Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How Writing is Like a Home Improvement Show



I love me some HGTV. In fact, if I watch TV at all, I’m probably watching something on HGTV.  House Hunters.  The Property Brothers. Love It or List It.  All of these shows are great. I love seeing what I can get for the money in different parts of the country.  And fine, I'm a voyeur. I love taking a peek into other people's houses.

What I’ve decided, after numerous hours of these shows, is that there’s a lot to learn about writing from house buying, selling, and decorating. 

First of all, every house, whether you’re searching for a new one or trying to sell your old one, looks better when you clean out the extra crap. So it is with writing.  Your story will definitely shine if you purge what is unnecessary.  In the words of an old teaching colleagues: be clear and concise.  It’s hard to see how pretty your story is when it’s all covered up.  

Second, sometimes a house doesn’t seem perfect, but ends up as the perfect fit. Everyone totes the joys of granite countertops and hardwood floors but I think it’s important to remember your own personal needs in a house. Kids, pets.  Work from home.  Size, personal decorating styles. I  think the same can happen in writing.  Maybe everyone’s writing vampires but that doesn’t mean it's the right fit for you or me.  In writing, as in homes, it’s about finding the right fit, what suits us personally, not what we’re made to believe is right for "everyone else."

Finally, sometimes a house just needs a little bit of TLC.  Sometimes, the house you’ve been hating becomes the home of your dreams after a little repurposing, a little rearranging, and a new coat of paint.  Same with that story that you think might never be as good as you hope.  Maybe it just needs another look, a different perspective.  Maybe it needs some out of the box thinking.

Anyway, I’m trying to keep this all in mind while I try to finish up revisions on my Victorian. It might not be perfect yet, but it's a work in process right now.

Do you see any other correlations between HGTV and writing?  Anyone else a House Hunter addict?  Hubs and I are about to do our floors and is it just me or do these projects just suck the life out of you?

18 comments:

Maureen said...

I moved into this house with such plans! And we're getting there. But with me, when I think of the house hunt/writing... Hmmmm. I think most people look at houses with the wrong attitude. They look into a room and go, yuck! Purple paint!

Paint is easy. Floors are easy, so many things are easy. It's the bones of the house you need to be aware of.

The same with writing. A story is fixable if the bones are there.

Haleigh said...

I love this analogy, Marn. And I recently stumbled onto 'Love it or List it' and I think it's my new favorite show. It's got renovations AND house hunting!

I'm totally with Mo - I think the bones of the house/story are what's important. We moved into a house needing some major TLC too. We've gotten to some of it, we've learned to live with some of the problems. It was built in the 20's and has so much character, that it's worth the postage-stamp size closets and ugly ceiling tiles.

This is good to keep in mind for me too as I'm slogging through revisions. I'm always amazed by what they can do to a house on those renovation shows. Now I just have to remember I can do the same to a book!

Janga said...

I was once a big HGTV fan. I just don't watch TV much any more. I had to give up something when I started freelancing, and TV was the easiest time suck for me to cut. But I do love your analogy, Marn.

I think you can add one more stage to it. Sometimes you don't realize until you get into a house that it's just all wrong for you. Maybe you sacrificed important things because the price was right, or maybe you didn't realize your neighbor's teenage son's garage band practiced until the wee hours. But for some reason you realize that your best choice is to cut your losses and move on because you can't fix the problem. I think this can happen with a story too. Maybe we tried to write with the market too much in mind or maybe we tried a new subgenre that's just the wrong fit. But whatever the problem, if trying to fix it leaves us enervated, frustrated, and miserable, maybe it's time to move on to another story.

Marnee Bailey said...

Mo - A story is fixable if the bones are there

This is so true! As long as there's an interesting story at the center of it all, a writer can work through the details of storytelling. It might take time and lots of effort, but it's possible.

Hal - I'm always amazed by what they can do to a house on those renovation shows. Now I just have to remember I can do the same to a book!

Exactly!! When I was in the middle of the book and I couldn't figure out what I was doing, I just kept telling myself that I had the words. I just had to put them in the right spot. LOL!! Sorta similar to renovations. You can DO anything. It's just deciding WHAT you WANT to do. :)

Janga - But whatever the problem, if trying to fix it leaves us enervated, frustrated, and miserable, maybe it's time to move on to another story.

This is incredibly true too. I think sometimes you don't know these things until you're in the thick of it though. While I don't recommend starting and stopping EVERYTHING, but I do think there are some stories that don't fit the writer. Or lack the good bones and you can't tell until you're in the midst of it. I think this is a case of being very honest with yourself. When this happens, I have to decide if the story really is irredeemable or if I'm just being a wuss. I've had it happen both ways. LOL!!

Terri Osburn said...

I used to love these shows, then I found out House Hunters was totally bogus and I got tired of Love It or List It because they so clearly trump up drama and that chick with the accent is annoying.

Now, House Hunters International? I'm there. Like Janga, I've had to give up television. I watch very little these days. Though The Voice starts again next week, so that will get worked into the schedule.

Perfect analogy here. You have to see past what's there to the potential. Then you move in and you need to sort out the functionality of each area, what feels right in each corner. And you never know what you might find in the attic. Could be bats in the belfry, or the best black moment ever. :)

Marnee Bailey said...

Ter - I watch very little too. Most of the time I turn it on when I'm folding laundry. LOL!! House Hunters International is great too. But when it's their second home and they're all like, "This just isn't the retreat I expected," I can't help but want to punch them. LOL!!

You have to see past what's there to the potential. Then you move in and you need to sort out the functionality of each area, what feels right in each corner.

Potential. This is the key. The ability to visualize something that doesn't exist and attempt to make it reality. This is why revision is so hard and why it works if it's done right. :)

MsHellion said...

I don't have cable, so I don't get to watch these shows very often, but I do sorta like them. I remember one show where they'd basically flip a house...and the most memorable part of that show was the guy going, "You need to rent. You don't respect yourself enough to own a house."

So that's my thing out of house owning--besides looking for good bones and not minding hard work and a few coats of paint, you have to respect yourself and respect the house. That's huge as a writer because if you don't respect yourself as a writer and set the boundaries for getting writing done, nobody else will. But if you respect it, others will too.

Don't trash your writing--so hard--because I think the moment you start tearing something down, the person you're tearing it down to will a) start looking for flaws in it or b) come to realize you're being an overdramatic needy ass who was actually wanting reassurance you're an awesome ass writer. If you can find friends and lovers willing to do B, you should never, ever take them for granted because I think the greater majority of people would rather tell you to put a fucking sock in it. *LOL*

Marnee Bailey said...

Don't trash your writing--so hard--because I think the moment you start tearing something down, the person you're tearing it down to will a) start looking for flaws in it or b) come to realize you're being an overdramatic needy ass who was actually wanting reassurance you're an awesome ass writer.

This is beyond true. And the whole respect thing. So much of writing is about being strong enough to put the words down, being strong enough and humble enough to share it. Even if you know it needs work. Even if you know that they might make suggestions.

Such good stuff, Fran. So true.

Terri Osburn said...

Fran's comment is very close to my next blog topic. Totally bringing out my Pollyanna on your pirate butts. :)

MsHellion said...

Even if you know that they might make suggestions.

If they're too busy blowing smoke up your ass so you don't have a nervous breakdown, they can't ask the right questions that might be what you need to make the story better.

I'm so now a proponent of people asking questions rather than "making suggestions". *LOL* I now totally understand why therapists ask questions rather than give advice.

Marnee Bailey said...

I think the Pollyanna is a good thing.

I agree, Fran. The questions are necessary. Or the comments about what doesn't sound right. Actually, at this point, I appreciate all feedback. LOL

MsHellion said...

Marn, those comments work. Like "This didn't work for me...and this is why" (because I think you should always explain why)--but it's the comments that I'm guilty of when I give feedback. *LOL* Like, "I think you should do this!" or "Your character should say this instead!" It's like, "Give feedback, but don't be bossy."

Marnee Bailey said...

LOL!! I never mind when people offer suggestions about what they'd like to see happen. Because that's how I take it. Especially when it's all, "OMG, I think X should happen now. That'd be so awesome." LOL!!

I agree about the why. Though it's usually character for why it didn't work. Okay, it's like 98.9% of the time about character. In fact, a lot of times I should just ask myself if the character would really do that before I ask anyone for their thoughts. LOL

P. Kirby said...

I'm putting the top coat on the new kitchen island today and the DH will start tearing out the existing Formica countertop. All in preparation for the arrival of the granite countertop installers on Friday morning. We're paying (glurk) someone to do the basic installation because hefting slabs of granite is too heavy a job for just DH and me. Doing all the rest, though--plumbing, gas cooktop uninstall/install.

Don't have cable TV, but DH and I like to go to the local Parade of Homes tour and snoop in all the million dollar houses.

For me the correlation between writing and home projects is that I do best when I have a rough draft/or existing structure to work with. I like revision and remodeling more than coming up with the first draft/plans for a new house. It's easier for me to see potential when there's something there.

Marnee Bailey said...

Pat - I like revision and remodeling more than coming up with the first draft/plans for a new house. It's easier for me to see potential when there's something there.

This! Yes, I think it's easier to visualize what could become from something already there than it is to come up with beauty and gorgeousness out of nothing. La Nora's old, Can't fix a blank page, philosophy.

Good luck with your renovations!! It sounds like it'll be gorgeous when you're done.

MsHellion said...

I never mind when people offer suggestions about what they'd like to see happen. Because that's how I take it. Especially when it's all, "OMG, I think X should happen now. That'd be so awesome."

I dig that stuff too, but I've been smacked on the nose so often by those who don't like that thing--that now I'm more apt to piddle on the floor than say anything.

irisheyes said...

I'm not into all the HGTV shows. I'm more like Pat and love to go look at all the million dollar homes in the area. My sister and I go whenever they have the house tours. It's pretty hilarious too cause we walk through commenting on everything we don't care for or would change... as if!! "Oh, I wouldn't have put the sunken tub there. No, no I think it works way better over there under the window next to the wall adjacent to the sauna!" Hahaha.

I'm loving all the analogies, though -

Maureen - The same with writing. A story is fixable if the bones are there.

Hellie - "You need to rent. You don't respect yourself enough to own a house." That's huge as a writer because if you don't respect yourself as a writer and set the boundaries for getting writing done, nobody else will. But if you respect it, others will too.

Janga - But whatever the problem, if trying to fix it leaves us enervated, frustrated, and miserable, maybe it's time to move on to another story.

Terri - You have to see past what's there to the potential. Then you move in and you need to sort out the functionality of each area, what feels right in each corner.

Pat - It's easier for me to see potential when there's something there.

You guys are totally rocking the analogies and correlations today! :)



Marnee Bailey said...

Hi Irish! I should go look at some of the Million Dollar tours around here too. I never thought of that.

We are rocking the analogies, though, aren't we? :) We rock!! LOL!! I like your summary.