The Write Way: Out With the Old, but When?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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?



  1. Pam Reed on November 20, 2012 at 10:03 am

    your friend is correct about the panthers. They actually have road signs that read ‘panther crossing” – and acccroding to the news, another one was killed just last night. Florida living is a completely different way of life. Even with the A/C on you’ll find carpet may need to be changed for tile, outdoor furniture may need to be changed so that the cushons can be removed and it can be powerwashed. And always, always be aware of fire ants. My visiting sister learned that the hard way…

    • Emilie Richards on November 20, 2012 at 10:09 am

      I have a very clear memory of sitting in a fire ant bed as a child. I’ve never forgotten. Would really enoy watching a panther across the waterway. Fingers are crossed since that would be a good place for them, it’s a state park. Thanks for the good Florida advice.

  2. Nancy Badertscher on November 20, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Great advice for moving into a new house, and for writing I’d think. After 2 1/2 yrs we are still in the process off and on of adding to, and subtracting from, what we had before. I see things better when I take pictures of them – the photo shows me more than my eye for some reason what really needs to go or be changed in some way.

    Do you have wild pigs too? My sister-in-law lives in Punta Gorda with a wild area behind her and she has wild pigs back there, and sometimes a bear or two. It even sounds like some wild animal sometimes could dig under the pool enclosure! Not my typical picture of FL!

    Sounds like your view in the study will be terrific! Enjoy!

    • Emilie Richards on November 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      Great tip, Nancy. I know photos help quilters see what needs to change. Why not decorators? Haven’t heard about hogs or bears, but why not?

  3. Kathleen O on November 20, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Enjoy your new home… I have never experienced any wild life while visiting in Florida, not even a gator crossing the highway. It happened to a friend but never to me..Thank god.

    • Emilie Richards on November 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm

      Next time you need to drive Alligator Alley. Or walk through Ding Darling in Sanibel, although there they are a bit close for comfort. But that’s the real Florida. Just depends on how real we all want to get.

  4. Lynn Ross on November 20, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    I enjoyed this article, Emilie. It was very well done. I think the technique you described for blending the past with the present applies to life in general. 🙂

    • Emilie Richards on November 20, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      Nice point, Lynn. It seems to apply to a lot of things.

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