|Photo by Cara Lopez Lee|
My husband and I are selling our Denver, Colorado home at the same time I’m revising my novel. I can’t help but notice parallels. Let’s look at a few:
1) Staging my house: A real estate agent told us it might take two weeks to repair, repaint, de-clutter, and clean. It took five weeks, more than twice what we expected.
Revising my novel: Last August I hoped to finish my novel revisions by February. That would have been six months. It’s August again, and I won’t be done until October. That’s fourteen months, more than twice what I expected. I’ve always believed, “Everything takes twice as long as you expect.” Since “twice as long” is what I expect, sometimes I double that.
2) Staging my house: While de-cluttering our house, I began deciding what to keep and what to throw away for our move to Ventura, California. I recently watched a video about the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. Here’s my favorite of her tips, and I paraphrase: jettison anything that doesn’t bring you joy. I kept some things for years because they seemed “important,” but they did not bring me joy. I’m now tossing them, giving them away, or selling them. It’s liberating.
Revising my novel: Although I add material when I revise, I also catch plenty of overwriting. Some of my initial descriptions are so dense I need a machete to get through them. Here’s an example from my manuscript: "Yankee swayed forward and back, as if plowing through the push and pull of the water, as if he could will the invisible man across the water by moving in rhythm with him." Maybe the words sound nice, but they were part of an overgrown jungle that needed pruning so readers could see the forest for the trees. I’ve decided to keep the one image that gives me joy, and dump the rest. Here’s my revision: "Yankee swayed forward and back, as if he could will the unseen traveler to make it across by moving in rhythm with him." Now we’re getting somewhere, somewhere simpler to imagine.
3) Staging my house: When I saw online photos of our home, I noticed a personal item I’d left in the kitchen: a refrigerator magnet. It’s a big kitchen, with cabinets, a table, appliances, and plants. Still, that magnet pulled me in like, well, a magnet. It features an image of a fifties-style magazine model, who asks, “was she in love…or was it just allergies?” Fun, yes, but I should have removed it so it didn’t distract from the overall inviting feel of our kitchen.
Revising my novel: Sometimes the details I love most draw attention away from character development, plot, or theme. The distractions must go. However, I tread carefully. Sometimes what seems to be a distraction—say, a woman’s face on a fridge magnet—might be the most interesting thing in the scene. In that case, I would reduce the kitchen to a sketch and zoom in on the woman: who is she, what’s she doing here, what’s her secret? Either way, something has to go, so I can focus the reader’s attention where I want it.
4) Staging my house: I hate shopping. I didn’t want to buy a shoe organizer or flowers to stage my house for showings. I wanted homebuyers to see our home at face value, to say, “I can see the lovely closet floor beneath the shoes.” But now that I have a shoe organizer, it’s easier to pick shoes for the day and the closet looks nicer. Oh, and the flowers? Just three strategically placed bunches have brought the house to life.
Revising my novel: I liked my book the way it was. So did early readers. I had already reworked each chapter as I went. Why do more? But now that I see the story as a whole, I’m discovering possibilities I couldn’t imagine when I first created it from nothing. As I rearrange and add material, the story grows easier to understand, the words more beautiful, the characters more alive.
5) Staging my house: “When you de-clutter, you need to depersonalize.” – a real estate agent
Revising my novel: “This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” – Stephen King
Sometimes I read chapters I wrote, and once considered exceptional, only to ask, “Who wrote this drivel?” (Except drivel is not the word I use.) Let such thoughts not intimidate us, but instead serve as proof that we have the talent to recognize what our story—our home—can become if we’ll admit there’s more we can do…and do it.
|Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation Press, Rivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor, a writing coach, and a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She was a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Denver.|