Renovating my dilapidated eyesore of a shed into an art studio has me thinking about different kinds of writing projects.

An essay, novel, short story, or poem is like a new construction custom home. You invest all the thought, time, and energy you can to get it right. Many rules exist – grammar, punctuation, spelling, building codes – but even working within these rules, there’s tremendous room for creativity, for creating something stunning or groundbreaking, something with lasting impact. Many non-fiction books are written with this same commitment.

News reports, contributed articles, case studies, and press releases are like new construction tract homes, slapped together under a deadline. They follow the same basic rules but also follow a very limiting set of additional parameters (structural components, jargon, repeated floor plans and facades) to make them easier and less expensive to produce. They can be useful and even important, but they are often of poor quality, making the writing hard to consume and the buildings subject to a variety of problems, such as leaks. Most unfortunately, many writing projects that have no deadline are written as if they do.

Next comes editing someone else’s work or adapting a piece of writing for a completely different purpose. Like renovating an older structure, you really don’t know what you’re going to encounter until you start tearing things apart. If you’ve watched contractors doing this, you realize they often have to improvise. They keep key goals in mind – correct size, level, sufficient support, leak prevention, and building codes if there will be an inspection – and then cut, hammer, tape, strap, cheat, shim and caulk to achieve their ends. “Whatever works” is the guideline, and this is often the case with editing projects. Last week I was asked to do a last-minute proof of a press release I’d drafted weeks earlier and that had gone through numerous revisions. Unfortunately, some introductory information had been taken out, so out of the blue, a product was mentioned with absolutely no description or context. At first I thought the only good solution was another major revision, but since there wasn’t time, I got on the phone with the account director and talked through the problem. As we discussed more and more drastic repairs, I suddenly saw I could quickly introduce the product early on with just an added phrase. It certainly wasn’t the best solution, but it eliminated the most jarring effect and met the time constraints. The caulking gun approach.

I think of the kind of writing more and more of us do every day – the short email or blog post – as the equivalent of decorating projects, like putting up shelves or hanging some pictures. These are typically useful projects, but their real importance is the role they play in the overall effect and usability of the décor. We can choose to do these projects fast and sloppy or slow and neat. Is the picture at the right height? Does it hang straight? Are the shelves level and properly spaced? The better we execute on each project, the better the overall effect. It’s the same in writing. Each blog post may be useful in its own way, but the real importance is in the cumulative effect. Which is why execution on each piece matters.

To stretch the analogy just a bit further, in the same way that expensive furnishings and a paint job can obscure construction flaws in a building, interesting content can sometimes overcome weaknesses in structure and sentencing – while tasteless decorating and uninteresting content can make excellent construction irrelevant.

“So what about Tweets?” I ask, as I click over to Twitter to check the stream. It may not be writing at all. It may be poetry. More on this later.