Rebuilding the bits of our home that failed to survive their transition from the old site to our farm has been chewing a lot of my time and energy – a lot of work above my head, which starts to make you aware (with a fraction of the suffering) of how painful crucifixion must have been.

I’m busy with ceilings at the moment. For reasons that are probably best not elaborated too much about (without writing Dave’s book of disasters) I’m not dealing with square rooms.  The rhombus is a fine shape, I sure, but less than fun to fit 13 mm square ply boards to. And to add joy some of the timbers are old and a little warped, if still sound.

Like many writers I can be utterly obsessive, terribly precise, and obstinate way beyond just being a fault. The latter never leaves, although the precision and obsession with trivial details I’ve managed to ease off on a little with the writing process.

A little.

Well. Sometimes.

Add that lot together and it makes ceilings slow and complicated. Anyway, Ambulance service call-out last night just before midnight (I wasn’t actually on call, but we all get the pager-message, and I always check. A couple of times I’ve been the closest trained first responder. This was one of those, and as Comms couldn’t actually make contact with the two who were on call, I was one of the two officers dealt with it.)

It proved pretty minor, but it’s a couple of hours cut out of your core sleep, and I struggle to get back to sleep after. So: I faced the ceiling work this morning with a lot of yawns and a rather cloudy brain and stuff that requires reversing a lot of the measurements you can take. There are six large boards in the ceiling – how many ways can you get that wrong? (A surprisingly large number…)

Needless to say I made a horse’s butt out of it. If the horse’s butt’s I’ve made over the years were attached to horses, I could sell entire herds, so I am good at this, and used to it.

Now there are two ways most of us can deal with this situation.  1) You can try to fix without undoing all the work you’ve done. 2) Put up with a rotten job that you can maybe plaster or hope no-one notices. No, the picture is not my house…

Number 2 won’t work for me, because _I_ will notice.

So I spent about 4 hours on option 1.

This is not my first rodeo, I know a lot about fixing messes.

But after four hours I looked up and decided that _I_ would notice.

So… I went for option three (which no-one ever wants to mention. Or, in most cases, consider. Not with ceilings, and certainly not with books they’re writing. )

And no, that is not just walk off in disgust.

It’s ‘take it all down and start again’. Like poor old Michael Finnegan, (‘he grew whiskers on his chinnegin, the wind came up and blew them innegin, poor old Michael Finnegan, Beginnegin’) – as the children’s rhyme I grew up with taught me, it was a case of ‘you’ve been working all day, and all you’ve done is learn how the job should not be done. Take it down and start again.’

The curious thing about this is that it had taken me eight and a bit hours to reach that point. Two and half hours later – when I ran out of light, I was very nearly at the same point I’d reached before pulling it down.

Only this time… the gaps were not gaping maws but needing a rubber mallet to try to make it fit.  I probably still will be less than pleased with it all, but it’s a better job under worse circumstances than the professional builder did in the place we’re staying in.

And herein lies today’s writing message: sometimes it is not worth ‘fixing’ a piece of text, even a whole story.  Sometimes hard though it may be, you’re better off to take a fresh go at it. And because you now know what you need to do, instead of just hacking away, it comes together a lot easier, better, and tighter than any fix could make it.

It’s still a hard thing to do. But I found myself there with quite a few books and stories in the past.  It’s just not working for you, it doesn’t want to be fixed… well you have probably done something intrinsic wrong (as I had with the ceiling) at structural levels. Writing it again may well work. It has for me, no matter how reluctant I’ve been to do it again.

Image by mentrea from Pixabay



  1. Ah yes, for those times when I’ve cut something -precisely- 1/2 an inch too short. Scrap it, do it over.

    Sometimes I’m writing something and it feels wrong. That character is acting out-of-character. Generally I catch it before I get far, but sometimes things need to be deleted and the scene re-done.

    Had one the other day, a character was flipping out in a combat situation. Then I realized, that character never flips out when its hitting the fan. She has her cow later, after the action has stopped. Had to go in and remove the yelling, as the character tapped her foot and “tsk-ed” at me.

  2. The benefit of being chronically lazy.
    I spend a good bit of time figuring out the most efficient way to do something, and when things start going pear-shaped I’m inclined to stop and reevaluate the process.
    (Which, alas, is no protection from my wife’s Pinterest enthusiasms. Someone else did it that way, and had it come out looking nice. Therefore, I must do it that way. Especially if the first cursory look at their process makes me shudder in horror. Yeah, I’m currently facing Option #3 on a home improvement project I spent many hours on and had to buy special tools for. Not because there’s anything particularly wrong with the job I turned out, but it doesn’t look like the picture. Now I “get” to turn around and do it the way I wanted to in the first place. Which would have taken much less time, and no tools I didn’t already have. But which won’t look like the picture, either. Yeah, I’m procrastinating the hell out of that one.)

  3. Ah, the non-square housing…

    Yesterday, I had my perfectly measured new blinds ready to install, only to realize that I’d measured the width of the top of the window, not the bottom. And they weren’t the same. And the window wasn’t square.

    And they were too wide to fit all the way down. Re-measuring commenced on both the windows I hadn’t installed yet. (I’ve learned that if I run into a problem, it’s likely to be a problem elsewhere, too!)
    Then back to the big box store to get them re-cut, because they have the specialized tool that makes it take 30 seconds to cut everything evenly (plus drive to the city and back, plus finding help in that department… still took less time and error than trying to do it myself without the right tools.)

    Only after I got one up and the next staged did I realize… I’m replacing blinds the cat mangled in a fit of enthusiasm and murderous intent at the bird on the other side of the glass, I should have just measured the existing blinds, instead of re-doing all the measurement and calculation and cutting and hoping that the *last* owner did when installing blinds.

    As for tearing it up and starting over… Yeah. Facing that on a story now, with the added grumpiness that I know I need to start over, but first I need to figure out what to do right this time, or it’s going to turn into a mess again…

  4. Sigh. I’ve had to do this with sewing projects – and halfway through, I can see that it’s not going to work, and continuing on will only make it worse. Best to get out the seam-ripper, cut the pieces apart and re-fit. The only way to have a well-fitting garment. Better to waste the hours already put into it, than carry on and have an unsatisfactory result.

  5. Definitely a process thing. Making mistakes is how you learn. Living with mistakes and pushing on is one of the harder skills to acquire, the ability to be imperfect. Thing is, we’re all imperfect, and sometime good enough, is good enough.

    But at the end of the day, each of us has to own our decisions; right or wrong, just own them.

  6. There are worse things. Last week I was writing in LibreOffice. The mouse ceased to work, and this somehow froze the computer. Half an hour later, mouse malfunction debugged, I started back writing. My previous three chapters had disappeared. About 10,000 words eaten by the Gods of Malfunction. They commanded the chapters be laboriously rewritten. Aargh!

  7. I’m dealing with that right now with a novelette I originally wrote in 2011 for a shared-world anthology. When I finally got definite word this year that the project had indeed been canceled and all stories were being returned to their authors, I thought it would be a reasonably easy job to remove the elements that belonged to the shared world, spiff up the prose in general, and get it out on my indie imprint.

    After almost two months working on it, I’m starting to wonder if I would’ve been better off starting over. It turns out there were a lot of places where I could simply presuppose information that was part of the shared world, but turned into great big logic holes when I turned the novelette into an original universe work. I’m rewriting whole scenes from scratch, and in several places I’ve had to go back to earlier parts of the story to plant essential information for later use, and then go back and smooth it into the existing text.

    There’s a couple of novels I got about two-thirds to three-quarters written around 2011-2012, right at the end of when I was still looking at traditional publication routes for them, that I’m wondering whether I should try to finish from the existing text, or if I’d be better just starting a fresh version.

  8. Hacked hundreds of words out last night. Working on smoothing out what is now the opening of a scene. sigh

    I had to put the story on a backburner for a few days while I worked up the nerve to do it.

  9. I got to help sheet-rock (gypsum wall board) the addition to a church. The church had been built to county code, so the measurements were standard, more or less. Then the county changed the code for buildings in unincorporated areas (outside of towns and villages). The addition was, ah, exceedingly custom is a nice way to put it. It was plumb, at least, but we wasted a lot of sheet-rock because the lengths and heights were not standard. The first crew assumed it was standard, and the results were ugly. We couldn’t patch the gaps they’d had to leave, so most of their work had to come down and we had to re-do everything.

  10. Yeah, sometimes you have to do the job once to learn how to do it, and then undo that work and do it a second time to get it right. I’ve read that it works that way for amateur astronomers who grind their own mirrors. It’s apparently easier to grind a 4-inch mirror and then an 8-inch mirror than it is to just grind an 8-inch mirror first off.

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