Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tiling Sort of Equals Writing

The tiles are up (though not grouted), and I am likely going to have to pick up the project in a few weeks, after my father-in-law flies back out of the state, but despite its woes, tiling has offered me some insight into my writing. (If you've never seen me metaphorize before, see previous blog entries on gardening.)

So here is a partial list, since my tiling work is partial:

1. Talking about tiling is far less work than doing the tiling, but talking about it accomplishes nothing. I've been telling friends and family my plans to tile for over a month, but actually doing the task involves cutting hundreds of tiles, measuring, splatting mortar on every tile, pressing hard, putting in spacers, etc. It takes hours. No, DAYS. And it hurts one's back and fills one's fingernails with mortar and often makes every inch of one ACHE. And one doesn't feel like talking about it anymore. One is too tired to talk, too tired from actually doing it. Same thing with writing. I can talk about it easily, but I need to do more than talk about it. I need to write. And write. And that is called work. It's not easy. It takes a lot of thought and daily dedication. I have to actually do the writing, not just talk about it.

2. Though more fun, talking accomplishes nothing. I spent a month talking, and not a tile was laid. I spend a week working hard on it, every day, and I have a backsplash up in the kitchen. Can I tell you how rewarding it feels to see the whole thing up? Same thing with writing. Talking about writing isn't nearly so wonderful as holding a completed manuscript in my hands, or watching a play (that I wrote) performed, or getting feedback from a reader about how "hilarious" something I finished is. Having a finished product beats out talking any day for me.

3. The more complex the design, the harder it's going to be to finish. Sure, I could have just selected the little bitty tile, cut absolutely nothing, and finished in 1/10th the time. But I didn't make that choice. Instead, I created a design that required I cut EVERY SINGLE TILE EXCEPT FOR 4 TILES!!!! ACK!!! Do I regret my decision? Nope. It's what I wanted, and now that it's up, it looks great. But it was a TON of work. Same thing with writing. Some projects are just harder than others, and the more complex your character and plot systems are, the harder you'll have to work on them to get them all right. The more complex the machinery, the more likely glitches will show up. But that doesn't mean you should stick to the simple ones, just because they are simple. Write what you want--but be prepared to put the work into it.

4. Tiling takes LOTS of prep. I had to measure everything, figure out how much I'd need of each kind of tile (overestimating, of course), teach myself how to use a wet saw (messy, messy, messy), make a template of my over-the-stove backsplash, where I would center the design, and plan everything out, before I ever cut a tile. And then I had to cut and cut and cut tiles. I had to lay things out dry before I started mortaring them in place. I had to buy the right supplies, and run back to get more when I ran out. None of these elements got the tiles up, but they were imperative if I was going to get the job done. Same with writing. NaNoWriMo is a fun exercise, but without planning, revision, and a ton more work, the novel that comes out of a writing frenzy like that one won't be worth publishing. Plan out the novel. Work out who the characters are. Build the world they live in. Write a plot outline--with an ending. Sure, none of this prep is actually writing on the novel, but it's necessary. It will make the novel writing easier. Even more importantly, it will make the novel itself better.

So there it is. I'm sure I'll come up with more kernels of tiling/writing wisdom when I grout everything, but I am grateful that I don't have to return to the project for a few weeks. Now I can get back to my writing! (This is why I'm a writer, and not a tiler.)


  1. That's a ton of work. Kudos for showing it no fear!

    --Jason Evans

  2. UHhhh why are you waiting for a few weeks to grout it? The thing is open joints collect much and dampness.

  3. Really, I'm kind of with the walking man. Grouting is nowhere near the labor and then it will be DONE.

    Also, though I'm with you on prepping tiling, I'm not sure about the corollary to writing - I often just dive in. On the other hand, since my subconscious does the grunt work, maybe it's just doing that for me and then delivering a "write-your-novel" kit with everything I need ready to go.

  4. It's ironic I wrote that last comment. I'm currently writing a series of posts on getting the potential from your idea that sounds like there's tons of work before you get started.

    I don't know how to explain the apparent disconnect except that I know I do all that without really thinking consciously about it.


  5. Thanks, Jason!

    Actually, Walking Man and Stephanie, I have to wait 24 hours minimum, and tonight I can't do it... and tomorrow I take off for Zumba training in Atlanta, and Friday I'm there all day, Saturday morning I sing the national anthem for a local flag day, and my father-in-law's coming in tomorrow night (while I'm gone). I don't think he really wants to watch me grout the kitchen backsplash. Then again, he might be fine with it, but the earliest I'll get to it is Monday.

    I think you do a lot of prep, Stephanie, more on characters than anything else. And you revise, which is what I'll get to in the next tile=writing posting.

  6. That’s what I do for a living I lay/set, tile, stone real or fake, brick and block. The best part is getting the sense of accomplishment, but the back aches suck.

  7. Man, Jeff, I have to hand it to you. That stuff is HARD! I might actually grout tomorrow. Now that I'm done with ZUMBA--and certified--I might do it despite my FIL's presence. We'll see.