Everything I needed to know about writing I learned from my Dad’s level

When I was a little girl, Saturdays were my favorite day of the week, because Dad took me to the hardware store. Never a man without a project, Dad and I strolled the aisles and picked out all the uber-cool and necessary items. Back home, he let me watch him build.

Even as an adult, Dad helps me builds projects around our house: corner benches, window seats, entertainment cabinets, wainscoting, and more. I’ve often thought about tackling carpentry projects myself, but I’ve always been afraid his gifts of patience, precision, and measurement didn’t pass down through the genetic pipeline.

Until last week, that is. I gulped hard, then set about transforming a small, unused closet in my son’s room into a book nook, complete with a seat, shelves, and trim. As I worked, I couldn’t help think of how similar building and woodworking are to the craft of writing. So, here for you today are the top ten applicable things I learned:

1) Borrowing ideas from others is a compliment. I found the book nook idea at my favorite DIY blog. I copied some of the ideas, but ultimately, the project quickly became unique to my home and my son’s personality. Application: Don’t be afraid to consider how to tweak popular (even Shakespearean) story lines into your own masterpiece.

2) Sketch out a plan. I drew sketches with all my ideas and at all sorts of angles. This really helped when I took it to the hardware store and explained my ideas to Mr. Friendly-But-Skeptical-of-a-Female-Builder in the blue apron. Application: Plot and outline. And know that girls can build, too.

3) Take time to measure. And measure again. I measured most boards at least three times before cutting them. Even so, I had to take some pieces back to the saw for additional trimming, because of angles I hadn’t anticipated. Application: Research. And research more. You may not need all the research you gather for your story, but it’s better to have too much than not enough. You can’t make a piece of wood longer, after all.

4) The level never lies. My Dad always spends more time leveling than he does nailing and drilling. As a young girl, this seemed like a waste of time. Now, with one (fairly) successful project under my belt, I understand how one unlevel board can ruin the whole project. Application: You can never fact check or edit too much.

5) Shims come in handy. A side board which supported the nook’s seat wasn’t level. I added a shim to the low end to make it right before I drilled the seat plank on. Sitting crooked wouldn’t be much fun. Application: Take time to smooth out and adjust your prose.

6) Sometimes you have to yank out a bent nail. I stink at hammering. Should be the easiest part of a project, right? Not for me. I’m hammer challenged. Inevitably, at least a few of my nails bend, and I’m tempted in frustration to just hammer them in anyway. Sideways. Application: Don’t be sloppy. Take your time.

7) When stuck, ask a master for help. Switch projects for a moment: Last winter I painted my kitchen yellow. Three times. After the first two shades came out neon and lemonish and all wrong, I bawled like a baby knowing I’d have to paint the whole room a third time. I called my Dad. We knocked it out in a couple hours. Application: Read and talk to established authors. They help get you out of writing ruts.

8) Wood putty and spackle are my new best friends. For holes. Dings. Bent nails I hammered in anywayApplication: Edit.

9) Sandpaper makes all the difference. Application: Edit some more.

10) Invest in a good paintbrush. The final touches of a project are when I’m most tempted to take shortcuts. I’m tired of looking at the mess. I just want to get ‘er done. But alas, these are the moments which make a project shine. I found out the hard way that using a crappy paintbrush when applying high gloss paint to cabinetry looks plain awful. Application: Don’t skimp before hitting the send button. Edit again.





What about you?

What ways do you find real-world experiences help you re-frame the writing journey?

What’s your most handy advice? 


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