What moves your writing?


After five months of waiting, we’ve finally taken delivery of our worldly belongings. My husband and I have gone from living in a construction site to coping with the chaos of organizing the contents of over a hundred boxes that were unloaded into every available space in our house. The challenges go on.

Over 200 messages have stacked up in my inbox. A three-foot high pile of paperwork needs filing now there is a place for it. In every nook and cranny of our house, boxes loom like muggers waiting to catch us unaware. I carry a cleaning cloth in one pocket and a knife the other. Things stored for months in a warehouse arrive dusty with the packing tape is baked.

While demolition and construction phases often involved unexpected twists in the road, I naively thought unpacking might be less problematic. Ha! There are still surprises in store. Even though we’d worn a path from our old house to the SPCA thrift store before we shipped things to storage, we still have too much of everything. As we unpack, there are many moments of why did we keep this? Soon our car will be able to find its way to the WIN donations centre unassisted.

My desk is in place now which inspires me to work again. It’s so much more comfortable than sitting at a folding camping table. The house is quiet; no more builders, electricians, and plumbers bustling around—as wonderful as they all were. Once again I can control the volume of my life.

For two weeks, I’ve barely touched my novel. To keep fit during the last weeks of mayhem, I’ve written weekly flash fiction. I’ve jammed my iPhone with notes for my work-in-progress. But before all my writing life settles again, I must first make one more trip to the donations centre. In life, as in writing, there is always more culling to do. Have you downsized recently, either your life or your work? What were the most difficult and most rewarding parts of that process? 

Do you write by design?

When interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald, George RR Martin said [There are] two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. The architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running, and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up.  

After living through renovations for the past four months, I find this reasoning, well, flawed. We spent months in the planning stages. We looked at many 3D models of our kitchen design. I’ve spent more time in plumbing shops than I have in the library in the past year. Ditto flooring, lighting, and tiling.

We measured. Our builder measured. Suppliers measured. The electricians consulted on all aspects of light and power supplies. We handed our ideas back to our designer. She revised and we forged ahead.

Now, as we move into the home stretch on this extended process, I hope the words, “Excuse me, do you have a minute” will occur less often in my life. Because no matter how much thought was put into every step, how many blueprints were drawn of each room and hallway, there were many decisions that really couldn’t be made until the project was underway. Building is an organic process.

Likewise the architect-vs-gardener thinking implies that a gorgeous garden is an accident of randomly-placed seeds. Also not my experience. The most beautiful gardens are the result of years of experience, lots of planning, continuous hard work, and an element of luck.

I suspect the best approach to writing is a hybrid, an architect-gardener mix. All disciplines have to be creative to solve problems and capitalize on unexpected developments. As Stephen Hawking put it, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” Planners revise their course when new events arise. Gardeners have to plan so the seeds and bulbs are sown at the optimal moment.

This is the old plotter vs pantser question, isn’t it? Do you fall firmly on one side of that dichotomy? Do you outline your work with slide-rule precision? Or do you write by following whatever evolves as you type?