Spring Cleaning Your Writing

It’s sunny and warm in Portland, and there’s no better place on earth when such is the case. (People visit here in spring or summer, fall in love and move. Then the fall and winter rains set in. Rah roh.)

This year, more than any I can remember recently, I’m feeling very spring-y. Maybe it is because I spent a month in France earlier this year (seems like a distant memory now), or because there are so many ongoing changes in my life. But whatever it is, I’m feeling like shaking the cobwebs out of my house, my brain, and my writing. Time for a refresh!

Here are some things I’ve been thinking about cleaning up:

Mindset. This word is becoming cliched, which is too bad, because I like it. Wave the word under my nose and I’ll follow you anywhere. Maybe because I’ve always believed how important it is to maintain a positive mindset, even if I can’t always do it. Things I’m looking at: Am I constantly complaining about how little time I have to write, or actually sitting down and getting to it when I do have a few minutes? Am I fretting about how “good” I am or am not? am I complaining about how hard it is to complete this rewrite? I need to pay attention to the crap my brain spews at me and change it to a more positive message. I’m reading a book called Train Your Brain that talks about this. There’s not a lot new in it, but she explains it in a simple, logical manner. I like.

Process. Remember how glorious it was, when first you started writing, to get so absorbed in your work that time passed and you had no sense of it going by? Yeah, me, too. That feeling is why so many of us write. And it is really easy to get led away from it. Happens like this: you start obsessing over every word and sentence, polishing your prose relentlessly before you move onto a new scene. Uh-uh. There’s a process to follow for your writing and it goes like this.

–Write a discovery/rough/first draft. Make it crappy. You won’t have to try too hard to do this, because it will be crappy. Discovery drafts are. That’s why there are called that. You’re learning the story and getting it down on the page.

–Rewrite the draft. Go back over it, ponder, rearrange, deepen characters, makes sure your plot is working, look at theme, and then write a second draft.

–Rewrite again. And again. And again–for as long as it takes.

–Revise. When your characters and plot and everything else is working, then you can start polishing.

So take a look at where you are in the writing process and clean it up. Are you writing a discovery draft, but toiling over every line? Cut it out. Write fast. Get that story on the page. Are you ready to revise (see below) but still tinkering with character motivation and arc? You need to go back to rewriting.

Polishing. Remember that you need to wait to do this until the final run-through! Though one caveat is if you know you use too many adverbs, you can start being aware of that as you write. But no obsessing! Here are some things you might want to pay attention to:

–Strong verbs. Are you using them? Or reverting to the same old, same old variants of “to be?” The blog post I wrote on this years ago is still one of my most popular ever, so I think it is something we all struggle with. But also something worth spending time on.

–Adverbs. Gotta love ’em. I do. And I use them way too much. There is a place for the use of adverbs, there really is, but the key concept is to use them judiciously. That way they will have some oomph and impact.

–Sentence structure. Make sure yours is varied, for one thing. Nothing is more monotonous than reading the same sentence structure over and over again. And, also consider shortening up those babies. Here’s a great blog post that explains more.

Reading. I’ve been trying to spend more time reading books and less time on the internet, reading forgettable articles. Besides Train Your Brain, mentioned above, I’m finally getting around to reading A Gentleman in Moscow, which I highly recommend. There’s a satisfaction in sinking into a novel or memoir that you just don’t get from quick hits on the interwebs.

Foundation Rituals. All the “boring” stuff, like meditation, exercise, eating healthfully, getting enough sleep. Yada, yada, yada. You’ve heard it all before a million times and so have I. (And I’ve written about it.) But these things really do make a difference. And at this time of year, it is easy to get re-inspired to walk more and eat all the seasonal produce that is coming into markets. Right?

So, that’s the spring cleaning I’m thinking about. How about you? Leave a comment and tell me how you’re cleaning up your writing! And if, in all this cleaning, you realize you might need a little help with your writing, maybe I can help. Hit me up and let’s chat about your work.

Photos from everystockphoto. 

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