Sometimes you need a break. A walk can refresh the brain cells. A change of scenery can spark new thoughts. Taking out the trash, or doing some other small but worthy action can be a perfect palliative. Quick and focused, the sojourn lets you return to the keyboard undistracted and morally superior.
But this article is not about taking out the trash in the real world. It’s about taking the trash out of your writing. The ‘trash’ here, is the little edits you are consistently stuck on. These ‘stalls’ are classic targets for a good scrub. Seriously. All of them and in full. Just hack them out. You can’t resolve them for good reasons. Here are five:
1) It Improves the Quality of Your Draft
Are there bits of your work that you just can’t fill in? You know they need ‘fixing’, but you keep skipping over them to work on fun stuff? How about fixing them by chopping?
When you chop, you immediately improve your draft, like trimming a hedge. Now you have only good parts. You can see ‘the shape’ better. You might now find it makes sense to rearrange some things, or even to add new things. Things that there was no space for before because of the trash bags piling up. You’ve cleared the way.
If the messy stuff was festering that long, it wasn’t helping you in the first place. It didn’t fit. It was holding you back. Many of these spots are leftovers from previous incarnations of a story, or thought-bridges to places you don’t really need any more given the way your story is developing. Reshaping is a way of letting the center of the story percolate up to the surface.
2) It Allows You to See Solutions
What if you threw out something important? If you’ve left a real gap in your text, chances are you can set about now filling it – for real and with success. To fix things you first need to see the real problem.
And now you can fix it based on all the ideas you really want to keep, the ideas that are working for you. Now your solution will come from that palette and fit into the fabric of the story. It will be a forward-looking solution that takes you new places.
3) You Gain Freedom of Mind
Looking at a clutter-free draft does wonders for the mind. Mental baggage weighs you down. Now, you don’t have to keep all those nagging ‘undones’ loaded up into RAM. Your mind is free of its shackles – the dead ends you stopped trying to pursue.
Now you can think creatively instead of tripping over the trash all the time. No need to remember where it is so and how to walk around it. You can now run – free and fast – up and down the hallways looking for new rooms in the house of your book.
4) It Acts as a Time Multiplier
Chopping is a time multiplier. You don’t have to keep skipping it, you don’t have to fix it, and you don’t have to waste time on subpar writing because it’s obviously not taking your mind in the right direction. Building this habit will pay off hugely in the long run. Focus on writing the great stuff.
5) It Helps You Learn to Let Go
Doing this routinely, you become at ease with throwing away text. You realize you are more than smart enough to come up with more – and better. Being able to chop is a great skill – but this variation on a theme is about chopping the ‘important-things-that-you’ve-been-waiting-too-long-to-fix’. The point is, they are unfixable.
You’ll also gain confidence to see the make-or-break points of your story. Anything else goes in the bin.
Cleaned up, your draft is more readable. This means you are a big step closer to being able to send it out for feedback.
Cleaning the ‘un-do-ables’ out of your writing is like a day at the spa or a swim in a beautiful lake and resting in the sun afterwards. It’s healthy, freeing and opens you to new ideas and real solutions. If something is sticking in your craw that long, it probably has to go anyway! That’s why it’s refusing to smooth out – it’s not smooth-able. Take it out and focus on the ironed parts.
If you do throw out a gold ring by mistake, you’ll immediately know it! You’ll work even harder to put it back in place, probably with a new appreciation of how beautiful and valuable it is. Chances are though, you’ll never think about the trash you took out again, and that is a huge improvement to your current work.
Dawn Field loves to read fiction and non-fiction, especially in draft form, and to try to understand what makes great writing and how writers tick. She can be contacted at her gmail account ‘fiedawn’.