Day 15: Pewter or Brass?

By guest blogger Bob Sabatini

decisions, decisions...

decisions, decisions…

There are some important considerations that go into the design of a house. Especially if it’s going to be someplace you’re planning to spend a major chunk of your life, a place where you’ll be entertaining friends and family, a place where, just possibly, you’ll be raising a family of your own. Should you paint the kitchen eggshell or mother-of-pearl? Should the cabinets be maple or cherry? Should the handles be pewter or brass? These are all decisions that will make an impact, not only on how a visitor may perceive your home, but also on your own state of mind. However, there is a time and a place for everything, and the time to make firm decisions on these questions and countless others… is quite a bit later than the day you start on the foundation.

It’s the same thing with writing. Details are important. They can make or break your story (or poem, or essay, or script…) but you can’t let them get in the way of the writing. I’ve had numerous discussions with writing friends who have shared works in progress with me. What I’ve found in more than one instance is that the friend in question will ask my advice on details as minute as the question of whether the cabinet hardware should be pewter or brass. They are trying to make chapter 1 absolutely perfect… before they’ll even think about chapter 2. In other words, they’re tidying up the kitchen before they’ve even begun wiring the living room. What I also generally find is that the writer in question is—more often than not—having difficulty writing.

Writing is about polishing fixtures and spot-painting. But it’s also about mixing concrete and cutting drywall. It’s about making messes. You’ll have plenty of time to clean up later, but you’ve got to get that frame built first.

So, an exercise:

(Except this isn’t really new. It’s based on suggestions made yesterday by Jennifer Simpson, myself last year and Sam two years back—re-framed to fit the house metaphor.)

Get hold of a wrecking ball!

If you are at a stage in the construction of your work where you’re not ready to polish up those lovely cabinet handles, and if you’re having trouble writing it, give yourself permission to break down some walls and try something else. Try writing a piece you’re having trouble with in a different genre. If your dialogue seems forced, try imagining it on a stage and write it as a script. If a prose character seems flat, put yourself in his/her head and write a persona poem. If your novel is refusing to move from one room to the next the way it should according to your very carefully plotted-out floor plan, then by all means tear down a wall and see what’s on the other side. Maybe your “house” never wanted to be a house at all, maybe it’s a skyscraper. Local zoning ordinances don’t apply to your writing.

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