Unless you’re new here, you already know my husband and I just moved to Happiness Key. . . okay, not “really” but close enough to suit me. We bought a House with a View in Florida, and will never regret it. We look over a narrow marshy waterway alive with birds and, I’m told, occasional bobcat and Florida panther sitings. I’m not sure whether the person who told me the latter really had her facts straight, but she did tell me eagles fly by regularly, and she is absolutely right.
We are mesmerized by the beauty of it all, and after fighting with my better self for weeks, I moved my study into what was formerly the media room. I think writing at the window overlooking the marsh makes more sense than watching television with my back turned to it. Luckily my husband agrees.
Have you moved recently? Then you know that you arrive at your new home with your old furniture and ideas, and sometimes nothing from the past really fits. For us, this time that universal truth is more apparent than usual. The furniture that looked snug and homey in Ohio and Virginia now looks dated and out of place here. We’re finding ways to use some of our things, but some of it will have to go. Replacing it will be a slow process since every piece has memories attached, and I have to figure out what I can live without and what I can’t. But the ending is inevitable. By the time a year has passed, this house will look very different.
Writers have to go through the same process, only sometimes we don’t catch on right away. We conceive a project, fall in love with characters, settings, plot points, then we “move in” and settle down to write the story or the book we imagined and yikes, something feels out of place. Instead of tossing whatever it is, though, too often we try to shoe horn it in, shoving it where it doesn’t want to go, where it’s uncomfortable and even dangerous to the health of our work in progress.
But we can’t let go.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned to help determine what should stay and what shouldn’t. They apply to moving and to writing.
- Try your original concept. Move furniture or story points where you thought they should go and live with them a little while. Time is your friend.
- When you’re ready, evaluate. Does something seem intrusive or out of place where it is? Does it need to be moved or removed? Try moving it first before you do something more drastic.
- Change is easiest in increments. If rearranging didn’t help, try listing everything that doesn’t seem to fit. Then order the list from the easiest to the most difficult or painful to get rid of. If you really need to make a change, start with the easiest thing. Then evaluate again. Repeat if necessary after you’ve lived with the change for a little while.
- Put furniture and ideas in temporary storage. If you’re not ready to get rid of something entirely, store it off site for a while. Are things better now? Or do you miss what you removed? If so, with a fresh perspective can you find a new place for it? If you watch HGTV’s myriad renovation shows, you’ll remember that decorators often remove an item from one room to place in another less likely room, where it looks smashing and revitalizes the decor. Can you do the same?
- If you can’t find a place for something in your work in progress, can you pack it away it until you need it again? Or until you can give it to someone who will love it the way you did? I keep a “cuts” file on every book I write, the way some people use a storage locker. Instead of throwing out carefully crafted sentences or paragraphs that don’t belong, I move them into the cuts file. Sometimes they are beyond valuable in a different chapter. Sometimes they are exactly what I needed for the next book. Sometimes if the idea is a good one but not really my style, I pass it on to a friend. However, most of the time, it’s gone from my mind the moment I remove it.
Patience is the hardest part. I want everything in my house or manuscript to be exactly right immediately. But polishing takes time, and rushing through the process doesn’t help. In the next months I’m going to step back and follow my own advice. And while I’m figuring out what should go where in my new house, I’m going to enjoy my new view. Nothing beats being relaxed and happy for generating solutions and fresh ideas.
And speaking of being relaxed and happy? Enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. I know that I personally have a lot to be thankful for this year. How about you?