Is writing a book like building a house?

When I was working on my house, I added about 1100sq. ft., about five years ago. The first parts of the project were fairly easy in terms of planning. First a contractor came in and set the foundation, then I put in the floor joists and sub-floor of the first story, rolling straight into wall framing and sheeting. After that, I took the roof off the existing structure, and put in the floor joists and sub-floor for the second story. Once that was all in place, once again, I was framing and sheeting the walls, which was followed quickly by installation of roof trusses and roof sheathing, which led immediately to shingles. Having all that done, the real work began and the strategy started to become more about preference. Living in Alaska, I opted to focus on insulation, windows followed by interior framing, and then wiring. Normally, this would have occurred in a slightly different order, but if I wanted to continue working that was how it needed to be. Now, once I got that sorted, it was really a matter of preference.

It seems to me that this is where I’m at with my story. I’ve got a few chapters near the end to move from outline to draft, the first major revision, and polish, to the subplot, and of course I still need to go through again and really get that main character nailed down. He needs to be strong and charismatic, and he’s not there yet. I feel like where I’m at in my story is analogous to the point at which I walked into my newly dry house, and looked some 28 feet up the empty stairwell into the trusses of a hollow shell of a yet-to-be dwelling. It hit me like a physical pain back then. I have so much work to do, was my thought. I’d just spent every free moment of my summer getting it to that point and it wasn’t even half-way. I was right, the struggle went on for another 18 months. I tried to tackle things in a certain order to make life easier when I got to the next part. I’d like to approach my story in the same way. My intuition is telling me to just get the whole damn thing written, and worry about the details later, but another part of me says, don’t waste your time on the end because you don’t know all of the details that got him there yet. I suppose in the example of building a house, revision really isn’t on the table. With a book it’s just the nature of things. So, with all of that rubber-ducking and reminiscing out of the way. I’m going to commit myself to drafting out the last few chapters, leave the sub-plot revision until the end, and see if the end of the story doesn’t help me get a better sense of my main character. Is this a good strategy? No idea, never done this before. Anyhow, no I’m off for a run before the night gets away from me.

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Writer’s improvement hell

Screw you spell-check! I mean it. I’m a terrible speller, and it’s all your damn fault. I also blame you for my awful grammar. Okay, neither are so bad, but they really could be a lot better (insert angry spitting and what not)! I blame part of the problem on really bad habits developed by relying heavily on grammar and spell-checkers to notify me of problems then offer helpful suggestions along with an immediate remedy (right-click replace). The habit formed over a number of years, starting with college term papers, and now infiltrates my e-mails, memos, project plans, and also my creative writing.

So, why’s it a problem? I mean, those tools are there to help right? Yes, that is the claim. The first (minor) problem is that when I really get into a scene, I mean I’m really into it, I’m seeing the scene, not so much the words (I am conscious of things like word choice but I’m not really seeing those words. I can’t explain how this works, except to say it’s a lot like day dreaming in rush hour traffic – I get there, but haven’t got the foggiest how), and so I’m also not really paying attention to those nice little squiggles beneath my misspelled and out of place words. This is exacerbated by the fact that I’m writing a fantasy and a very large number of names aren’t in the correction database, so the writing is already full of squiggles (yes, I know this is an easy fix, and I should do it, but I’m reluctant all the same) That’s fine, I suppose, I’ll just catch it on the next read through, which will occur as soon as I’m finished with the scene or whatever. Yeah, I suppose that works, when I’m paying enough attention on the second, third and fourth run-throughs.

The real problem is that relying on those auto-tools not making me a better writer. I think my story is suffering for various and sundry mistakes that I’m unconsciously expecting to be noted or even corrected for me. Sure we all make them, and I do try to focus on improving those habits, but the damn bad habits are now so ingrained it’s like pulling teeth to focus on getting it right.

My solution? I don’t have one for my grammar issues yet, still working that out. Possibly fixing the exact same problem about sixteen thousand times will get me there (I wish this were a joke 😦 ). Spelling though, that one is simple. Instead of using the right-click replace trick we’re all so fond of, instead, I’m checking the spelling with that tool, and making the corrections by hand. That, I think, should help me learn to spell more words correctly the first time, naturally, and will help me to work toward being a better writer.

Also, to come clean on this a little. This idea came out of technical necessity, rather than just having a good idea. I run Ubuntu Linux instead of Windows, and though I long for a Mac, it’ll have to wait. As a result, many of my applications aren’t quite as well tested as other platforms, so when writing a blog post, for instance, I can’t highlight and replace text. It locks up the keyboard and I have to re-start the browser. So, all of my spell-checking has to be done manually (right-click replace causes the lock-up as well). When I started doing this, I realized that it was a good way to actually re-learn how to spell words.