Thursday, June 7, 2012

How Stripping Wallpaper is like Revising

Stick with me long enough, and you'll discover I like odd comparisons, a la "How is a Raven like a Writing Desk."  (I also love Alice in Wonderland, but that's another point entirely.)

Because I like odd comparisons, I find myself making them to writing while doing otherwise unrelated things.

Like stripping wallpaper.

My husband and I just bought a Rather Old House and my latest adventure is ridding it of some unfortunate decorating choices.  First up is the laundry/utility area upstairs, which was papered c.1977 with mildly dizzying brown, gold, and orange flowered stuff.  The homeowners managed to find matching fabric for curtains, too.  Pristine vintage, except it's horrifyingly ugly.

Can you even *buy* matching paper and fabric anymore?
So as I spent hours tearing a harvest gold meadow from hell off the walls, I found myself comparing the process to revision.

After all, redecorating and revising share some similarities--the basic structure is already there, but you're changing how it looks and polishing it up and perhaps moving some major things around.  Wallpaper lessons that apply to both:

1) It's going to take some time.  There is no method to stripping wallpaper that's going to let you breeze through it, and no method to revision that's going to be a cakewalk, either.  You have to commit some serious time to it.  Sure, timesaving methods exist (thank you, Paper Tiger for wallpaper and colored pens when I'm revising) but they're still not snap-your-fingers done.

2) You don't need anything fancy.  I discovered via the interwebs a low-cost, low-chemical helper for peeling off wallpaper--fabric softener.  Cheaper than the made-for-wallpaper stuff, works just fine, and you might already have it lying around.  Same goes with revising.  Yes, there are guidebooks and professional editors and lots of other tools out there at your disposal.  And none of them are, in and of themselves, a bad thing.  You might find yourself needing some outside help eventually.  But for the first pass, all you really need is your rear in the chair and your document either open or printed in front of you.

3) If it's not coming off, you're probably not tugging at the right place.  This happened time and time again as I worked the wallpaper off--I would be fighting it from one end as it shredded and I had to pick the shards of sticky paper off, then I would find another angle and the whole piece would come off like one big scab.  (Yes, stripping wallpaper is kind of like picking a scab...)  With revision, if all you're doing is poking a couple words around, it's probably because you're not getting at the right angle.  Maybe you're wordsmithing when what really needs to be done is move the scene into a different POV.  Maybe you're nitpicking dialogue when you really need to be asking if the conversation should be included to begin with.  Regardless--revision is hard, but if it's *too* hard, it's probably because you're not finding the real issue.

4) Welcome disasters as potential happy accidents.  So I decided to run a load of laundry while stripping paper, only to discover that the dryer doesn't actually vent anywhere.  The room turned into a steambath.  This will, of course, need to be fixed--but you would not believe how easily that wallpaper came off after a full-immersion steaming.  Sometimes you discover a major issue with your manuscript--a plot hole, a character who's totally inconsistent.  Yet, as you work on that problem, you find that a whole mess of issues you either couldn't identify before or didn't know how to fix stem directly from that problem.  You can strip off big swaths of crap writing and get back to the good bones of your work.

Ahhh...one wall done and a pile of wallpaper on the floor.  That feels better.
So, time-consuming, not easy, and potentially frustrating--but in both cases, the final result is so much better than what you started with!

3 comments:

  1. Well, I wasn't sure where you were going when I read the title of your post, but yes, quite blooming right, I see your point now! Great stuff, Rowenna :)

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  2. Oh yes, by the way, email me with your address, so I can send your pattern!! x

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