The never-ending novel. 

I’m finally through the worst of the massive and insurmountable hurdles with our home. Most of them, being me, I went around.  Some of them I just went through.  And a few proved just massive and not insurmountable.  Still it was, in retrospect, a crazy, huge project to undertake, taking an old house, moving it and… um rebuilding the part that the contractors moved and broke (who did the second third – I and friends did the first, and I and friends did the last third. Especially the last third was a vast amount of prep – dig a hole. Roll the house over the hole (filling with water… and drive the truck into the hole, drop the house a little onto the truck, and then drive and pull the truck out.  That, in the end left me with 1/3 either end of a home –up on semi-trailers (where it will remain), a floor in the  middle, that my friend helped me reconstruct, and the frames – some of which were very much the worse for wear.

I know (or knew) almost nothing about building, and I’m just one guy, not a very large one,  working through a wet winter, trying to write too, to keep the cash flow going, because we just had way too little money for Australian prices, and tradesmen (other than the legally required electrician and plumber) were just out of the question. Emigration cleaned us out, and it took 10 years of saving – because I’m an author and a terrible risk for banks to get our little rundown farm and the chance at a home.  Okay so it was utter madness, and deserved to fail.

Only it didn’t.  Yes, we had a lot of support from friends, lots of scavenged bits, from them and the tip, and a lot of me being the elderly electrician and the elderly plumber’s (both friends) dogsbody, and having a good friend lend me some heavy machinery (which I didn’t know how to use… then).  The place is up and water-tight, and has lights, hot and cold running water, insulation, and flushing conveniences (to say nothing of a septic tank and a council approved drainfield (which was the single most expensive – and biologically un-necessary thing in the whole project.)) We somehow got a huge wood-burning heater in and I put in a chimney. I set up a solar power-plant, and our own double water system (rainwater for drinking and dam water for flushing. You might flush a frog… or at least a tadpole.

We put in floating laminate floor in our future lounge last weekend, and got the floors in the loos almost done this weekend (an Ambulance callout (we’re now both doing Volunteer Ambulance Service) took a lot of time on one day – but it is close).

My dear wife is saying we can move a bed up and move in.

I… am dead tired, need more writing time.  Need to stop burning the candle both ends AND the middle.

And I said… ‘Not just yet.’

Now I know, eventually, that the irresistible force will overcome the immovable object.  Or vice versa, depending. I’ve been married for long enough to know, and to know which side is likely to be me.  She’s right, we could. Yes, there’s still a lot that needs doing.  Uh. Years of stuff, probably. Some of it is going to be a lot easier, without having to fight my way around furniture, and the cat. Especially the cat.

But… right now, I have been SO invested in doing this, giving far too much of my self, doing what three twenty year-olds would baulk at (and I ain’t twenty, alas), keeping writing, keeping up my Ambulance volunteer work, even fitting in the occasional dive.  I’ve pushed ridiculously hard, keeping going by sheer bloody minded obstinacy. It’s had its rewards, but it’s been the toughest year I’ve had since I did Ichthy Honours, back when before dinosaurs and fax machines and when unicellular algae was progressive (ok, so some things don’t change). At that time that was considered the hardest science postgrad in the country, and the standard day was 9am… until 2am, 7 days a week. We started 3 weeks before any other department, and only took fanatical fishy fanatics.  It’s now a three year course. People said it was a great proof that you could work hard… once.  I think it wrecked as many graduates as it made.

Anyway: Common sense, logic, every other damn thing says ‘stop working on your home. Move in’

I’ve been here before.  Oddly, in my other hard year – when I rewrote my thesis (half our final mark), seven times.

Eventually my supervisor said, when I started making comments about what I could add and change: ‘Just stop. You’ve just handed me your final. Print another three copies, and turn them in to Prof Hecht. He’ll need them for the examiners.’

“I think I should…

“Stop. You’re not making it better.”



So I did. I really, badly needed to. I was physically and mentally exhausted.

I needed to. But I did not want to. I remember turning the printed and bound copies in to the Prof’s secretary, and then standing out in the passage… wandering what the hell I did now? It was mid-day. I couldn’t knock off at mid-day. And I was sure I could find typos or something to fix or graph better or… I had pushed myself so hard, and I wanted a First Class for that. I’d worked for it… and I was terrified I wouldn’t get it. I was scared. I was also used to that being my day, my life, my reason to push and work.

You know, I can barely remember the details of the thesis anymore, which I was even dreaming about at the time.  I know it was – in my opinion – a great piece of ‘bridging’ showing that the two competing theories of island biogeography were in fact part and parcel of each other, and mathematically predictable and dependent, as far the various species of Cichlid fish in Lake Malawi were concerned anyway   It got me that first class mark I wanted. What that was worth, now?  Not much. By now I doubt if anyone living has even read it, or stayed awake when they did read it.  And now, with the 20:20 vision of hindsight, I know I could handed it in at third draft, and got the same mark and been just as incomprehensible.

And since then I’ve given the same advice to a fair number of writers.  Some have even listened to me, not written that next draft, and just gone ahead and submitted or published.

But others – I know quite a few – some had managed to push through to the words ‘THE END’ fine. With relief, even. Some couldn’t quite get there. They’re still writing and re-editing previous chapters years on. But even among the ones who did write the last words…

They just, like I am now, failed to let go. And they’re still polishing and adding a few more chapters and tweaking this or that… sometimes years after the book has been finished. Because we’re scared. Because that striving has become such a part of us. We’ve put so much in, it’s taken so much out… and we can’t actually imagine stopping.

Every book can be made better. But sometimes you’re gaining microns… and losing feet in other areas.

Sometimes you just have to stop.

You’re probably not going to improve it that much in the reader eyes. And in a few years, no one will remember it. Go ahead and write another instead.

No I am not moving another house.


19 thoughts on “The never-ending novel. 

  1. Bravo and congratulations on getting the house moved, reassembled, plumbed, and functional! I hear you on the degree project. I went from dissertation to fellowship to book for fellowship to revising book to “Heck, what do I do with myself now?” to fiction and Day Job.

    I’ve been pushing very hard since . . . Heck, I don’t know. Last July, probably. Day Job, writing, then Day Job and writing when the Wuhan fever knocked everything galley-west, then writing. I’m not sure what I’d do with myself if I stopped working. Day Job duties have already started again.

    1. Yes, but you’ve been amazingly prolific, and your skills have improved along with your prolificity (if that’s a word). You’re not throwing the same thing at the wall; you’re throwing multiple things up there and letting us buy them.

  2. Yay! The end is near! And the pictures you’ve shared are amazing.

    And the coaching and advice you’ve given all of us wannabe writers invaluable. Including “It’s done. Kick it out of the nest.”

  3. I promised myself that I would never shingle another roof when I did the 8′ x 12′ pumphouse. Curiously, it was one of the harder projects because of the small size, which made it tough to get there, place shingles, and not fall off the roof. The fact that half the building could not have scaffolding (great big trench already there) had a lot to do with it.

    So now, I’m building another shed. Promised myself no shingles, so it’s metal roofing. Another small building, but it’s big enough that I can get up there and have enough room to work. No trenches, either. It’s also a foot shorter than the pumphouse, which was a foot shorter than standard construction. It’s lovely how (most) building codes don’t apply to things like sheds.

    We’re heading into another heat wave, so I know it’s time to erect the walls. Sigh.

    1. It is OhMiGawd hot here in Hooterville Ontario let me tell you, over 90F every day since the beginning of June. Two weeks after it snowed the last time. Spring? Real short.

      This week we got a little break so I’m doing things outside, in between rain drops. Yay!

      Not pleased to hear there’s more heat coming. Normally we get a couple weeks the end of July over 80F. Can’t even go to the beach this year or go camping (all shut for Corona Chan), so the hot weather is wasted.

      1. We’re in rollercoaster mode for temps. Had a spell of sub-normal, and now are looking at a spell of 90+ days.

        The good news is that it hasn’t rained since I did the under-floor framing. The plywood floor decking is sitting nekkid and doing fine.

        The bad news is that we’re now in fire season. Spent yesterday hauling 4 trailer loads of multi-year-old pine needles to the burn piles. Come November, I’ll have a fun time dealing with those.

        Governor Kate Brown (Despicable, Oregon) now demands we wear masks outdoors if “social distancing cannot be maintained”. I fully expect this to be rigorously enforced on protests by the right. OTOH, the rioters tend to wear masks to begin with. The ban on social gatherings indoors with more than 10 people is also fun. She’s getting plenty of grief from attempting to mess with churches. The state Supreme court has too many appointed by her, but there’s a federal lawsuit ongoing. Note the latest order does *not* include churches. She’s a raging leftist thug, but not quite as stupid as Gavin Noisome in Cali.

  4. Congrats on the house move.

    Back in my youth (early to mid 20s) I worked two jobs, most of the time one full time and one part time. One year I worked two full time jobs so I could get everything paid off and only have to work one job ever again. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep that year, but I got myself out of debt and was really well organized. Once I quit the 2nd job I had all kinds of time on my hands that I didn’t know what to do with, and found myself struggling to get the basic chores done because I wasn’t as organized.

    Then I got married, and ended up back in debt (only 2 years left on her student loans) and had a kid. For the first three years of her life our daughter didn’t sleep well. Still doesn’t, but only about one or two nights a month is she up super early. Trying to get by on 5 hours of sleep or less was a lot easier in my 20s than it was in my 40s. I hope I never have to do it again.

  5. I watched two experienced guys move a similar-sized shed onto my property this last winter. It was designed as a moveable “temporary” building with skids, they had a purpose-built trailer and a purpose-built mule to move it with, they move two of them every day… and it was still as nerve-wracking as hell and it still took them all afternoon. There were plenty of spots where heads were scratched and things were McGuivered into compliance. It got stuck, even though we waited for the ground to be frozen. Because it was HEAVY as all hell, and three inches of frost wasn’t holding it.

    I built the gravel pad it sits on, that took ages to do even with the tractor. Dig a hole? That’s hard core.

    But, eventually, it was done. Not perfect, but pretty good.

    Today I’m fiddling about putting in posts for the gate next to it. (We got a break in the -unbelievable- heatwave that’s been here since June and I’m making the most of it. For tomorrow I’m sure it’ll rain, or bake some more, or there will be a plague of toads.) Pretty good gate posts. Straight and true, ready for the gate. That’ll be the next thing.

    I used to be like you, Dave. It had to be done PERFECTLY, no effort spared. Writing, furniture, sheds, gates, all the same.

    But then I met this woman who was 100% not that way. Perfection was idiotic, just finish it already and get on to the next damn thing. F- it, drive on! And pick up your socks off the floor or the dog will get them!

    30+ years of exposure to that, it grinds off some of the sharp corners of the drive to perfection. So now I have the drive to be Pretty Good. Perfect is for the Gods, but I can manage pretty good myself right here on Earth.

    I’m trying to dial it back to Close Enough, but that’s a tough go. ~:D

    1. Barbs has learned ‘I’ve got to live with it. It’ll bug me every day’. And I have learned ‘it’s strong, if not beautiful’ and no, you can’t do it again 🙂

  6. For the dissertation the motto was “Don’t get it right, get it written”. For the fiction, I’m not sure yet. My husband asked me if, after the beta readers finished, was I going to send it out again. I said no. I was going to read it for copy editing purposes and then pull the trigger. That’s what I did. I think…think…I’m getting better about the infinity-plus drafts…maybe.

    1. I only send it back out if there was something terrible no-good throw book across room in the prior draft, because I want to make sure that 1) it was fixed completely, 2.) I didn’t make a worse mess fixing it, and 3.) story still makes sense after changes.

      Fortunately, I’ve been pretty light on those, so yay!

    2. Actually the thesis was ‘cut to not more than double average…’ :-). I was a very terrible writer. It took me a lot of unlearning to improve.

  7. We’ve been slowly improving the house over the years, but stalled out about two years ago and have been coasting on “good enough”. On a recent road trip, I made the “what to do to get it ready to sell” list. It’s shockingly long, but a great deal of it is trivial (e.g. touch up scratched door frame paint). My goal is one thing off the list a week.

    While I highly doubt it will happen, if there is a political turn-around in Denver’s increasing insanity, I may stay in my pretty house. If not, I’ve fallen prey to the “it’s always annoyed me” syndrome of the nicest my house has ever looked is when I’m moving out. I’m not sure if Denver is going to become Detroit or San Francisco, but I don’t want to live in either and the former does really bad things to one’s property values.

  8. Before we moved into this house, Peter conned… I mean, accepted the help of darling friends who refloored the house. I am humbled by their generosity and lack of dirty looks. We also paid contractors to redo a, ah, drunkenly engineered enclosed porch, and do it right (and to code), along with a few other things that needed doing.

    As the final present, Peter had the house deep-cleaned by a maid service right before we moved in. It was the first time I’ve moved into a place and didn’t have to try to clean around the piles of my stuff in order to have a clean place to put my stuff. It was absolutely lovely!

    So I understand your wanting to hold off until you’ve gotten major and plenty of minor things out of the way… but no matter when the Mrs. puts her foot down, I hope you truly enjoy waking up in your own bed in your own house.

  9. The one genuine advantage of hopping between stories at whim is that there is something already in progress when you finish one work so you can hop to another.

  10. The never-ending illustration is not entirely dissimilar. Having a writer and his deadlines makes me finish, stop, and move on. I do not know how any one does this on their lonesome.

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