Book revisions remind me a lot of home renovations. Case in point: the floors in my house.

Last spring, my husband and I decided, on something of a whim, to get our hardwood floors refinished. Our house is old and lovingly cared for. The floors, however, were old and hadn’t been loved in 24 years. Clearly I was in a whimsical decision-making mood at the time because, within days of that idea, I also pulled a dusty old manuscript out from under my bed and decided to revise it.

(Note: more than one whimsical decision in a week may lead to therapy)

When floors are refinished, everything must be off said floors. In the process of removing our kitchen appliances, the squirrel running our refrigerator died, as did the one running the dishwasher. A quick shopping trip revealed a dilemma: refrigerators had gotten considerably larger since the last one went into its alcove beside the cupboards. “We can get a much better fridge if we cut the cupboard down a little,” said the Martin (aka husband with a power tool obsession). Hearing only “much better fridge,” I agreed.

Two months later, when I blinked and looked around the kitchen, we had all new appliances, several smaller cupboards, as well as new lights, a new backsplash, new countertops, and a window seat we’d been talking about getting for fifteen years.

A window seat where I can recline with a glass of wine and read the manuscript I am still tweaking because, funny thing is, like refinishing floors, when you start moving things around in an old manuscript, you may as well get out the power tools because everything is up for grabs.

Here’s what my whimsical self learned:

1. Be realistic. This will be hard. Messy. You may cry. And kill people. To save your soul and the judicial system, with any luck these will be made up people only and not contractors or editors.

2. Keep an open mind. Things may not go according to plan. The book may, as Stephen King’s does in his first draft, ‘speak to you’ even as you’re getting ready to slash and burn. Listen. Serve the book (or the kitchen, as the case may be). Be ruthless.

3. Cut words, cut people, but don’t cut corners. Cutting corners and doing a half assed job may well lead to a half assed product.
Cut the swampy bits out of the book; buy granite for the kitchen. You know you want to. And it’ll be worth it in the end. But:

4. It will cost you. Time, tears, and more cold hard cash than you’d like. Whether it’s the revision or the reno, have your phone and favorite take out menus handy; bribe your kids to dial the number at the end of the day when you’re too cross-eyed to see.

5. Call in the experts: Peeps to read pages; contractors to give consultations. Serve wine. Or not. Unless it’s contractors in which case I happen to know beer or scotch at the pencil sharpening (but not the power tool starting) stage improves the bottom line. Either way, get feedback. Take what resonates; toss the rest.

6. Pretty pots and fancy phrases only go so far. Like a decent stove that fires on all cylinders, craft matters. Pay attention to the important stuff: character, conflict, story goal, structure. Nice cutlery doesn’t hurt either.

7. Remember the promise. When the dust settles and the power tools are unplugged, make sure you deliver that final product. Whether it’s cupcakes or chicken cordon bleu, edgy thriller or heart wrenching romance, give them what they came for. And leave them wanting more.

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