Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Long Haul

This summer, we moved across the country into a house with a large basement. Between all of my responsibilities--family, church, and an extensive contracted writing project--I managed to get the main house livable in a matter of weeks. The basement was another story.

But this week, with holidays approaching, and with relatives and other visitors coming to stay who will want tours of our new place, I felt like it was time to tackle the basement. I knew it would be a huge job, and I knew that, due to circumstances and timing, I'd be doing it all by myself. I set aside time Tuesday afternoon and all day yesterday, and I got after it. 

Picture this: a dark, unfinished space, about 20 feet by 20 feet, with a concrete floor. Evidence of recent rat infestation. (We have a contract with a pest control company, but we are battling a situation that apparently has been going on for years.) And boxes. At least one hundred. Filled with winter clothes, sports equipment, camping gear, tools, holiday decorations, baby gear I can't give up yet, and lots and lots of memorabilia and keepsakes.

My goal was to finish the purging I started before the move, organize everything else, and to make the space as inviting as possible. Our exercise equipment is down there, and there's a workshop space, so the room needs to be usable. And I wanted things like Christmas decorations and sleeping bags to be readily accessible, yet out of the way.

I got to work. I sorted, I stashed, and I stacked. I hauled and shelved and swept. I checked my hair and the back of my neck for spiders frequently. The result, as of dinnertime last night? Fifteen huge, black garbage bags filled, twenty stacks of flattened, tied-up cardboard sitting out for the recyclers, and a driveway chock full and waiting for the veterans' donation truck. And a pristine basement with the remaining boxes neatly stacked and labeled, the treadmill and the rowing machine ready to go, and a workshop area that is tidy and waiting for the next Pinewood Derby car. 

I didn't give up--not even when I wanted to, which was only about every 20 minutes. The worst bit was when I was about two-thirds of the way through. That's when everything was at its messiest, the novelty had long since worn off, and I was hot, thirsty, filthy, and starting to ache. 

As I sat on the cement--surrounded by the detritus of eight lives, tempted to light a match to it all--the parallels to writing long-form fiction struck me. It's about at the 66% point that I want to give up on my novels, too. The great premise that so excited me at the beginning feels stale; I know my characters well enough that they start to annoy me; and the prospect of tying up of all the many loose ends of the plot seems overwhelming. It's all a mess, and I want to quit. 

But I go on with an eye of faith, holding out hope that I can finish. I trust the self that believed in this book enough to start it. I rely on past experience; I've been here before and know that my discouragement will pass once I clear some more hurdles. I take a deep breath and keep moving. I do my best to rediscover the joy in the journey (I always find it again)--and eventually? It all works out. 

Writing is exhilarating work, but it's work. Those of us who take it on are like pioneers, forging into the undiscovered country of our ideas and hopes and dreams. Pioneers with basements and novels to explore, tame, and conquer need vision and courage--and most of all, perseverance. Go forward and get it done!


  1. This is such a perfect parallel, Luisa. And I so needed to read this. There are many aspects of my life in which I'm at the 66% mark, and it's so tempting to give up and do something faster. Instant gratification may be gratifying, but it's nothing compared to the joy and self-respect born of surviving "the long haul." =)

  2. Wow Luisa,
    You get to 66% before you want to quit?! I'm impressed, I'm usually wailing and moaning around 33. Thanks for the post and congrats on the basement!

  3. Great post, Luisa!!! I'm the same way--I get to about 70% and I want to stop. It's all in the perseverance.

  4. Just what I needed to hear as I'm writing and working on my basement at the same time! (Well, not the SAME time.) Well said, Luisa. Forge onward!

  5. I admire you, not only for getting it done, but getting it started. I put off starting so many tasks in my life because of worry over how long they will take. This is ironic and self-defeating. Nothing takes longer to finish than the task that is never started.

    Congratulations for starting, persevering, and finishing!

  6. You're right! Writing is in for the long haul. It takes time, determination and perseverance. I love it when things are easy, but most of the time, it's hard work.
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. You've inspired me to tackle my office! Barbara Kingsolver said that before she starts writing any new book, she cleans out her office, gets it all organized, and re-situates her desk so that she'll have a new view.

    Well, my alcove's too small to move the furniture much, but I can certainly clear out a lot of extraneous paper, etc. Strangely enough, that's about the same stage I'm at in my WIP...almost ready for revision and editing. At least I got past the 66% pause.

  8. Such a great analogy, as everyone has said already.

    Something else occurred to me thanks to this post: while cleaning things up and organizing, usually the mess gets temporarily worse--much worse. It's only by plowing through, like you did, that you get over the hump and experience the awesomeness that is finishing a project, whether it's writing or cleaning!