayed. We stumbled in all directions because the stumps it rested on had subsided. You could actually see how bad the floor dropped away at the corners. Even my eight year old noticed his trip through was somewhat of an adventure.

Termites in the Walls

The bugs have really done a number on this old house. Despite the possibilities I had to wonder if the damage was so bad that the house might fall down upon us. I did hope not – especially when my whole family was standing in the middle. The inner walls could be replaced, its true, and an attempt made to keep the features of this 1940’s era style. But to make this house livable we would need to strip it, replace some (ok a LOT) of timbers before attempting to restore its original style. It would be a mammoth job. Neither my husband nor I are experienced renovators. I might be a dab hand with a sander, paint stripper, and beeswax. I can even paint and not be embarrassed by the finish. But with regret we decided that with all the obvious needs and hidden surprises lying in wait for us, it was just too big a project.

So can you see how a renovation of this magnitude might relate to writing?

If you had a story, one you loved but had been battered by the elements (contests & agent rejections) would you be prepared to undertake major repairs to fix the problems? Would you try to renovate pieces or would you simply open a new file and start from scratch?

I would love to hear your opinion on this.


  1. Heather, this is a great blog topic! I love it. As to whether I would be prepared to completely redo something I've written, I would have to say . . . it depends. It is entirely dependent upon the circumstances. If it was something I'm writing now, then the answer is a resounding yes. But in looking back at my first MS, I've actually pondered that question many times. My voice has changed, my style has changed--everything about my writing has changed. And I just don't think that I can make my first MS work with the way I'm writing now, and frankly, it doesn't work with how it is. I'm just tossing it up to a learning experience. It will sit in the proverbial drawer.

  2. Major revisions are as exhausting as the original draft, without the "new love" thrill. So I'd need a very good reason not to just move forward.

    That house you pictured would be my parent's dream. They are brilliant at taking homes that are falling apart and completely rebuilding them.

  3. Heather, I'm so glad you posted this.

    I've actually been contemplating just such a revision. The first book I ever completed is a story I really love. I'd been toying with the idea of revising it and after reading Amy's column on Statia I decided to give it a go.

    In some ways it's like starting anew because this is a story I wrote before I even knew there was such a think as story craft. I got some really good feedback on it and some really encouraging rejections and contest finals and wins, but at the time I took the common advice and moved on to the next book.

    I'm on summer vacation from school now so I've decided to spend some time on this book each day after I finish my daily quota on the WIP.

    If I think of it as just a fun way to play with some old friends, it doesn't seem like such a big job.

    I hear what you're saying, Gillian, and I think that's a really important point. For me, no book has ever equaled the love I had for this story, though so that's not an issue I have to worry about - at least not right now.

  4. Excellent post Heather! I just did an entire renevotation on one of my first manuscripts and I'm hoping it turned out okay. I've got some editors and agents interested so perhaps I did it right. I think if you have a strong foundation anything can be rebuilt. Nice post!

  5. How did you know where I was with my first wip - lol! I love it so much, but everyone seems to think the plot needs to be worked. I am indeed contemplating a full renovation, but I hope to maintain that elusive charm that made me fall in love with it to begin with :)


  6. What a great analogy! My first WIP was a mess, and after 2 years of trying to fix it up, I tossed everything but the character's names and started from scratch. It was sooooo much easier! I like to think my writing has gotten tighter since then, so it's easier now to fix up the WIPs rather than starting over.

  7. Heather, what a great blog. I think every writer comes to the point when they have to decide whether the manuscript needs one more work over, or whether it should be laid to rest.

    I, of course, have an opinion. I believe that writers get better as they write. Note I said 'write' and not revise. You learn something new with each completed manuscript.

    I've seen people get so wrapped up in the epic that they've slaved over that they can't imagine not working on that project, but it doesn't ever allow them to grow.

    So - revisions are necessary for most, but you need to determine when it is time to move on to new experiences and characters and growth.

  8. Thanks for dropping by ladies.

    Like a lot of you I have writing projects sitting in wait for edit or completion. I've typed a lot of words in the last year, but unlike a lot of authors I haven't been writing fiction steadily since childhood. I'm fairly new at this. So I've come to the conclusion that some of those projects are writing practice. Long ones admitedly, but when I read those unfinished novella's I can see the mistakes. And that is so useful. I could go back and fix them, but I think I'd rather learn from them and move forward.

    I've done partial rewrites before, and I'm in the midst of a full rewrite now, but I don't think I'd like to do it again. Next time I want to get the story structure right first go round.

    What ever you decide about your renovation projects I hope you love the story as much you first did. :o)

  9. Heather,
    I have found when I say I'm going to rewrite a story that inevitably means I write all new stuff. I look back on what I've written and maybe use a line or two, but in the end I write fresh. I'm in agreement with Jodie that you grow as you write, and I really hope I'm better now than I was a year ago. Great post.

  10. Great post, Heather. Every once in a while, I will come across a page I wrote years ago when I had no interest in publication. I have no idea where the rest of those stories went, probably destroyed with some long-ago hard drive. I have always considered their loss a blessing. If ever I wanted to recreate these stories,I would start fresh and use only those old scenes that had stood the test of time.