Living the Dream: The Phases of Building IKEA Furniture

Since I’m taking a short break from the writing to help a friend move into his new house, I’ve decided to write something a little different. Here is how I see the process of building IKEA furniture:

Denial:

It begins when you see the furniture set up in the store. “It can’t be THAT hard to put together,” you say to yourself as you sit on the already constructed model in the dream-like show room. “What could possibly go wrong?” Even as you begin to unpack the many pieces and that familiar sense of foreboding bubbles to the surface, you push it back down. The cartoon directions are cute! The furniture has a funny name! It can’t be that bad…

Anger:

It’s been hours. Your living room now looks like a battleground riddled with the corpses of torn cardboard, oddly named screws and some directions that make no sense. A vague feeling of hatred for that little stick dude rises to the surface as you peer bemusedly at the directions one more time.

“Why don’t they make non- Allen key screws?!? What’s up with those directions?”

Welcome to anger-ville, population you.

Bargaining:

“Oh, —–.” and other variations. Insert any and all of your favorite expletives here, because in this phase they are plentiful. Usually occurring after you have built your furniture backwards, lost that all important screws and/or have fully assembled said furniture without a crucial piece, you beg the furniture to “just work dammit!”

Depression:

Dammit, it didn’t work. Maybe you insulted its mama one too many times, because now it looks like something made by Picasso’s brain-damaged brother.
“This is never going to look like furniture,” you moan, sinking to the floor. In the depths of furniture building depression, THE DREAM seems pretty far away.

Acceptance:

Congratulations! At some point, you have to pick yourself up off of the floor and do your best (or worst).

Your furniture may or may not look like what it did in the store, but you can sit on it/store your stuff in it and now it is time to accept the fact that it is what it is. Good job, friend, go and have a beer.

The Best Nanaimo Bar Recipe Ever OR the Layer Dilemma

Nanaimo Bars

Since it is getting closer to Christmas, I thought I’d share a favourite Christmas square recipe with you.  It’s a recipe that I found once on the City of Nanaimo website and then adapted.  The recipe has a purpose though, too.  Nanaimo Bars have layers, and they’re a bit finicky to make.  Writing a novel is nothing like making Nanaimo Bars—you can easily make them in an hour or so—but it’s those layers that I keep thinking about.  So I have a question for you: how do you successfully add in layers of complexity to a story without going too far?

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer


½ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup sugar

5 tbsp. cocoa

1 egg beaten

1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs

1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. (Or just use two pots one big, one little.  Fill the big one with water and put the little one in so that it floats…we’re not fancy in my kitchen).  Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan.

Second Layer


½ cup unsalted butter

2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream

2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder

2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Note: I usually double the recipe for the second layer to get more cream filling.

Third Layer


4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
–Or a bag of chocolate chips works too

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator (make sure the chocolate isn’t scalding or it will melt the cream).

The Swamp: Finding the Magic and Crafting the Mystery

My cousin and I sometimes get ourselves into sticky situations.  One Christmas, we were enchanted by the idea of the ice covered swamp—a place which happened to be off-limits.  Walking our small dog down the dark road made the journey even more dazzling; it was the anticipation of what might happen that kept us shivering, whooping, buzzing with excitement.  So when the dog backed out of his collar and took off into the snowy woods we could think of nothing to do but follow him. It was an adventure!

Hearts racing, we pounded through the snowy woods, arms out to fend off rogue branches.  I have always loved the woods in winter: muted and warm from the layers of white.  But on this night, with the stars shrouded behind clouds and the winds howling along with the wolves, it felt like the air was charged with something magical—and perhaps a little dangerous.  At the edge of the woods was the swamp.

Out onto the pristine ice we went, trailing the small mutt as he ducked and weaved through the frozen bulrushes.  The sound of brittle bones creaking underneath as the ice shifted below.  Here’s the problem with swamps in winter: no matter how untouched and innocent they look, there’s always a soft spot. With a crack the ice gave way beneath my boots and I slid down into the chilling, murky water below.

At this point, you might be thinking: Lauren has gone insane.  Swamps and novels are nothing alike.  True.  There are many ways that they are different and only one way that they are similar: when you get stuck, it’s a real mess to claw your way back to your original destination (or point).  At the same time, the act of getting lost in the swamp—or the story—is exhilarating.  Sometimes the thrill of not knowing what will happen next—what new plot twist you will write into the story—makes the process and the product better.  At the same time, writing an outline for your novel is like a safety net.  It serves an important purpose for when you get mired in the bog—or whatever pitfalls you might encounter.

In the end, my cousin lay down on the ice (like we had been taught not that long ago) and managed to pull me out of the frozen muck.  Frozen and exhausted, we lay there, on the banks of the swamp and looked up at the stars.  The dog padded up softly to us and began licking us on our prickling pink cheeks.

Do you write an outline before starting a novel? Is it worth it? What are the best ways to make a novel outline?

The Ugly Christmas Sweater: Why You Should Forgive Yourself for (Sometimes) Writing Badly

Yes, it lights up too.

‘Tis the Season to be sentimental.  Being that I am sometimes known to be a sentimental person, I decided to take a peek at my old manuscript.  Because there is really no good way to express the sounds uttered as I flipped through it, here is a word that I think pretty much sums it up:

BLARG

Yes, it was that bad.  Feeling somewhat despondent, I turned instead to my newest pride and joy—an idea that makes me shiver with excitement—and promptly found that I couldn’t write.  The thought had crept in while I had been so innocently scoffing at my poor, sad first draft.  “Lauren,” it sneered, “You will be nervous about writing badly and you will not write again!” There may or may not have been maniacal laughter.

Sometime later, I was going through the boxes of detritus that I have yet to donate and I found something most excellent.  It was an ugly Christmas sweater.  In some ways, bad writing and the Christmas sweater are awesome in an off-kilter, I-don’t-care-what-you-think sort of way.  What I mean is that everyone expects an ugly Christmas sweater to be hideous and this is why it is awesome; ugly sweater parties are often the most fun, simply because nobody cares that they look silly!  It’s like an all-fun, hold the judgment sandwich with extra catharsis.  Sometimes writing badly is cathartic, because there are no expectations.  It allows you to leave all judgment behind and just do what you are supposed to do, which is write.

So why not think about bad writing in the same way?  Consider bad writing awesome, because out of the ashes of your heinous first draft you might just find the perfect paragraph.  Or the best plot point ever.  Or at least it will give you a good solid laugh before you start writing that second draft.

So what sorts of ugly sweaters do you have in your closet?  Do you agree that we should embrace the bad writing to make way for the good?