Spring Cleaning Manuscripts

What a week it’s been! The sun is shining outside and I’ve actually gotten work done today, but that’s a first this week. Why? Sometimes health sucks. Not fun at all.

But I’m on the mend. Yay! Tomorrow I will spend spring cleaning my wardrobe while my husband makes pancakes and chops down dead trees, and our web developer sits at our table, eats our food and weaves his magic.

Now that I’m all healthy and my brain is out of the great fog, I have a little writers journey to share with you: the great spring clean.

We writers love to sit and weave magic, make beautiful sentences, create intriguing characters and scenarios. I’m no stranger to that. I think that every sentence in the novel I’m currently writing is fabulous prose.

Well at least that’s what I thought until I started reading it out loud to my husband. Wow. Reality check. Kaboom!

It’s not that my wonderful sentences weren’t fabulous. Its just that there were too many of them. Waaaay too many. So I’ve set about spring cleaning my manuscript. You see, one of the misconceptions about writing is that people think it is about length.

It’s not. Its about depth. I remember the first time I read Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities), I was struck by the fact that not one word was a luxury. Not a single word was idle or useless. If you thought the word was just an adornment in the beginning, by the end of the book you would realize that Dickens had to use it. There was a purpose in absolutely everything.

A good writer (which I strive to be, rather than claim to be), won’t use three words to describe something when one perfectly chosen word will do. They understand that descriptions don’t have to be melodramatic to be good. It’s like accessorizing an outfit. Don’t wear all your good jewellery at once when one sublimely chosen piece will set off your ensemble perfectly.

So I’m spring cleaning my manuscript. It’s got some darn good action sequences and some fascinating characters that I’m even enjoying learning about. But brevity in the short term leads to good story tempo in the long term. I don’t mean you should under-describe. I mean you should show rather than tell. I mean you should be intentional in the use of every word, and at all costs avoid repetition. A pet hate of mine is when the author doesn’t trust me (the reader) to understand what they are saying, thus feeling the need to remind me every two pages that the protagonist is hot/angry/in-love/etc. Trust the reader. Explain once. Explain well.

Footnote: You can’t expect this to happen on the first draft. It takes time and edits. You have to do the crap writing first so that the good writing can be polished and extracted later.

I know it can be painful to hit delete on a sentence you adore. It’s even more painful to hit delete on a character you love but don’t need. It does make for a better manuscript though.

So be courageous, dear writer friend! I promise it will be worth it.

Happy Friday friends!




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