Friday, March 18, 2011

3 Ways Editing is Like Spring Cleaning

My husband and I recently started some spring cleaning. I was actually a little excited about getting some things done. Especially considering it was last year’s spring cleaning! As we parsed items into keep, donate and toss piles, I thought about my writing. (I always think about writing.) I was trying to convince my husband that a Christmas wreath we never put up should go to a good home instead of collecting dust in our storage closet. A family member had given it to him twenty-years ago so it held memories. “The memories are in you, not the wreath. They’ll always be there,” I said. (It was easy for me to say that, I really don’t like the wreath!)

Our discussion made me think about the process of editing and the parallels between it and cleaning or organizing.

1. If it’s not working or useful, toss it. Most writer’s know you shouldn’t hesitate to “kill your darlings” if necessary. Whether a character, sentence, scene or even entire chapter, if it doesn’t benefit the story you need to be ruthless – toss it.

But, that doesn’t mean you’re back to square one or that your story or you as a writer aren’t better for writing it in the first place. We learn something from everything we write.

So, don’t be afraid to delete the scene where your character visited an old flame to get her tie-dyed shirt back. Just like you shouldn’t be afraid to get rid of that tie-dyed shirt tucked in the back of your sock drawer. You know you’re only keeping it because it used to make your chest look bigger.

2. Don’t be afraid to air your dirty laundry. Is the laundry pile making you cringe? Mocking you every time you walk by? Sometimes it’s easier to keep it hidden and not deal with it.

When editing your MS, look for places you can dig deeper and air your character’s dirty laundry. Everyone has secrets, something to hide. Everyone has a pimple, wart or flaw. It’s difficult with some of my favorite characters to let their faults show. My instinct is to protect them, hide their flaws from the world. But, characters only come to life when they are multi-dimensional. So bring out the dirty clothes, hang them out on the line a bit before you toss them in the wash. Fresh air does wonders!

3. Move things around if you need to. It’s amazing how much cleaner and fresher one of our rooms looked merely by moving things around. We didn’t get rid of a thing, just shuffled a bit until the layout was more appealing. Take a look at your WIP, are their places where just shifting things around will take your story to a new level? In one of my novels-in-progress, simply moving a scene deeper in the story enhanced the impact of the scene. I didn’t have to change a word.

How about you? Any tips on spring cleaning and/or editing? I’m all ears on both!

Happy writing, happy organizing, happy happy!