Sunday, August 7, 2011


At long last, more than a month after I finished the &*%$(@ project, my tortured fingers have recovered from grouting long enough to write about my summer tiling experience. As with my gardening entries, I managed to find quite a few similarities between tiling and writing, and the time it took gave me a chance to mull over these nuances and, perhaps, improve my writing in the process. At least these offer me a way of perceiving the process of writing differently.

So that you can see I know what I'm doing, here's a picture of my finished tiling project:

Looks pretty fantastic, doesn't it? And I'm an amateur, too. First time tiling ever. I'd make a long, arduous blog about this (and brag a whole lot more), but that would be too much to remember (and endure), so I'll start with the first part of the tiling process, preparation:

1. Prep the space for tiling. That means tearing down the previous tile, which in this case was a glossy white bathroom tile intermixed with bright, ugly wildflowers. The eighties-inspired bathroom look was pretty awful, but I have to admit that the bare wall devoid of eighties tile looked worse. Once it was chucked off, though, I knew there was no going back.

In the same way, revising my novels (i.e., "ripping them to shreds") often takes a similar path. I create a new document, name it novel revision #2 (or #7, or #25, depending on the novel), and then paste chapters of the old document in one at a time, revising them fully before pasting in a new chapter. At some point, I realize the rest of the novel is complete crap, and I stop pasting. It is then that the old draft disappears back into my novel folder and I begin composing for real. Tearing down is really hard, and turning my back on entire chapters (or the whole second half of a book) is even harder, but sometimes it's necessary.

2. Plan out where you are putting tile. I made a template of my backsplash, especially the part above my stove (shown in the picture above), in paper so that I could fit the tile into it on the floor of my dining room before I set the stuff in thinset mortar on the real wall. I even used the little spacers to set them apart from each other properly, so that my measurements would be exact. Why? Well, it gave me a chance to see the finished product. In fact, my plan changed, for I realized the accent tiles would be set too high on my template, making them almost invisible, and I arranged them differently. I even changed the angle during the planning stage, opting for a far more graceful diamond pattern instead of block squares. Had I waited to plan until I started mortaring all the tiles, I would have two choices: Live with the inferior setting, or tear the whole thing down and start over. Neither one would have been any fun.

Sure, when one is in the throes of NaNoWriMo, one can just applaud oneself for getting the requisite 1,667 words written each day--or even throw a party when one writes twice that many. But writing off the cuff, at least for me, means shredding most of it somewhere down the line, and I will have far less work to do in revisions if I write a plot outline and plan out the characters before I really get the novel going.

3. Tiling happens in a particular order, which cannot be changed. I had to prep the space, plan out where the tile was going, cut the tile, mortar the tiles up, let them dry completely, then grout. Had I tried doing any of these things in a different order, I would have messed the whole thing up. Had I mortared the tile over the existing tile, it wouldn't have stuck. Uncut tiles would never fit together. Had I grouted before mortaring, the grout itself would have no hope of keeping those tiles up. They needed to be glued first. The order of the process matters.

That seems self-explanatory, but writing's steps also follow the same logic. If one hasn't written anything--or if the writing has fundamental problems with character or plot or content that have yet to be addressed--editing for grammar is silly. I need to prepare for the writing, write it out, revise for content, then revise for grammar, then send it out to beta readers, then revise again, and only then (at the earliest) can I call the novel finished. The steps aren't arbitrary rules created by your much-hated English teacher. They are necessary to help you create the best quality work you can. Only a supreme writing genius can avoid some of these, and I don't know one of those.

Now that the preparation is done, other elements happen. I'll cover them in another blog as soon as I can.


  1. THAT is a beautiful tile job. Here's hoping your latest rewrite goes as well.

  2. While you DID absolutely end up with a beautiful end result, I see where you had to at least make a small cut in almost every single tile in the picture (except for the 6 inch back splash.) Awful lot of chances to lose a fingertip with the water saw.

    Shakes I love ya but tiling and writing, at least in this analogy as you have laid them out seem to me to be much over thinking (the writing not the tiling-you only get one shot with the tiling).

    Can I ask you a personal question and you can answer here or the email or not at all but I see why you wanted to have a beautiful wall and worked so hard on it, that is clearly visible, but why do you write? What is the end game?

    I cans see what it was in the tiling but I am curious about the writing and NO I AM NOT just probing around. I'd just like to know is all.

    And your posts,show it is something you have learned to do quite well but what is the general goal?

  3. Gorgeous tiles, lady! If your manuscript is handled with half as much care, it's the best-seller list for you in no time! And now you've made me thirsty for a nice cup of tea...and desperate for some better tiles in my kitchen to admire while I sip it!

  4. Thanks, Stephanie. I sure hope I can devote this kind of time and energy to my writing soon.

    Walking Man, I was EXTREMELY careful with the saw, believe me. No chances taken. But I was really tired of it by the end. I wouldn't mind not using that saw again, EVER.

    As to the over-thinking, for a novel, I don't think it's too much. My poems tend to germinate naturally, but I must only carry on an idea for as long as it takes to express it. With my novels, though, each character alone is a twisted weaving of ideas, and each character is woven into an even more complicated tapestry. That's why producing a novel takes so much more time and preparation. With poems, though, my prep is still there, but all in my head, and may take only a few minutes, an hour, or a few days to germinate.

    Interesting that you ask about end game, too, Walking Man. What do I really want? A beautiful novel that speaks to readers, that lasts long past my lifetime, one that changes lives. Does it need to make me money? Nope. But it needs to be good. And I'm finding it much harder to write my novels well than to tile my backsplash. Then again, I haven't given it the same time lately, either.

    My posts aren't instruction for all of you so much as they are instruction for myself, a chance for me to work through my own motivations, processes, and techniques. I don't know how much they add to anyone's reading, or to anyone's individual journey. Perhaps at least readers in the same situation can see they are not alone. And your responses help me understand that I am not, either.

    Thanks, Elizabeth! And my teapot is my little indulgence. Every morning I have my coffee, and many evenings (once the weather turns colder, mostly), I'll have my chai.

  5. That was a really nice tiling job. :) And I get your analogy with writing.

  6. Very nice indeed… I love the way you related it to writing.
    I am still struggling to utilize the writing rules to me advantage: but I grow and learn… and most of all never quit!

    Thx for your support and advice.

  7. Please would you visit and do this for me!! :0)

  8. what a lovely piece of tiling! I like your comparisons of process for tiling and writing