Some Assembly Required

Our new treadmill arrived Friday. Not Saturday, as we’d scheduled it, but a whole day early. I just happened to be home, fortunately, and had the delivery drivers bring it in and set the box in the living room. They expected to set it up, too, but I –Ms. Speaks-the-Truth-Even-When-I-Should-Shut-Up—told them that if they really felt so inclined, I’d be happy for them to assemble our new equipment, but that I had not, in fact, paid for it. Thankful, they left to try and catch up to their schedule, which had been thrown off by having our delivery added to it a day early.

Yeah. Should have let them do it. That “30-minute-assembly” claim is total bull.

Bobby and I started setting it up around 11:45 a.m. on Saturday. At 6:30 p.m., we finally finished. It wasn’t so much putting the hard bits together. That did, indeed, take around 30 minutes. It was getting the treadmill belt to function smoothly that took so long. Here’s how it went, in a nutshell:

Loosen the belt. Oil the works. Tighten the rollers/belt back to where we thought they were. Turn it on. Belt immediately starts shifting to the left. Scrape, scrape, scrape. Turn it off. Loosen the roller, adjust the belt back to center. Tighten the roller. Turn it on. Immediate shift to the left. Scrape, scrape. Turn it off. Loosen the rollers, center the belt.

All. Dang. Day.

Eventually, we realized that removing the motor cover would not, in fact, invalidate the warranty as we’d feared. We pulled that sucker off and lo-and-behold, the front roller was skewed. No wonder nothing we did worked! Once that was fixed, it was only a matter of tweaking the end roller and voila! Even so, that process took over an hour. (A word of advice from your Auntie Drema: pay the extra set-up fee for the guys who’ve done this over and over and over and know what they’re doing. It’s totally worth it.)

But the whole thing got me thinking. That fumbling, learn-it-as-you-go was very similar to the process I went through with my first novel. Putting the bits together was easy. Keeping the plot (belt) centered and running smoothly (no scrapes or warping) took far longer—not because I have no talent as a writer, but because it was a new process to me. Like setting up a treadmill. We didn’t know how to do it, so we had to keep adjusting the roller and straightening the belt until we learned the little front roller secret. Even knowing that, it will take us longer to oil the machine, when next it’s due, because we’re still clumsy at the process. But the more we do it, the easier it will be and the more efficient we’ll become.

This works with writing, too. Over time, and with more practice, I’ve seen a difference in my writing. I do have a second novel in the works, a sequel to Founder’s Seed, which is on the back burner until I either find a publisher for the first book or decide to self-publish. In the meantime, I’ve been penning short stories. Each time, I see an improvement in my style, my process, and the overall quality of the piece.

The point is that for everything I write, there is some assembly required. I’ve read the instruction manuals (Brooks, King, Vogler, Bell, Brown & King, others). They all have suggestions for how to write sellable material, but unlike assembling a piece of equipment, there is no one right way to put together a story. Brooks says plot it out. Bell says stay focused on your WIP (work in progress), even when a new idea springs to mind (though his latest blog post on The Kill Zone adds a caveat to that rule). King says go with your gut and for gods’ sakes, don’t let a hot, exciting idea die of boredom while you’re planning it out to the last detail or finishing another story first.

All are successful authors. Who is right?

The answer is – you are. I am. I listen to the masters; I read or listen to their words, but I’ve decided not to tie myself to one way of doing things. Everyone has their own method, but if I try to force fit mine to theirs, it stifles my creativity, interferes with the natural process, slows me down. Assembling the bits to create an entertaining, moving, or inspiring bit of fiction takes time, flexibility, and patience. Sometimes, it all comes together in one seamless flow. Other times, I have to loosen and re-tighten the rollers over and over. A few times, I’ve been unable to keep that darned belt centered no matter what I did. Those stories-in-progress lie in an “Unfinished” folder awaiting attention at some future date.

For now, I’m in a stride, and producing enough to keep me happy. Is it sufficient? Only I can be the judge of that. I’m still trying to get a story published. No hits yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Until next week, happy writing!