I jumped back up onto the bottom step and tried to absorb everything at once: the odd, reflected light in the room; the way my basement carpet rose and fell like the rolling hills of my Scottish childhood landscape; and—oh no!—the roar of cold water gushing out of the main pipe.
The next few days were filled with a rush of activity and emotion as we tried to salvage what we could, and contact everyone who needed to be contacted.
But then…then we realized we got to build the basement of our dreams, something we’d been putting off for 18 years.
It was just like that moment when you clearly see the vision for your next writing project.
And worth it.
The Nine Stages of Creative Construction
In the months that followed my unscheduled dip in the basement pool, I saw many parallels between the construction project going on under my feet, and the construction project happening between my brain and my keyboard as I finished the first draft of my most recent novel.
At every stage, from the excitement of the beginning, to the dull grind of Doing The Work every day, to the moment of terror in the middle when you’re sure you’ve got it all wrong, to the thrill of the finish and the surprisingly anticlimactic moment when the project is declared ‘done’, creation and construction have a lot in common.
The trick is to learn not to despair when your beautiful end product is obscured in a cloud of construction dust. Learn to accept it as part of the nine-step process of creative construction.
1. The Idea
As soon as the dumpster had pulled away, bearing with it all the soggy remains of our carpet, our bookshelves (sob!) and the bottom 3ft of our wallboard, I started planning.
As with starting a book, I started with the overall idea and the cast of characters. I called our favorite construction firm and began working with their designer on the plot. Deciding what we wanted our basement space to achieve and who was going to achieve it, was a lot like laying out the main characters, premise, and possible framework of a story.
Even for reluctant planners, like myself, this is kind of fun. We don’t have to make all the final decisions on Day One, but we start to see the possibilities; the shape of the thing to come.
I bounced ideas off the designer and my husband, just as we writers bounce ideas off the page, or our writer friends, when planning a new story.
We can’t quite see what the project will become at that stage, but we can see the possibilities and it’s insanely exciting. We can’t wait to get started.
2. The Agonizing Wait
For my basement, the delay was caused by waiting for my construction firm to have a spare slot in their calendar.
As writers, we might have to wait until the current work-in-progress is finished, or until that big project at work wraps up, or until the baby is finally sleeping for more than two hours at a stretch.
Sometimes this is good, as ideas percolate, and our excitement grows. Sometimes it’s bad, because our enthusiasm wanes.
Just as my contract with the construction firm ensured the project really would go ahead, consider making commitments about your project to make sure you really do come back to it when that gap in your schedule opens up.
3. The Buzz of Beginning
Oh, then the day arrives. You can begin!
Everyone’s smiling. Adrenaline abounds. You don’t mind the mess and the noise and the dust. You’re making progress on your project and nothing can dim the joy you feel.
Except the passage of time.
And the reality that this is A Big Job.
And that you have a long way to go before you reach the end.
4. The Mess In The Middle
I loved my construction guys. Really. They were like adorable little brothers.
But there were mornings when I prayed they wouldn’t turn up. That they would sleep in. That the snow would keep them away.
I longed for a respite from the banging and grinding, and from having to be dressed in real clothes by 7:30 am. From having to smile and have hair that looked slightly-less-than-witch-like, all before noon. From dust and mess and a sense of the incomplete.
But my workers kept turning up, every morning. And I kept writing my novel.
When we reach the complicated middle of our writing projects, don’t we just wish we could take a few days off, but that somehow the work would still get done?
The novelty of hashing out the premise is over. The harder work of putting all the plot-plumbing in place is underway, and the pressure rises to get it right.
And sometimes we mess up and have to fix things (like the memorable day when the newbie in our work crew dropped a hammer on freshly-cured tile and the next few hours were filled with bone-itching rumble of a grinder as they removed and replaced it.)
It’s not as much fun as starting, but it’s important to do our best work. So we keep grinding.