Upon This Rock I Will Build My House

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2011 at 10:06 am

One morning not too long ago, when I was feeling particularly naive, I told my husband, “I am going to build Ava a beautiful wooden doll house for Christmas.” 

My husband had his usual reaction, “Does she need a wooden doll house?”

And like I said to the wii remote in the shape of Elmo the day before, “Of course she needs it!  She will have it forever and always take care of it!”  So, I got in the car and set out to get the supplies for the most beautiful dollhouse.

Well, three hundred dollars later (JUST FOR SUPPLIES!) I sat down to make my daughter a Christmas present.  The lady in the shop told me it would take forty hours to make.  It took me two hundred.  But, as you can see from the picture above, it is beautiful.  And it was also a very useful experience.  As I was painstakingly sanding, painting and assembling every piece of siding together (don’t even get me started on the balcony…) I was thinking to myself (as you do when you have been trapped in the same room every night trying to prove your husband wrong) that building a dollhouse is not unlike writing your novel.  How you say?  Well, let me tell you…

Getting Your Pieces in Order

When I opened the box and looked at the pile of wood and the instruction manual (with no pictures and the dimensions as the only description of the pieces!) I had to sit down and figure out what was going on before I started.  Like writing a novel, you should always sit down and think about what you want to accomplish before you start.  Now, I know some people are able to just sit at the computer without any idea where they are going, but I would argue that you still need to have a general idea of what the story is about.  You need to know who your character is and you need to know what you want the conflict in the story to be.  Yes, you can start writing with a vague notion of what is going to happen, but I promise you that the more you know about your character’s background (their past, their wants, their needs, their motivations) it will save you time on your editing and it is will also help with writer’s block.  Of course you don’t need to write a detailed outline of your character and where you want the story to go, but as I found out with the dollhouse, the better described your instructions are from the offset the easier it is for you in the process.

The Foundation

This part is also involved with your planning from the offset.  Once you are done your novel and you begin the query process there is going to be one question on everyone’s tongue and no, unfortunately it is not, “How do I sign you as my client?”, but rather, “So, what is your story about?”.  And sometimes (alright, more often than not) we get through our speech about our novel and when we are out of breath and smiling from remembering our brilliant work they utter the words that all authors dread, “And?  Is that all that happens?  What makes your book different from the book on the exact same subject I received yesterday?”

When constructing my daughter’s house I spent more time on the foundation then was perhaps necessary just to get the house constructed, but I knew that if this was wrong the whole house would be wrong.  You spend a lot of time on your manuscript, mine is like my second child.  Make sure that when you start writing you know what you’re writing, that it is enough to sustain the reader’s interest, and that the conflict is compelling enough to push the story and characters forward. 

The Construction Has Started

I’ll admit that when I started I was an idealist.  I remember walking in with the huge box in my arms and when my husband raised his eyebrows I smiled and asked, “How hard can it possibly be?”

Apparently extremely difficult.

When  raising the walls and carefully adding every piece of siding I was thorough.  I knew some of this work would never be appreciated and that in the end it would probably look the same as the person who had spent forty hours putting it together, but I didn’t care.  I needed to take that long.  When you are writing your manuscript you might be writing in back story that people will never see, witty comments that you spent hours thinking of that no one will ever laugh at.  My manuscript was complete at 75,000 words but a wonderful editor I am working with wanted me to trim it down to 55,000.  EEK! I know.  And as I am trimming out word after word I keep thinking that all my hard work and the time it took me to write those words are lost.  But are they?  After finishing with the axe, I have read back through my manuscript before resubmitting it to my editor and I am noticing that the sentence makes sense without the four lines of back story before it.  Taking out that character has put a greater focus on my heroine and it is her story- she deserves our sole attention.  So yes, perhaps no one will read every word you have written, but in my case I have learned that the time it took to write those words was not wasted. 

The Final Touches

The paint, installation of the windows, staining and installing (individually might I add!) 864 roof shingles is the hard part.  It is the finicky little work that hurts your eyes and just makes you think you are never going to finish.  I would look at the door I just installed and squint my eyes because it just didn’t look straight.  The level said it was straight but my eyes were telling me something else.  My husband came down and said it was straight but his eyes were wrong as well.  Though, he did point out one of the windows was upside down and I had to throw him out the room in denial (then secretly fix it when he was safely upstairs).

When your manuscript is done and you are taking the red pen to your beloved piece of art it can be daunting.  Sometimes you need to take a break, for a week, a month, even a year sometimes to get perspective.  You have to ask others to help you gain perspective and sometimes they tell you things you don’t want to hear.  Listen to them.  If it hurts your feelings and you just can’t face it right then and there, then write it down.  When some time has passed you will want to look it over and evaluate it.  Sometimes they will be wrong, but more often than not they will be right and you can make your changes accordingly.  Remember, you asked them to look at your manuscript for a reason- you value their opinion.

The Finished Product

When Christmas morning came and I brought my  Ava’s beautiful dollhouse upstairs I had the biggest smile on my face.  I loved it, I had worked hard for it, and I was so proud to give it to her.  When my nearly two-year-old came down the stairs she gasped, opened her eyes wide and pointed at the house I had built for her.  I smiled from ear to ear as she squealed and ran to the house, but as she got closer she walked right around it and picked up the little ducky she had left on the table the night before and started kissing and hugging it.

To say I was crushed would have been an understatement.  Later my husband graciously showed her the dollhouse more carefully and she did show some interest but the duck had won the day.

As we clutch our edited, polished manuscript in our arms and gently hand it over to agents/publishers with stars and money signs in our eyes, we are crushed when the rejections roll in.  Trust me, I know, 146 rejections are a lot on someone’s self-esteem.  But the truth is, perhaps they are not ready yet.  Perhaps we are not ready yet.  Perhaps our work just isn’t ready yet.

The editor I am working with right now has requested changes and I am working on them just as hard as I worked on that dollhouse.  A big name publishing house is giving me a chance when all others said no.  Did the rejections hurt?  Absolutely.  But, two years later I am presented with the opportunity of a life time.

I know my daughter will grow to love that dollhouse and one day perhaps she will even give it to her daughter.  I know now that she was too young to receive it but I was too impatient to wait.  I had put my heart and soul into it and I wanted her to notice, I wanted her to be ‘wowed’. 

So, after all your hard work is done and you are ready to share your labour of love with everyone, you might be in for the hardest part of the whole journey- waiting.  It will be hard, you will question whether it was worth it or not, but please if you take nothing else from my experience remember this- it is.

-Emily Harper

*I must send out a big thank you to my sister-in-law Laura.  Without your hard work and calming presence, Ava’s beautiful dollhouse would still be a work in progress.

***To find out more about the author, please click here.

  1. Good luck with your editing. I know that can be just as difficult as the intial build. And I think your doll house looks beautiful.

  2. I like how you compared the dollhouse building to writing a novel (gorgeous dollhouse, by the way.) It makes perfect sense. Editing is the hardest part for me. With time, I’m sure I’ll get better at it.

    Good luck on the changes and the publishing opportunity!

  3. Simply want to say your article is as astounding.
    The clarity in your post is just nice and i could assume you’re an expert on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grab your RSS feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the enjoyable work.

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