Body-Mind-Spirit - Inspiration for Writers, Dreamers, and Seekers of Health & Happiness
We recently had our deck rebuilt. We intended to repair it, but when the construction crew began pulling planks, we discovered the foundation was rotted. “It’s amazing this thing didn’t collapse,” the foreman told us. “It was literally floating.”
For most of the deck project, our backyard was a mess: outdoor furniture stacked in a jumbled heap, piles of old lumber—and when we opened our sliding glass doors, there was no deck to step on, just a four-foot drop to dirt.
Over several weeks, as I watched the men demolish, frame, build, sand, and stain our new deck, the process reminded me of writing. Here’s how:
1. Demolish. Pulling things apart, not knowing what you’ll find, breaking things down, and clearing space resembles the exploratory stage of the writing process. This phase can feel scary, especially when, unlike my carpenters, you may not know what you’re building. You may face resistance and insecure thinking. The standard advice, “write what you know,” may keep you stuck. Creative writing asks us to lean into what we don’t know and wander into the unknown. Trusting you’ll find something valuable and won’t go down a rabbit hole requires faith in yourself and your work.
2. Frame. This might mean outlining a book or listing story beats or prompts. It could also involve setting an intention for what you’re trying to say or do. My memoir mentor, Brooke Warner, calls outlining scaffolding. You create a structure with parameters that hold your writing. Outlines are living documents. They change as you go. While writing my memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, written in three parts, I was clear while outlining the first two but fudged the last. I didn’t know it then, but I hadn’t yet lived part three of my memoir. Still, I sketched hunches—and revised them later as the writing revealed where it wanted to go.
3. Build. This includes drafting as well as revision. Drafting is getting words on paper. One way to approach this is by writing in short, timed sessions, as fast as you can without thinking, to bypass critical internal voices. You can also write in a journal, do morning pages, or create “shitty first drafts.” The key is to get out of your way and welcome what wants to be expressed through you. It helps to release judgment and let yourself be uncertain, untidy, and free.
As for revision, I recommend Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew’s book Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice. Here’s an excerpt from the back cover: “Good writing comes from rewriting. Unfortunately, many beginning and intermediate writers lack the skills and inclination to go beyond mere copyediting and proofreading to explore the full creative potential deep revision can offer. Even experienced writers want to shy away from the love-hate relationship we have with the effort, agony, and commitment revision requires.” Revision allows you to build something sturdy and beautiful.
4. Sand. Sawdust filled the air and got over everything during this stage of our deck project. It was sloppy, but wow, sanding smoothed the redwood and brought out its natural color. Copyediting and proofreading will enliven your prose. If you’re self-publishing, it pays to hire pros.
5. Stain preserves the wood and delivers the finish. Consider how you’d like to package or present your story. For a book, the “stain” might be the cover and interior design. Never believe the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We do this all the time. Again, if you’re self-publishing, consult design professionals.
As I noted above, my carpenters knew what they were building. They had precise dimensions and knew what the finished project would look like. Writing can be much less clear. But it helps to relax, let go, have fun, and allow your project to be messy. A blank page can feel like a sliding glass door with a drop on the other side. But be patient and stick with it. If you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with something gorgeous that you’re proud of.
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