I’m in the midst of selling my house and searching for a different home, so I’m having the requisite existential crisis over what I own. A lot of dishes and a lot of books. The dishes are an inherited problem. Not that I got my obsession with dishes through some quirk of genetics, but that as people in my family have died, I’ve inherited more dishes. It sometimes feels as though I’m amassing what will eventually become the Stoops-Greenwood-Hanner History of American Tableware Museum.
Add to that my little problem with books. I can’t blame anyone for that. I was raised to use the library, and I do, but I also have a bit of a jones for buying books. As I pack up my belongings to prepare for the move, I’m trying to pare down the sheer volume, but I don’t know that I’m gaining much ground.
This would all be a pleasant little philosophical consideration, if I knew where I were going. I don’t. The house is sold, but I haven’t yet found the next house. I thought I had, but it didn’t work out. End result: all of my belongings go into storage while I continue my search for a home. Strange but true, buying and selling a house resembles the writing process a great deal.
Sometimes you just know it’s the right house. You fall in love immediately and nobody can dissuade you from committing to it. Perhaps you pay too much in your zeal. Both in money and time. The same is true of a story. Even knowing it’s “not commercial,” you develope a desperate infatuation with it. You cancel social plans and hunker down in your writing corner, oblivious to the pleas of family and friends.
After the house is bought, even if you fell in love with it, there’s work to do. Sure, it’s your dream home, but every room in the house needs to be painted. Maybe the floors need to be refinished. Once you’ve done that, it becomes obvious that you need to replace the ceiling fans–those unsightly monsters from the 80s, all rattle-trap faux-antiqued brass with oak laminate blades. And the bathroom tile isn’t quite right. And the kitchen needs new countertops. What about some landscaping?
There you are with the first draft of your book, feeling the same things. Yes, you still love the characters. You still love the plot, but there are these scenes that need to be tweaked. Updated. Add more conflict. Clarify motivation. After that’s done, it becomes obvious you’ll need to rewrite the first two chapters. Or delete them altogether and start the story sooner. And the climax? It definitely needs reworking.
Unless you plan to polish the book for your own pleasure and store it in a box forever, you then contemplate the next scary step: selling it. That’s like selling a house, too. Right down to the terminology. If you’re like me and believe in professionals, you’ll get a real estate agent to sell your house and a literary agent to sell your book. Having recently hired both, let me just tell you, finding a real estate agent was LOT EASIER than finding a literary agent. Sure, a literary agent technically works for you, but they tend to be very choosy about their clients. Real estate agents, not so much.
Once you’ve found someone you can trust, you start the hard work of getting your house/book ready for the whole world, and strangers at that, to look at it. You don’t want to strip it of personality, but you find yourself trying to make it more palatable to more people. Should that wall be beige? Is that quirky, ironic picture of praying Jesus going to offend people? What if they don’t get that it’s ironic? Does it matter? Will everyone who reads your sex scenes assume those are your sexual proclivities? Is it okay to reveal your own ignorant Okie-ness through your character’s ignorant Okie-ness?
And then what? What about after you sell your house/book? Oh, right. The next one. The next project. The next story. The next bathroom renovation.