My Season of Non-Fiction Creativity: Hands-On Projects

Procrastination, the nemesis of good intentions.

Once upon a time (back in May of this year, to be precise), a fledgling writer proclaimed that she was taking a break from her blog for the summer in order to concentrate on finishing edits to her book.  Then, an evil temptress known as Procrastination cast a spell, causing the writer to do practically everything BUT work on those edits. The writer’s creative muse turned gray and cold, and her passion for writing disappeared forever, never to be used again. The end.

Oh, what a horrible story! But don’t worry—it’s also fiction. Well, it’s partly fiction based on true events. A dramatization, if you will.

I did in fact take the summer off with the intended purpose of working on edits to Colossa and the Big Kids. And, I did NOT in fact work on those edits. Those are the true parts. The rest is fiction because my creativity did NOT wither and my passion for writing did NOT disappear. Rather, it took a much-needed vacation. And aren’t we all revitalized after a vacation?

My first post back from the blog-free wilderness covered what I actually did during my writing break (some authorly stuff was involved!), but I wanted to delve a bit deeper into the creative non-writing projects I tackled, partly because I’m proud of them, and partly because they are an important part of who I am. Believe it or not, writing is NOT my sole pastime passion.

Dad repainting our circa 1898 18-room house.

Growing up, I watched my father refinish everything from antique cabinets to collectible items. He made a second job out of restoring the Victorian-era houses we lived in. If he had nothing to refurbish, he’d find something to build—from wooden swords to an entire barn. His interest in working with his hands and bringing new life to old things is one of the few admirable qualities my dad possessed (it’s complicated), and—to my mind—the most positive trait I could’ve picked up from him.

I love taking something old and worn and breathing new life into it, and so by extension, I love hunting for old and worn things. I’ve brought home furniture and décor from antique stores, thrift shops, garage sales, and I’ve even adopted side-of-the-road castoffs. Since our move to Maryland in 2014, I’ve collected several such items. I could see in each one both a history of usefulness that I could add to and the potential to be a representation of my personality. My problem, though, is that—much like going to a dinner buffet—my eyes and plate are always much bigger than my stomach. I have more ideas and good intentions than I have time to actually implement them.

This summer, I decided it was time to make time.

I picked out fifteen not-started and unfinished projects that had been plaguing me for some time and announced my “Summer Project Series” on Instagram (here and here)—because nothing motivates quite like public pressure. The projects varied in size, difficulty, and scope of transformation, and each one I accomplished meant one more item gone from my mental plate.

The easiest project was adding wheels to our bar-height table. We found it at one of our local Goodwill stores in early 2017 after months of looking for something to fit the little bump-out space in our kitchen. It worked perfectly as a breakfast nook table, but I wanted to add casters to make it also usable as a moving kitchen island. That idea suffered from a case of “never got around to it,” but this September, I finally got around to it.  Now it’s a great multi-purpose piece of furniture for our small kitchen space.

One chair down. One to go.

The most difficult—and thus most time-extensive—project was the set of Adirondack chairs I liberated from a neighbor’s bulk household trash pickup pile last October. I literally absconded with them (with said neighbor’s permission) minutes before they met an unnecessary fate in the crushing jaws of a municipal garbage truck. This project was more involved than I’d bargained for (I had to use four different methods of paint stripping, repair a couple of rotted wood spots, and dig out some snapped screws…) but you know what they say: anything worth doing is worth doing right. That’s probably my life’s motto, come to think of it. I am a Virgo, after all. If you are so inclined and interested, you can scroll through my Instagram for details on this project, beginning with this post.

I wasn’t able to get all fifteen of my planned projects completed, but I got close. I finished ten, and will complete the eleventh as soon as I buy the materials to finish it (I ran short on doll house roof shingles, oops…) One of the final four projects has been rescinded (we decided that we like it as is), and another will be sent out for a professional makeover (I have zero confidence in my re-upholstering skills.) I’ll tackle the other two late next spring.

So, why should any of this be of interest to my readers? Earlier this season, I wrote about the benefits of nurturing non-writing hobbies, which was inspired by my own hobby of refinishing, refurbishing and upcycling salvaged furniture and décor. It’s not just about taking a much-needed mental vacation from writing. It’s also about the benefits inherent in those projects themselves. Working on something concrete and tangible flexes different cognitive muscles than the abstract practice of writing. It gives me the opportunity to reimagine and redesign in a three-dimensional, real-world space. In short, it’s a creative and expressive pursuit with a practical and material payoff.

Something old turned into something blue.

All of that said, I look forward to turning my attention back to the abstract this fall. While writing doesn’t solely define me, it is a major part of who I am. I’ll never be 100% happy if I can’t develop and share the stories in my head. And bonus: I now have a lovely, refurbished writing desk on which to work, thanks to the time spent indulging the interests of my non-fiction creative muse.   

  2 comments for “My Season of Non-Fiction Creativity: Hands-On Projects

  1. October 14, 2020 at 8:58 AM

    I hate you. I too took the summer off but did nothing useful and am still stubbornly Not Writing.
    I don’t actually have a creative life outside of writing, so at the moment I’m 98.2% dead inside.

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 14, 2020 at 4:21 PM

      Awww…lol. The catch-22 is that my sesne of self worth is 100% dependent on my productivity, so when I do nothing but veg on the couch all day, like I did Monday, I feel like useless crap. It’s not true, but that’s my curse.


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