Why Revising Writing Is Like Caulking Your Bathtub

There’s not much nastier than a grimy old bathtub, right? Who wants to scrub up in something that looks like this?

It's amazing what you can not-see when all you want is a hot shower...

It’s amazing what you can not-see when all you want is a hot shower…

Except when it’s YOUR grime, built up over (let’s not count how many) years, you kinda…how shall I say…fail to notice how grody it looks. It’s just, y’know–your bathtub. Hop in and soak your cares away.

But my parents are coming to visit. And even though Martha Stewart is NOWHERE in my family tree, parents still count as guests. And guests cause my vision to change. As in, “Oh, GROSS! Who bathes in THAT?”

So I re-caulked the sucker.

It was a messy job. As it happens, being deep in revisions of Book Three (of The Flying Burgowski series), I couldn’t help noticing the parallels between re-caulking and re-vising.

Here I am, for example, getting rid of some crusty old adverbs and parenthetical phrases that had built up through two previous drafts and were now gumming up the forward motion:

Away with you, needless exposition!

Away with you, needless exposition!

The old caulk fought back. “But I must be serving some purpose or you wouldn’t have kept me around for so long, right? If you get rid of me, you’re going to have to start ALL OVER! And who knows how many more leaks that’ll cause?”

Sound familiar, fellow writers? Those are the same protestations your words and paragraphs make under your editorial knife. That’s why Stephen King calls revising “murdering your darlings.”

Well, I murdered the heck out of that old bathtub grime. The new caulk felt silky as cake frosting beneath my index finger. 

Can you say "final draft"?

Oh, dear–now I need to bleach all the shower walls. Better, but a final draft this ain’t.

And I’m going to try and remember that smooth, fresh finish as I continue to peel away at built-up prose. 

But I’m also curious–for what other activities does re-caulking serve as apt metaphor? Let me hear.

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