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Chapter 2 – The Building Metaphor
Building the House
Writing an essay is a lot like building a house. In fact, it really IS building a house. As essay is a metaphor for a certain kind of mental construction. The steps are essential and must be engaged thoroughly, methodically, and without rushing through to the end.
Procrastination is a killer. Taking short cuts will diminish the quality of the final product. And the strength of each step is largely dependent on the strength of the ones before it. Also, each choice will contribute to the strength and/or weaknesses of the steps that come after.
An essay, like a house, is an integrated, interdependent set of complementary technologies meant to produce reliable results if followed properly. There is room for creativity and individual expression, cultural and personal variation, but only after the basic elements of building the structure are secure:
Land Prep (Research & Free Writing)
The first step in the construction process is getting the land ready. This includes clearing the area, digging trenches and making sure utilities are installed. In essay writing, this is the research process. This is when we brainstorm, free write, and gather research on topics of interest as we lay the groundwork for what comes next: our thesis.
The Footings & Foundation (Thesis)
Building a good foundation requires a lot more than digging a hole and pouring some concrete into forms. It must be tailored to its site like a custom suit, taking into account soil conditions, water tables, even the quality of the backfill. And it is the very structure upon which the rest of the house is built. Absolutely nothing that comes next will matter if the foundation isn’t solid. Similarly, your thesis is the foundation of your essay. Like the foundation, it needs to be as specific for the particular project as possible; and also like the foundation, it will lay the groundwork for absolutely everything that comes next.
Framing (Pattern of Development)
In the framing step, the “bones” of the home start to come together. Framing includes the floor joists, subfloors, and studs that form the walls and roof trusses. Here is where the very shape of the house begins to take shape. In writing, this is the pattern of development. It is where you decide how your body paragraphs are going to flow one to the next. This larger pattern will determine what spaces are for what functions in the house. In the essay, this is where we decide the larger pattern and shape our writing will take. Thus determining the purpose and function of the various parts.
Plumbing & Electrical (Paragraphs)
Once the home is framed, subcontractors will start installing the home’s major systems, including plumbing pipes, electrical wiring and heating and cooling ducts. These are the systems that move air, water and electricity through the home and make everything flow. In an essay, these are your sentences and paragraphs. If these are not constructed properly, much wasted energy will be spent trying to extract the big ideas from an essay. Conversely, when they are built correctly, ideas can flow freely throughout the various elements of the essay and are delivered to the reader with efficiency and clarity.
In this step, most of the home’s interior features will be added. This includes doors, baseboards, casings, window sills, kitchen counters, etc. Driveways, walkways, patios and final grading to direct water away from home will all be completed. Landscaping and exterior decorating happen during this step too. In essay writing, this is where we focus on things like writing strong introductions and conclusions and smooth transitions. These are the things that make it easier for a reader to enter and move through the space. The first things noticed and thus, often, the most important as far as creating first and last impressions.
Final Inspection & Walkthrough (Formatting & Editing)
Once construction is complete, a final inspection will be conducted by a local building official. Before you move in, you’ll want to do a final walkthrough with your builder to identify a list items that need to be repaired for the job to be considered complete. In essay writing, this is where we do our editing and formatting. Remember there are various levels of editing. Some may require a good deal of reworking of the material and others involve smaller issues like punctuation and syntax errors. Similarly, formatting issues can run the gamut from major to minor as well. Don’t skimp on this step. Just like with building house, why bother taking the time to develop all of the other stages correctly just to cut corners on the installation of light sockets and door knobs.? Get another set of eyes on it. That’s where the inspectors (writing tutors) come in.
Remember that writing is a process. We keep saying this, but that is for a very important reason: it’s true. When we realize the importance of each of the steps in producing the quality and coherence of the final product, it helps us to not get lost in the seemingly endless details of the process. We are working towards building something meaningful and lasting. A structure that can house our ideas (and the relevant, reliable and authoritative ideas of others) in a well-crafted, engaging, and leak-proof domicile to which all who are curious and willing may enter to explore.
Also, the process is one that we must engage thoroughly over time as we move towards building more solid foundations for our ideas and our thinking. It is AFTER the designs and blueprints have been finalized and your permits have been filed and approved that construction (writing) actually BEGINS on the project. Research, outlining, editing, and revision are as essential to the process as the writing itself. Skipping steps here inevitably will compromise the quality of the final product.
The process matters because you matter. Because we matter. And our ideas deserve the best built delivery systems we can manage. Be patient with yourself but do not shy away from the disciplined side of writing. Success awaits on the other side.