Over the past summer, my husband and I have been working on a project renovating a set of old furniture that has run in his family for a few generations. It skipped a generation, however, and has been stored for quite some time in an old farmhouse with no conditioning, mostly untouched. When we set out on the project, the idea was to have something we could do together and look back in future years and know we did together (especially since it would be something from early in our marriage), as well as to have a nice bed frame, chest of drawers, and changing table to add to our apartment (not that our apartment isn’t crowded enough as it is, but…).
Now, I know I normally stick to talking about book cover design and photoshop stuff here on the blog, but today I’m switching gears to talk about writing and my writing process.
How do refurnishing furniture and rough drafts relate?
Well, when looking at the furniture, my husband and I had to decide whether to simply repaint it, or stain it. Either way we needed to strip it down to wood, but we wouldn’t have to do quite such a good job stripping it if we were repainting it. However, being that this furniture dated back to sometime around the 1920s or 30s, that meant we were likely dealing with lead based paint, and we thought staining would look better anyway.
What we didn’t know was that this furniture hadn’t been painted two or three times, like we’d expected, but somewhere around five layers of stubborn paint that hid in the little grooves of corners and refused to be removed by a simple process. It required paint stripper (that blue, snot-like goo that burns if you get it on you… and worse if you accidentaly get some on the back of your shoe then sit on your shoe). Consider this the rough draft. We applied the paint stripper, let it set, then came back and removed what we could. There were still several layers of pink and white and green and some sort of yellow-ish color waiting in chunks around the corner, but once that was done, we could see wood. Yay!
Once the stripping was complete, then came the sander. We used it where we could, where flat surfaces permitted, and it really helped, but those corners were still elusive. Another edit, so to say.
Corners. This was the fine tuning, trying to work out those little kinks that just won’t go away. We tried sand paper. We tried a razor blade (which was mildly-helpful), and we tried one of those sanding foam blocks. Little trick we discovered– a stiff toothbrush and more paint stripper works wonders. Didn’t figure that out until half-way through the process, though, and like writing, its one of those things you learn by trial and error. (And a bit of help from both parents pointing out possible suggestions).
Eventually, we got everything sanded. We went from 100 grit sandpaper to 220 sandpaper, and polished it up. Got the wood nice and smooth. Stained it. Applied polyurethane. Applied another coat of polyurethane… and another… and it wasn’t until the second-to-last piece of furniture I figured out the trick to getting it to come out smooth. It dried quickly, so if I tried to go back and smooth out a partially dry spot, all I did was leave ridges in the coating. Granted there was more to it than that, but it was like fine tuning a manuscript. Finding the little errors, trying to fix them, and realizing that no matter how many corners you remove paint from, there’s still going to be some speck of pink paint shining through the stain when everything’s said and done (though luckily in an unobtrusive place). I’ve read many times that there’ll still be things you want to correct, even after a manuscript has been edited and polished and published.
We’re still working on the project as of my writing this, being that we can only work on it while visiting my husband’s parents (and they live an hour-and-a-half away from where we live). But it occurred to me that revising a manuscript is much like refurnishing the old furniture. Takes time, can be a bit of a pain, but you still feel a sense of excitement upon seeing it all come together, when everything’s been stained and smooth… or edited and reads as smooth as piece of furniture.