I am writing a book. I have been working on said book for nearly a year and my writing journey has been both gratifying and frustrating. I go through inspirational bursts and dry spells. Some weeks I do more writing than others. With the help and guidance of my partner, Stu, I am also in the middle of replacing the carpeting on the entire upstairs of my house with laminate flooring. What does writing a book have to do with DIY projects? Well, for starters, both of these ambitious projects are firsts for me. Little did I know that diving into this uncharted territory of home improvment would offer lessons for my writing life.
Lesson number one: Be flexible with self imposed deadlines
Last week, I laid in bed at night and mapped out a timeline for how we could get this home improvement project done by the end of the week. “Okay, we can finish Elina’s room tomorrow. Start in the living room the next day and then we need to get the new baseboards, paint those” and on and on. Needless to say, planning right before bed doesn’t make for an easy transition into sleep! The next day came, and a few hours of picking staples out of the floor on my hands and knees led to a massive backache. I looked over at Stu and could see that he was fatigued. I declared that it was time to call it a day. On other days we took breaks to grab lunch and stopped early to have a “date night” complete with Netflicks and a big bowl of buttery popcorn. By the end of the week, we did not meet my hopeful deadline, in fact, the project is still half done as I write this post, but we are still speaking. I recognize that these breaks are essential for our overall well-being and the health of our relationship.
Writing a book also warrants breaks. Some days I’ll open a new file and write a blog post reveling in the sweet satisfaction of finishing something as I hit the publish button. Other days I close my laptop altogether, grab my notebook and write an entry about something completely unrelated to my book topic. When I need inspiration, I open professional books written by authors who I look to as mentors. And sometimes, I just need to escape into a work of fiction. Regardless of the break I choose, I almost always return to my book refreshed and ready to dive back in. It is good to make plans but it is essential to listen to our bodies and inner self.
Lesson number 2: Accept feedback
As much as I became frustrated with Stu’s suggestions on how best to hold and swing a hammer, I have to admit that his advice saved my body from unnecessary strain. This reminds me of receiving feedback on my writing especially when the person reviewing my work suggests I take sentences out that I labored to write. Receiving feedback can be difficult but in the end, it often results in a better product. Just because I was attached to a particular combination of words or certain ideas doesn’t mean that they serve the overall piece. Sometimes we have to trust more knowledgeable others to be our long term vision.
Lesson number 3: repeat the mantra: “We can do hard things”
These words by Glennon Doyle became my mantra during my DIY project. One day after complaining that I didn’t want to learn how to pry the molding off myself, Stu asked: What happened to ‘we can do hard things’?” I realized these same words serve as the perfect mantra for writing a book. In those moments when I feel frustrated by the process or worry: “What if I devote myself and my time to this book and no one reads it?” I return to this mantra. They are written on a post-it that sits on my refrigerator serving as a constant reminder that I can do this.
Lesson 4: Be open to learning from and leaning on others
In addition to Stu, my DIY teacher is Youtube, most notably the Pergo spokesperson. Every time I have a question, I watch a video, pause it, do what the Pergo guy says, and repeat the process until I have figured it out.
The same is true with my writing. When I consider how to transition from one chapter to another, I pick up professional texts by mentors such as Dr. Mary Howard, Patty McGee, and Leah Mermelstein. I lean on my fellow teacher writers and ask for guidance on the book writing process. Conversations with these writers is both informative and comforting.
Lesson 5: Good enough is better than perfect
Laying laminate flooring would be smooth sailing if it weren’t for closets, and hallways and living spaces coming together. The merging of 3 different planks proved to be a challenge today as Stu hammered one piece into place and another popped out of place. We studied the situation, lifted the flooring, searched for answers on Youtube, made adjustments to the underlayment, and tried again. Stu held the planks as I hammered them into place, rebuilding the triad of planks one at a time. We almost had it, almost. Except there were these two spots where the planks did not perfectly come together. Rather than leaving them be, I insisted on making them perfect and took the hammer to the block again. That one extra swing was just enough to force a stubborn plank completely out of place. It was as if the DIY goddesses had blessed me with one shot to get this flooring to be good enough and my striving for perfection set me back to where I started.
I suspect it is no coincidence that I was drawn to listen to the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert while I hammered blocks of laminate into place. When speaking of perfectionism Gilbert says: “A good enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect novel meticulously never written.” As writers, we can obsess over the perfect combination of words, revise our writing forever, and drag the process on and on without reaching the gratification of having published. When I catch myself obsessing over a sentence, paragraph, or section of a chapter, I think of these words and move along. If I don’t find the courage to keep moving, these ideas will stay safely on my computer where no one will read them. Sometimes good enough is just right.
Just like longing for the day when I put my tools away and enjoy my fresh new house, I look forward to holding my published book in my hands. In the meantime, these 5 lessons will guide my journey.