Building Houses

Writing a book is like building a house. Okay, so you’ve heard that one before. So have I. It’s an old analogy. But there’s a part of it that I’d never really mulled over until this morning.

Some years ago, we built a house (not the one shown, but don’t you just love this picture?). Our builder kept us on track. Foundation dug, basement poured, structure framed, roofed, windows installed, and so on. After several months, our house was finished and we moved in.

But imagine if, after the cellar was finished, I’d decided I preferred a larger house. More digging, more cement to pour. Then, after the framing, imagine that I’d wanted to change it from a two-story colonial to a one-story sprawling ranch with huge windows. And, once the walls were painted, what if I’d said I wanted more wiring? Oh, and how about another bathroom just off the garage?

Do you see where I’m going? The house would have never been finished. At least not without a murder or two somewhere along the way (either my own, or the builder’s.) Not a good way to build a house. Not a good way to write a book either.

Houses need plans, and timelines. So do books.

As aspiring authors it is quite easy to start a story then just follow our wandering muse. Oooh, instead of a cop, what if I made the hero into a rodeo star? What if I changed the setting from Wyoming to New Zealand? It’s easy to be a writing pantser, writing by the seat of our pants, traveling where the mood takes us.

But published writers, those who are most successful, don’t allow themselves to do that. Not totally. Writing novels is a business. Successful writers make a goal, and follow a timeline.

If I am going to thrive in this business of writing, I must take a lesson from my old builder (and a few other worthy souls I’ve met along the way). Keeping my goal in sight, I must follow my timeline.

That’s how houses – and books – are built.

What is your philosophy of writing? Are you a pantser, a plotter, or a planner? Do you approach your writing as an art, or as a craft?