doors and books and doors to books

February 6th, 2012

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write:

I am stripping a door.

Funny what owning a house will do to you. Yesterday, my husband was walking around sporting a measuring tape snapped to his pocket—and I’m more of the guitar-over-hips fantasy, but whoah Nellie, I get the construction worker thing now!—and I am stripping a door.

I’m also revising a novel.

Turns out, they are totally the same thing.

You start out with this solid mass. A 60-year-old door. An 80,000 word document. Same diff. They are both large and unwieldy  and kind of ugly. Yet, you suspect somewhere within this mass is something better, something worthy, something you want to display to the world. But first, you have to dig it out of all the layers of crap.

To begin with, it seems easy. You just need the “write” tools. Computer, pen, paper, friends with eagle eyes. Chemicals, scrapers, gloves, eye goggles.

It helps if you know what you’re doing, but if you don’t, you’ll figure it out. Some things are just kind of intuitive.

You jump in.

You scrape off one layer of paint, then a second, then a third: brown, yellow, aquamarine, more brown. You learn things about the people who lived in the house you live in based on their multiple layers of paint. Like my office must’ve been a nursery at some point (see aforementioned aqua paint).

It is a messy process. Eight coats of paint turning all wet and gloppy starts to look like an oil spill. Without the cute birds. And FEMA.

Now, with the revision, you start chipping away, or adding (we are doing metaphorical comparisons here, people). You find layers of your story that you never knew existed. Other layers that are as disgusting as 43-year-old newly wet paint. The deeper in you get, the messier it all becomes. The colors all swirl together. Everything turns gray. The mess seeps into everything. You can’t get away from it.

Sometimes, you want to turn back. To just settle for that ugly painted door. Or get a new one at Home Depot (you are boycotting Lowe’s). To say that the book is “good enough” and turn it in.

But you can’t because  what’s the point in writing a book only to have it not be as good as it possibly can and what’s the point point in having a door if it’s ugly? And you’ve never been one for settling. You’re going to have to live with that book. And that door.

So you keep going, even though your pants look like this:


And you suspect your brain looks like this:

Because there is no going back.

You take your time. Because every day, you get off another couple of coats of paint. Or you figure out a new tweak to a character. Only to discover that there is more paint underneath and that the character tweak caused a cascade effect and now you’ve got way more work.

You think you’re almost there, only to realize, you’re not even close.

Something’s not clicking into place yet. That stuff you thought was the wood and therefore the finish line, turns out to be a sort of wood wallpaper that someone put ON THE WOOD DOOR.


Do you see that light stuff that looks like blonde wood? It is not wood. It is WOOD-PATTERN WALL PAPER. It goes on with glue and has to be chiseled in sticky, gluey clumps.  (Why did you do this, 1950s people? WHHHYYYY?)

You keep going.

You won’t know when you’re done. Not until you get there. You think this is it, but turns out, there’s a layer of navy paint, adhering to the wood like your kids on you at bedtime. I don’t wanna go!

You keep going. Because after you finally dig down past the eight or nine or ten layers of paint and wallpaper, you hit this:



Pretty wood! From a tree! From at least 60 years ago!



Not-totally-making-me-barf book. Book that might some day be read-able book.

And it gives you hope and motivation. To carry and and get the job done, to get all the gunk from the moldings and do the other side of the door and sand and varnish it and revise and polish (okay, that part happens after I turn it in and my editor, an industrial strength stripper in her own right).

Then, your door is ready to be a door.

And your book is ready to be a book

I’m not there yet. Not with my door or book. But I made it to wood today. And I’m getting ready to hand in my book, which is up to draft number 14, which is more layers than there were paint on the door.

I will post a photo of my finished door when I get there. It’ll probably be about the same time as the manuscript is completely edited. Which is to say a few months from now. But this isn’t a race. It’s an endurance test. And I’m in it for the long haul.

Also, if Nick ever goes shirtless with a tool belt, I will pass that image along to you. You will be so happy I did.

  1. I love the analogy. Good luck on both the book and the door. I can’t wait to read one and see a final picture of the other!

  2. So happy to hear an update about your book (and your door :P)!

  3. Ahhh the joys of homeownership. Love this post! I never tried to refinish a door, but I did spend weeks removing 1,000 square feet of three layers of wallpaper. And those bottom layers were basically superglued on, and they only liked to come off in 1-inch pieces. Definitely post a finished door pic!

  4. Can’t wait to read draft no. 14 (or 15, or whatever). You’re such a trooper, and I’m so impressed, in all my homeowning years I never stripped so much as a coffee table…

  5. “But this isn’t a race. It’s an endurance test. And I’m in it for the long haul.”

    Thank you for the reminder. xx

  6. Your post really helped me as I am about to dig back into another draft with feedback from my writing group. But if you don’t count my Chapter One (which I’ve rewritten 11 times) I’m only on draft 3. But I want to take my story from acceptably-good to Sara-Zarr-Gayle-Forman-Amazing… I’ve got an idea of what I want to work on in the next two drafts, but I’d love to know what you tend to work on in so many passes and how fast you tend to work. Are you ever afraid when you tear it all apart, it won’t go back together again?!

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