Paper Hanging My Book

When we moved into our last house, I had a vision for my kitchen and family room. Those “two” rooms were a large open space, divided by a bar-height counter and a set of upholstered bar stools. Now keep in mind that this was the nineties.To coordinate with my rose and green plaid drapes and couches, I wanted an old-fashioned small print floral wallpaper inside two glass doored cabinets and on the bulkhead above. While I like to design, I am not very good at implementing projects like painting and wallpapering. So I asked around and called the paper hanger that was most highly recommended.

I can no longer remember his name, though “Jim” pops into my head. He was of retirement age with white hair and a nasty case of diabetes, but he was still working full-time. When he arrived in his rusted and dented panel truck, he spent some time examining the wallpaper rolls I had purchased. Then he began hauling out all manner of sawhorses and drop cloths and tools.  By noon he had converted my garage into an elaborate workroom.

By 5PM he had finished measuring and preparing the walls. I figured he would start pasting up the wallpaper the next morning. I was wrong. He did arrive by 8AM, but he still had more prepping to do. I asked him why it was taking him so long to prep. He said, “I’ve been doing this a long time. More’n forty years. If I spend my time prepping, the job will go quickly and there won’t be any mistakes.”

I probably rolled my eyes when I left the room. But once he started putting up the pretty wallpaper, I was able to watch him complete the room, even with a trim border, in an hour. One hour to wallpaper my kitchen. And it looked perfect, with invisible seams and absolutely no bubbles. Clean edges.

Later, I had him wallpaper my kids’ bedrooms, too, and he did the same excellent job by putting the focus on the prep, not on the final step.

Whenever I have a job to do, I tend to think back to Jim and what he taught me with his work technique. His method can be applied to many projects.

In fact, I was thinking today about how writing a book is turning out to be like paper hanging Jim’s way. By writing 200,000 words in scenes ahead of time, and by taking the time to really plan out how to structure it all, I suspect that when I put it all together, that will be the fastest part of the writing.

P.S. I’ve been super busy at work lately, so I am really frustrated that I don’t have time to work on the book, but when you let me chat about it on here, it helps keep me motivated, so thank you!

Have you ever worked using a method like Jim’s–heavy on the prepping, light on the final step?


Filed under Blogging, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

36 responses to “Paper Hanging My Book

  1. This reminds me of the old carpenter saying “measure twice, cut once”. I wish I were this careful and measured in writing, but I think I lack the discipline. Sometimes I focus on the details and other times I have a big picture process. It makes for disjointed and likely inefficient writing sessions. But much like my novel, as I writer I’m a work in progress!

    • Yup, we all have our own learning paths. I sometimes get frustrated that it takes me so long to learn, but it is what it is!! WIP, that’s us!

  2. I needed this today!

  3. It’s a clever approach, and one I think I should adopt more often when faced with all kinds of tasks 😀

  4. This has nothing to do with writing, except as a metaphor. Quilting and weaving are two activities that require a lot of prep with the final step being the fastest. And the more you prep, the better the finished product. It is a wonderful way to think about one’s writing. I hope you get time to write again soon! Happy Memorial Day, Luanne 🙂

    • Oh, I can imagine that that is really true. That is true with stained glass, too. It’s almost all prep. Once you start to solder the pieces together, it’s one last thing, but really what came before is prep to that. Happy Memorial Day, Marie! I hope you are enjoying yourself and that you have happy memories.

  5. I give children’s art lessons and I always reiterate to my students, “if you are confident in the under-drawing, your painting will be glorious.”
    I too, follow this mantra (though truth be told, I cheat form time to time – as I paint sketch directly onto canvas).
    When I write my chapter growth builds slowly. I’m one of those bad writers – I don’t create outlines. I can’t. Half the time I’m not sure how the story ends…I have to wait and let it happen. Sometimes this approach generates entire manuscripts, other times, I can’t pass chapter three…
    love your post 🙂

    • Ann, haha re the cheating! Yes, sometimes we have to cheat. It’s part of mixing it up, I guess. I don’t think not creating an outline is a bad writer at all. I think an outline can prevent creative discovery from occurring! I kind of like the idea of creating the outline after a first draft is done and seeing what’s there and how to shuffle it around, if necessary. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  6. Taking pictures works this way too! I learned a long time ago to get as much right as possible when taking the shots; thinking you can fix everything in Photoshop is a mistake that wastes time later and doesn’t work as well anyway.

    • Now that you mention it, when I’ve had professional portraits done, I’ve seen how much time is spent on setting it up versus the actual shoot. And I see it in your posts, too, how much thought goes into your shoots.

  7. I love this. I’d never thought of it this way, but it is so true: Writing is like any other trade — prep is essential. I’m taking writing courses, and I find that if I don’t do good prep work the final draft is much harder to edit. Sometimes it seems like a lot of work, but it always saves time in the end. Thanks for this great post.

    • I’m so glad you found it helpful! It does save time in the long run! There was an expression that a friend used to use years ago that I loved and now I can’t remember it–driving me nuts. She always used it when somebody tried to carry everything in one trip and would end up dropping stuff and taking more time. Thanks so much for stopping by!!

  8. I agree re: preparation. It took me a while (many years) to learn this, but it is so true. I hope you can get back to our “paper hanging” soon.

  9. We could learn a lot from ole Jim. I’m discovering the hard way, that when it comes to my writing, more prep work on the front end, definitely saves time.

    • Isn’t it amazing? I mean, on the one hand, butt in chair is all you need to write, right? But, on the other hand, there are all different ways of prepping when you write so that the finished product flows together correctly. Sometimes a lot of prep is done in the mind!

  10. Lovely story Luanne. I suppose I do a bit of prepping before writing, not to much though (I like to stay open ended). I may write out a basic outline, assign a few traits, and a bit of background story to build off of. Usually all of it morphs into something else when I start to write.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing and happy Memorial Day.

    • That’s the beauty of allowing the discovery process to happen in writing. One of the things I most love about writing! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your process, Desiree!

  11. Yes, keep talking and I won’t give up hope either. Sounds good.

  12. This was a parable for the “measure twice, cut once” rule of thumb. My stumbling block is too much prep and no final product. Still measuring…:)

    • Meant to say, a great parable. Funny how I hit the publish button so fast!

      • Patti, I know what you mean about (questioning if there is) too much prep, although sometimes tells me I will know when the time is right. But prepping should be another word for procrastination LOL. Is that how you feel or are you just not sure or do you still need more prep time?

  13. Having painted most of my interior rooms recently I can certainly relate. The prep work made it more like fun and less like work when it got down to painting. The color was too pink so I ended up doing it all over again.

    I probably published my first book too early. But I would not have learned the things I have learned since if I had not gone ahead and done it when I did. Maybe I would have NEVER been ready, or 100% satisfied that it was good to go. I don’t know because I have not lived that experience…yet. I will have more eyes check the color first next time.

    • Did you repaint completely or put a wash or stain over the pink? The good thing about experience is what we learn from it. It’s hard to wish things had been different because we wouldn’t be where we are now without the things that have happened and the decisions we’ve made.

  14. Most of the time when I am in the kitchen canning something or working on dinner, I try to do more prepping than the actual work. By getting everything ready, especially when canning, the process goes smooth and easy. This morning I finished a batch of lemon-kiwi marmelade from start to finish (less the time the fruit sat overnight) in less than 40 minutes. That’s worth taking the time to prep the canner, jars, etc.

    This was my first time stopping at your blog. I enjoyed your post very much. Stopped by on the recommendation of The Siren’s Tale. Look forward to reading more. ~ Tilly

    • Tilly, yes, that is exactly. I am thinking I need to do more prep in the kitchen, although I am certainly better than I used to be. Gone are the days of getting to ingredient 15 in the recipe, with 14 items in the bowls heaped on each other, and discovering “oops fresh out”!
      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your wisdom! I checked out your blog–it looks like a lot of fun and like I can learn some life skills, too!

  15. That is how I generally approach my work work. Clients don’t always agree!

  16. It is sometimes hard for me, since I am a jump right in and tackle things kind of ‘gal!’ But I could learn a bit, hanging around with the wall paper hanging man, Jim! I enjoyed this so much, Luanne!

    • So are you impulsive, Robin? My daughter prides herself on being impulsive. I sometimes do impulsive things, but I feel better when I am more structured than that. Thanks so much for your comments, Robin! I always enjoy reading them!!!

Leave a Reply