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Writing is Like Building a House

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Grandma's House.  The old version.

Grandma's House.  The new version.

Recently my extended family met in my father’s West Texas hometown. We visited my grandparent’s house – a small adobe structure on the corner of Ft. Davis and 2nd Street. “Small” and “adobe” could describe several dozen homes in the neighborhood. Without the location, I wouldn’t have found it because the new owner did a major remodel. 

I thought the redo was adorable. I’m not thrilled with the color, but that can be changed down the road, like putting a new cover on a book. But other family members were horrified at the destruction of the home. Destruction? That seemed a bit extreme. After all, the house was sitting right there. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised that not everyone was enthusiastic about the changes. After all, writing and building are a lot alike. Hang on and you’ll see what I mean. 

Whether you are erecting a building or writing something new, you start with a basic plan. What are you building? It could be as elaborate as a museum, or it could be a small home. Your writing project could be as elaborate as an epic series, or it could be a picture book. 

These parameters don’t tell us much. Perhaps as the builder you got a basic material request. “Make it from adobe.” For your writing project you could be working from a prompt. “Write something about winter.” 

From there, you take off. Your adobe home may consist of four rooms, not including the bathroom. Or it could be a massive cliff dwelling with multiple stories and many apartments. What features would you include? Given the basic nature of the prompt it would depend on a lot of things including space, budget and time. Every builder would come up with something different. 

With the writing project, many things would factor in. Is it for a contest or a specific publisher? Either would have a set of guidelines. Do you write nonfiction or fantasy fiction? Nonfiction will take the project in one direction, while fantasy fiction will take it in another. Who is the audience? You could be writing for toddlers, BIPOC teens, or female Boomers who garden. Take all of this into account, and something about winter could be the picture book A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats or George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones epic fantasy series. 

Whatever has been built must one day be updated. Some changes are simple -- new paint, doors and windows. But there are also bigger changes -- relandscaping, changing the roofline, moving a door, or changing the profile of the building. 

When you write, you must rewrite. Some changes will be your idea, but there are also changes requested by an editor or agent. Some of these changes are going to be huge. They may require eliminating a character or subplot or changing a setting. These massive changes will change the look and feel of your manuscript. You may look at the suggestions and think “Sweet! That’s going to make it so much better.” Or you might look at the suggestions in shock and wonder why the agent wants to ruin your story. 

A lot of it is a matter of personal taste. Not all suggestions are going to work with your vision. But some will. And still others won’t quite work, but they’ll put you in mind of something that will. This is true whether you are remodeling an adobe home or reworking a writing project. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on July 10, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins July 10, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins July 10, 2022). 

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