How Revising is Like Home Renovation: Save the Painting for Last

This week we are finally having our downstairs painted after the great dishwasher leak of 2022 wrecked havoc on our whole house. Between the dings created from demolition, the new drywall patches, and the one inch difference in height from where our new baseboards sit on hardwood versus where they previously sat on tile, we are in desperate need of a paint job.

I am looking forward to rehanging our art and photographs on the walls and the cohesion that this new color will bring to some updated furniture purchases we happened to make before we had to rip out half of our downstairs. Pending some backsplash tile (the final hurrah), we will be done. I can’t wait to write THE END on this whole, ridiculous disaster.

Our paint job this week is like the final polish of a novel. It’s the search and replace for all the filter words. The final prettying up of the sentences. The sparkle we put on the manuscript before we finally hit send on our queries.

But there was so much work that got our walls to this point and while the painting feels like the big job this week, it isn’t what fixed out kitchen. What fixed it was everything that came before it, like the new hardwoods that were placed only after the rotted parts of the subfloor were repaired. And the repainted kitchen cabinets that had to be sanded and primed before they could be painted, not to mention the section we had to rebuild first. And the new plumbing…Do you see where I am headed? We couldn’t paint before we fixed the bigger structural problems. If we had painted first, we’d only have to repaint again, which would have been wasted money, effort, and time.

We must approach our revisions in much the same way we approach home renovation. We can’t polish our sentences or fix our filter words first. What’s the point if that scene you just prettied up doesn’t even stay in the story once you eliminate a subplot?

The key to revision is to look for big structural problems first.

Does your protagonist have a clear arc of change? Do we know what they want and what stands in their way? Do they get what they want in the end or what they need or neither or both?

Does your story have a strong because of that trajectory? Does every action the protagonist takes have a consequence? Does every consequence lead to a new decision? Is your climax of the story the inevitable moment when all these actions and consequences come together to your protagonist’s ultimate moment of change?

Does your story meet all genre requirements? Is your world building solid and integral to the story? Does your romance have a happy ending? Does your mystery have a red herring? Does your cozy have all the right elements of quirky neighbors and a dearth of bloody violence and profanity?

Are your scenes and chapters properly structured? Does your protagonist have a micro change from beginning to end of each chapter? Do breaks come at the right places?

Is your point-of-view and tense set and consistent throughout? Is it clear who is narrating the story and where they stand in time and place?

Is your timeline consistent?

If your structure is lacking, no amount of paint (or line editing) will help.

Think back to the Three Little Pigs. You can make your story out of anything–straw, sticks, or bricks. The reader is the big bad wolf just waiting to find the weakness in your story. It doesn’t matter how pretty those sticks are painted if the wolf can blow them down. Focus on the structure, brick-by-brick, first. You can always decorate later.

And it will be much more fun to paint when you aren’t worried about whether your house is going to fall down.

Need help with your own revision? I love helping writers create revision plans and execute their changes. I offer manuscript evaluations and revision coaching. Want to know more? Set up a discovery call and we can chat about your project.

Want more tips and next steps in your in box each month? Sign up for my newsletter here where I share something new to only subscribers each month. You’ll also get my free guide to jump start your writing routine as a thank you–perfect if you need to switch things up but still want to make time for your writing during the busy holiday months!

Featured Photo by Karl Solano on Unsplash

Published by Monica Cox

Monica is a writer and book coach who helps writers get unstuck so they can reach their writing goals.

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