Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What Manuscripts and Hideous Pink Bathrooms Have in Common

I like to think of revisions as renovations.

To illustrate my point, I'd like to share a some photos of the disaster that was my house when we bought it in 2005.  First up, my upstairs bathroom:

What are you talking about?!  Pepto Bismol pink is all the rage!
Let me backtrack and say that my house was unlived in for ten years at the time when we purchased it - and boy, did it show.  The whole interior looked like someone had sprayed it down with Pepto, right down to thick, pink carpeting in the dining room, and of course, the mess you see above, complete with pink shell-shaped toilet seat.

Most people would have walked into this house and walked right back out.  Especially if they'd spotted the mouse poop under the baseboards in the dining room, or known about the squirrel skelton hiding in the bathroom wall.

But my husband and I saw potential.  We knew the house was structurally sound, and with a little TLC and elbow grease, there was no reason this house couldn't reach that potential fully.

It took nearly a year, a LOT of TLC, a LOT of elbow grease, and way more money than we'd budgeted, but I think we proved ourselves right.  I give you, Upstairs Bathroom, The Sequel:

The kitchen wasn't quite as heinous, but there was still plenty of room for improvement.  Including steaming off the 1980's wallpaper, ripping up two layers of flooring, and replacing the fugly appliances:

Blue Walls, Harvest Gold Appliances.  Perfection.

In a way, renovating a home and perfecting a manuscript are parallel endeavors.  In both cases, you have to start with a solid foundation. 

It won't matter how many coats of paint you slap on a house that isn't structurally sound, nor will it matter how many fancy words you throw into a story if the material just isn't there.

Just as I spent a year getting rid of ugly crap to bring out the potential in my home, I've spent the past year trying to get rid of all the ugly crap mucking up the potential in my manuscript.  I have to tell you, when I finished the first draft - all 96,000 words of it - it was as hideous as that Explosion of Pink Bathroom. 

Unfortunately, it was a lot easier to look at that bathroom and figure out how to fix the problem (that would be gutting it, thank you), than it was to figure out a plan of attack on my story.  There is still work to be done, but after a year of ripping out unnecessary junk like it was pink carpet, and polishing my prose like a paint-stained hardwood floor, something is finally starting to emerge that I think I can be proud of.

I do believe my manuscript has good bones, just as I knew my house did.  The only difference is, I knew the work on my house would pay off, while the work I put in to my writing is anybody's guess.  It's possible that even if I think I'm submitting my best work, an agent will look at it and see the equivalent of that gross, decaying, in-desperate-need-of-work pink bathroom.  And that's a job no one wants to tackle if they don't have to. 
I did manage to turn my house into a home, though.  I'm hoping with the same dedication and hard work, I can take my manuscript from a mess of words in a Word document to a novel.  A real novel, inside a cover so beautiful you can't bear to stop looking at it.  Now that's what I call reaching full potential.

Of course, if I'm just trying to live a pipe dream, then there will be one very important use for my manuscript in association with bathrooms.  Using it to line the toilet seat if I ever come across another one like this:

So which would you rather tackle?  A Pink Bathroom Explosion, or a Manuscript Word Vomit Explosion?  What do you liken your revisions to?


  1.'re right. that bathroom is one hideous mess! as for the analogy, i love it! you're so spot-on, geenz. well said.
    (can i call you that, by the way? ive got this thing for nicknames. like, i call my sis approximately fifteen different things, for example. :D)

  2. i meant--it WAS one hideous mess. it looks great now :)
    okay, weird that im calling a bathroom 'great'. but you know what i mean...

  3. I have about 15 nicknames myself, and that's actually the one my mom calls me, LOL! And you can call my bathroom great if you want- we worked hard on it!

  4. I hate revising. Actually I hate it so much that I do a lot of revision as I'm writing. I do my best to clean it up but what I really need to make it sparkle is an extra pair of eyes. Or three. I love what you've done with your place and this is a great analogy!

  5. squirrel skeleton? Eek! lol

    Revising can be rough, but I actually like it better than rough-drafting. Nothing worse than a blank page, for me! Plus I like seeing the manuscript get better :)

  6. Well considering my bathroom would probably look worse after I'm though with it, I'll go with revisions on my ms. It's a lot cheaper to deal with, too. But like you said, there're no guarantees. At least with a renovation diaster, you can always call in the professionals. You can do the same with your ms, but that doesn't mean an agent is going to love it once it's finished.

    Love the analogue.

  7. I am now going to rename all my drafts "Explosion of Pink Bathroom"! Thanks for the great post. :)

  8. OMG I was so distracted by that toilet I could barely concentrate on the words. But I do love this point.

    And great job on the remodel. I have some work I need done if you are available ;)

  9. I am not handy at all, so I'd rather revise a manuscript than a bathroom. But you're right--both require a ton of work!

  10. Ha ha- Heather, I could loan you my father-in-law. He did the gutting and the re-sheetrocking!

    I bet none of you will look at a nasty bathroom quite the same way again, LOL :)

  11. What a spot on analogy (I'll take the MS) :-)

  12. There are good and bad things about each one. What you say about "good bones" makes a lot of sense, though. :)

  13. The number one improvement anyone can make to their home is to update the kitchen, and then the bathroom. You really lucked out that you didn't have to redo the cabinets.

    Really great analogy.