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Making a House a Home (and What It Taught Me About Writing)

house tour 009 [1]
My Dining Room

Maybe it’s because I’m the daughter of two architects, but I’ve always thought of writing a book as being like building a house. You pour the foundation, frame the walls, install the roof, rough-in the plumbing and electric… etc. etc. If you’re a plotter, you’ll do all this work based on blueprints you drew up ahead of time. If you’re a pantser, you’ll just rent a cement truck, buy some lumber and bricks, and hope for the best.

But the reality is, most of us will never build a house from scratch. So maybe a more relatable starting point for the analogy is moving in and decorating.

Last year, my husband and I bought our first house. It was much bigger than where we’d been living, and had a completely different architectural style, so furnishing it was going to be a challenge. I wanted to take things slow, consider where each item should go before committing, and if that meant living out of boxes for awhile, then so be it. My husband, on the other hand, is a firm believer in “better done than perfect.” He wanted to hang artwork on our very first day in the house, and he invited his parents to visit the weekend after we moved in.

I couldn’t very well let my in-laws sleep on the floor, so my husband won by default. I did my best to quickly decide where everything should go — couch over there, TV on that wall, bed centered on the windows — and reassured myself that I could change things later. Even those holes that my husband put in the walls for the picture hooks. (Sigh.) Despite my reluctance, I had to admit that within days, our house actually looked like a home. It wasn’t perfect, but it was someplace you could really live. Comfortably. Happily.

We’ve made some changes in the months since then, but fewer than I thought we would. That doesn’t mean my husband’s approach was “right” and mine was “wrong” — but it did cause me to reflect.

Because the way I wanted to decorate the house was the same way that I write: slowly and deliberately. I labor over each word. I reread sentences to myself over and over until I’m comfortable with both their meaning and their rhythm. Editing as I go gives me a sense of confidence in the work I’m producing, and that motivates me to keep going. However, experience has taught me that even the cleanest of first drafts will require revision. Possibly even large-scale rewriting.

Meanwhile, decorating my house taught me that sometimes rough ideas aren’t so off-base from the desired final product. Also, little things — like artwork on the walls — can have a big impact. The process gave me greater faith in my instincts, and a strong desire to apply all these lessons to my writing. So for my next manuscript, I’m going to try to embrace the “vomit draft.” If it turns out half as good as my house did, well, I’ll consider it a success.

Do you prefer to take your time and craft each word carefully, or to get something messy down on the page quickly so you can fix it up after?

About Kristan Hoffman [2]

Originally from Houston, TX, Kristan Hoffman [3] studied creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and later attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. Now she lives with her family in Cincinnati, OH, where she writes both fiction and nonfiction with a focus on feminist, multicultural stories. Her words have appeared in the New York Times, Switchback, and the Citron Review, among others. She is currently at work on a Young Adult novel, and is represented by Tina Dubois of ICM. For more, please visit her website [4].